Poutine!

Poutine is the quintessential food from Quebec – Canada’s French-speaking province. Poutine began as a bi-product of the Quebec cheese industry, which often found itself at the end of the day with leftover cheese curd. Rather than throw it away, this fresh curd was sold cheaply to restaurants who would put it on fries – usually with gravy – as a cheap meal. Fresh curds don’t last long, so until recently this dish remained a local speciality.

More recently it has become immensely popular across Canada, and even in parts of the USA. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the modern version found in restaurants outside of Quebec is a poor substitute for the real thing. In place of fresh curd, restaurants use cheddar or mozzarella cheese – neither of which have the squeaky, slightly chewing texture of fresh curd, or the same taste.

In this post I’ll walk you through how to prepare a proper fresh curd. This is about as easy a cheese dish as you can make, and only requires you buy one or two specialty ingredients, and requires no specialized equipment. I’ll leave it up to you on making the fries and gravy – but for my American readers, when I say gravy I mean the brown kind made from beef drippings. Not that abhorrent white goo you make with flour and sausage.

I recommend serving poutine alongside beer. Lots and lots of beer. Any beer will do, but a big double IPA pairs perfectly with this greasy wonder.


Poutine Recipe

General Note: Like with beer brewing, sanitation is critical for cheese making. All equipment needs to be cleaned before use, and anything which is going to contact the milk needs to be sanitized. I use starsan at the usual dose for brewing, but other food-contact safe sanitizers can also be used.

Ingredients:
  1. 4 L (1 gallon) whole milk. Do not use UHT milk (the stuff that can be stored at room temperature when unopened) as this will not form curd. Skim or partially skimmed milk can also be used.
  2. Thermophilic cheese culture, or fresh unflavoured yoghurt with live cultures.
  3. Calf or Microbrial Rennet (used to set the curd). I do not recommend vegetable rennet.
  4. Optional, but recommended: 30% solution of Calcium chloride.
  5. Distilled or otherwise chlorine/chloramine-free water.
  6. Salt (preferably non-iodized, such as pickling or kosher salt).
Process:

Step 1: Carefully warm the milk to 36C (96F).

heating milk on the stove
If heating on the stove, use low heat to avoid scalding the milk.

Step 2: Dissolve 1/4 tsp of the calcium chloride solution into 60 ml (~1/4 cup) of chlorine-free water, then mix this into the milk. Note that this is optional, but will help ensure that the curd sets proplerly.

diluting CaCl2
Make sure to dissolve your calcium chloride in distilled water before mixing it into the milk.

Step 3: Sprinkle the recommended amount of cheese culture onto the top of the milk and let rehydrate 5 minutes before stirring it in (I used 1/32nd tsp of Lyopro TAC). If using yoghurt, simply stir in a tablespoon of yoghurt. The cultures are not identical, but are close enough to give a decent poutine curd.

Step 4: Hold at 36C for 30 minutes. A souse vide in a sink is a great way to hold the temperature steady. If you lack a souse vide, simply turn off the burner and wrap some bath towel around the pot.

36C
souse vide in sink
Souse vide makes it easy to hold at the right temperature.

Step 5: Near the end of the 30 minute incubation dissolve the recommended amount of rennet into 60 ml (~1/4 cup) of chlorine-free water. I used 1/8 tsp of 2X microbial rennet, which is equivalent to 1/4 tsp of calf rennet, or to one pellet of pelletized rennet.

dissolving rennet in water
Make sure to dissolve your rennet in distilled water before mixing it into the milk.

Step 6: If you insulated your pot on the stove, carefully warm the milk back up to 36C. If you used a souse vide, the milk should be at the correct temperature. Once back at 36C, thoroughly mix the rennet into the milk, being certain to stir the milk for no more than 1 minute, and stopping any motion of the milk with your spoon after stirring. Hold for 30 minutes at 36C without disturbing the pot. Again, if you lack a souse vide, insulate the pot with towels during this time.

Step 7: Check for a clean break by inserting a knife and twisting it sideways. There should be a clean cut edge with no slop. If the cut is not clean, let the curd sit another 5 minutes and test again.

a knife making a clean cut in curd
A nice clean break – notice the clean edge where the knife has pushed the curd aside.

Step 8: Once you get a clean break, cut the curd into 2 cm (~3/4″) cubes. Cut vertically, and then angling your knife, make a series of horizontal cuts. If you have a cheese harp, cut the horizontal cuts first with the harp, then the vertical cuts with a knife. Getting each cube perfect is not necessary. After cutting, let the curd heal (rest) for 5 minutes.

cheese harp in curd
Using a cheese harp to make the horizontal cuts. The harp is rotated in the curd, with the wires making the cut.

Step 9: Begin gently heating the curd while continually stirring gently. To start, simply life the curd slowly. As it expels whey you can gently and slowly start to stir. Use a bottom-to-top motion. Your goal is to keep the curd from matting on the bottom of the pot. Stirring too hard can lead to cheese with an off texture.

Step 10: Over 30 minutes stir the cheese, warming to 46C (116F) over that time. If you like you can hold the curd at 46C for up to an additional 30 minutes. This will lead to a drier curd, which some people prefer.

Step 11: Drain the curd through some cheesecloth. Hang and let drain for 15 minutes.

Step 12: Place into a cheese mould and press at 3 kg (~8 lbs). If you don’t have a cheese press, layer the curd ~2 cm (1″) thick between two baking sheets, refill the gallon milk jug with tap water, and place the jug on top as a weight. Press for 1 to 3 hours. Its done once it is a nice consolidated mass.

curd in the mould, ready for pressing
Curd in a cheese mould, ready to be pressed. If you are using a cheese press, press at ~5 kg (12 lbs) for 1-3 hours.

Step 13: Break into pieces of your preferred size and salt lightly. Let the salt soak in for 20 minutes and taste; more salt can be added at this time if desired.

Curd: cut and ready for salt.

Curd Becomes Poutine

Poutine
Poutine!

The curd is best consumed fresh – we usually make it the same day. It can be stored for a day or two in the fridge, or frozen for up to two months. But be aware that the texture and flavour will change quickly, and even day-old curd will lack the squeaky texture and creamy flavour of fresh curd.

To make poutine, first make some good gravy. I prefer beef gravy, but turkey gravy leftover from Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner is divine. You want your gravy piping hot. At the same time make your favorite fries. I prefer oven-style fries (e.g. thin wedges rubbed in oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and broiled in the oven until crisp), but this stuff is great on any fries…or even tater tots! Like with the gravy, you need your fries to be hot. If deep-frying, use them right out of the fryer (minus the time for a bit of a draining). Oven fries should be used straight out of the oven. It doesn’t hurt to pre-warm the curds too; a few seconds in the microwave will soften them up.

Layer the fries and curds, like a lasagna, and then drown the whole thing in gravy. The heat from the fries and gravy will melt the curd, creating a gooey, cheesy, squeaky mess. Consume quickly, before it cools and the fries go soggy, washing it down with large quantities of beer.

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