It’s always baffled me why the term ‘cheesy’ seems to be somewhat negative in connotation. When something appears inauthentic or undesirable, it’s often labeled ‘cheesy.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but personally, I don’t find anything inauthentic or undesirable about cheese at all…in any form…which is why when I tell you today’s recipe is nothing short of cheesy, I mean that in the best possible way.
Oh, and did I mention it’s skull-shaped cheese? That alone makes it inherently cooler.
It also technically makes it ‘head cheese’…but not authentic head cheese (which I will happily point out is NOT actually cheese but a meat jelly. Yeah, let those two words sink in for a second. Meat…jelly.)
Ahem, back on track.
Let’s make some cheese!
You will need:
- 1-gallon whole milk, room temperature (pasteurized but NOT ultra-pasteurized)
- 1 ¼ teaspoon citric acid
- ½ rennet tablet
- ¾ cup cool water
- 1 teaspoon cheese salt or fine grain table salt
You will also need some tools:
- 5-quart stainless steel pot
- Thermometer (trust me on this…you will definitely need one!)
- Clean tea towel or fine mesh cheesecloth (not that crap you get at the store but real cheesecloth)
- 2-part skull-shaped ice molds (This is the kind I used)
Let’s get cheesy!
Dissolve the citric acid in a ½ cup of your cool water.
Dissolve the rennet tablet in the remaining ¼ cup cool water.
Bring the milk up to 90F/32C.
Add in your citric acid water and gently stir to combine.
Add in the rennet tablet water and stir to combine fully.
Leave on your stove undisturbed for 1-2 hours until one giant curd is formed (check occasionally to ensure that the temperature of the milk mixture remains right around the 90F/32C, but resist the temptation to stir it…)
Using a sharp knife gently cut the giant curd into smaller ½ inch cubes and gently stir to break up.
Turn up the heat under your pot and slowly raise the temperature to approximately 108F/42C. Hold at that temperature for 30-40 minutes, stirring every five minutes to evenly distribute the curds through the warm whey and to prevent them from accumulating at the bottom.
After 30-40 minutes, gently pour off half your whey and collect your curds in your tea towel over your colander. Let the curds drain for approximately 15 minutes or so.
Break up the curds, sprinkle with your cheese salt, and mix together.
Gather into a large ball.
Return your saved whey to the stove and bring up to 135F/57C.
Add your curds into the warm whey and allow to warm up.
While they’re warming, fill a large bowl with cold water and add in some ice and 1 tablespoon salt.
Carefully (it’s hot!) scoop out your giant cheese ball and pull off approximately 1/6th of your cheese.
Quickly stretch and knead the hot cheese until it’s smooth and just starts to tighten up. As soon as that happens, shape it into a rough ball shape and place into your skull shaped ice mold.
Put the two halves of your mold together and press tightly for approximately 30 seconds. Then, drop into your bowl full of salted ice water to help ‘freeze’ your cheese into the skull shape. Leave your cheese filled skull mold in the water and repeat the process 5 more times.
Once you’ve filled all your molds and used up all your cheese, remove your skull molds from the ice water. The cheese will still have a bit of whey in it so we’ll need to continue to press them for just a bit longer to get all the liquid out.
The molds I was using had small holes in the back to allow air to escape when making ice, so I just turned my molds upside down and put them onto a tray. Place another tray on top of them and weigh it down with even pressure. I used a 5lb bag of flour and it worked perfectly. Allow to drain for another 15-30 minutes or so.
When you remove them from the mold, you might notice some small bits of flashing or some inconsistencies. Use a sharp knife to remove these bits and dispose of properly (eat them..they’re delicious!)
Now let’s make our marinade.
For this you will need:
- 6 ½ pint mason jars, clean and dry
- 3 cups olive oil
- 6 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 3 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
- *1 Tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
- *½ Tablespoon thyme, chopped
- *½ Tablespoon basil, chopped
- *½ Tablespoon oregano
- *½ Tablespoon rosemary
- *can also just substitute 3 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 1 Teaspoon kosher salt
- Cheese skulls*
*Now before we go any further, I need to explain something. If you use the same molds I did for this recipe, you should have enough cheese made to create six cheese skulls…which is why the marinade recipe calls for six mason jars. Of course, just looking at the photo above it’s clear to see there are only two cheese skulls on the plate. That’s because I have zero willpower. That’s right. I’m confessing right here and right now to shamelessly eating four cheese skulls during the course of this tutorial. But trust me when I say, once you make this recipe, you’ll understand why. There are few things on this earth quite as delicious as fresh, salty, still slightly warm homemade mozzarella cheese. I honestly recommend if you’re making this recipe, to NOT do it on an empty stomach. Eat first. You’ll thank me later.
Place a single cheese skull into each of your six mason jars.
In a large bowl, mix together all the remaining marinade ingredients.
Carefully pour the marinade mixture over your skulls and cap tightly.
Pop these into the fridge and allow to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 48 hours.
Depending on the temperature of your fridge, your olive oil may thicken and become opaque. If you have a fridge like mine that dreams of someday becoming a freezer and practices super chilling things if you put them too close to the back, your olive oil may completely solidify. Don’t worry! To ‘thaw’ your marinating skulls, simply fill a sink with warm water and allow them to liquefy.
Don’t, however, allow the mixture to freeze.
Now that we’ve made our cheese skulls and marinated them…let’s eat them…and NOTHING goes better with fresh marinated mozzarella quite like homemade bruschetta.
To make your own, you will need:
- 1 small baguette, sliced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes, diced
- ¼ cup sliced red onions or shallots
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Balsamic glaze or vinegar
- 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Mozzarella skull and marinade
Preheat your oven to 350F/176C
Gently remove your mozzarella skull from the jar it’s marinating in and set aside for the moment, making sure to reserve at least 1 Tablespoon of the marinade for later.
Arrange your sliced baguette slices on a foil-lined tray.
Using a pastry brush dipped into your marinade (really scoop up the good stuff at the bottom) smear this mixture all over the top side of your baguette slices.
Pop them into the oven and let them toast for 5-10 minutes.
Once the first side is done toasting, pull your tray of baguette slices out, flip, and brush the opposite side with your marinade mixture. Top with a sprinkle of the parmesan cheese and return to the oven to continue toasting for an additional 5-10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
While your baguette is toasting, combine your basil, diced cherry tomatoes, sliced onions (or shallots), sugar and the tablespoon of reserved marinade in a bowl and toss to mix thoroughly.
Let sit for about ten minutes, or until your toasted baguette is done.
Once your baguette is done toasting and your bruschetta has marinated for a bit, it’s time to eat this amazing dish! For my presentation, I placed my slices of baguette around the edge of my tray and left the bruschetta and mozzarella skull in the center for maximum, but feel free to assemble and/or display any way you wish.
To serve, scoop up some bruschetta on your toasted baguette, top with a slice of your mozzarella skull, drizzle the whole thing with a generous amount of balsamic glaze and enjoy!
Looking for more skull shaped food? Why not make some Ding-Dong Dead cakes for dessert?