Maui Food Madness Part 4

Sorry for being absent from Xanga for over a week. We returned from the United States with my sister and brother-in-law in tow, and have been showing them around Bangkok, leaving little time for blogging. With that said, let me pick up where we left off in Hawai’i. For the final segment on food in Maui, we visit a lavender farm, a goat dairy, and eat some fantastic fish tacos.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

One of the interesting things about Maui is that it is agriculturally more diverse than you initially expect. While there are wide swaths of land dedicated to sugar cane and other tropical produce, as you ascend the slopes of Haleakala (the volcano that forms the eastern 75% of Maui), you pass through a more temperate zone. The combination of rich soil, moisture-laden air, and the filtered tropical sun provides a fertile growing environment for a wide variety of produce. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a great example of this. 

P1010104

Situated 4,000 feet above the ocean in the town of Kula, the Ali’i farm stretches over 13 sloping acres. Different varieties of lavender are cultivated and the grounds are largely open for self-guided walking tours. In the early afternoon, the breeze was pleasantly warm but we were protected by a thick layer of clouds that reminded me of the fog of my native San Francisco, but without the need for multiple layers of clothing.

P1010095

Here, Sugi and Tawn pose amidst a field of lavender on the upper edge of the farm. The farm offers settings for private events including weddings. While the steep slopes might prove challenging for guests with limited mobility, the views (and fragrance!) would be unforgettable and worth the effort.

P1010115

Close up of one variety of lavender. The air really is perfumed with a subtle, but pleasant aroma from the acres of lavender.

P1010127 P1010142

In addition to the lavender, the farm has extensive gardens with many different plants and beautiful flowers. Many of the plants were familiar to me from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a similar climate. I was excited to see the fuchsia (on the right) because my father used to grow these in our back yard.

P1010148

No trip to the farm is complete without a stop at the gift shop for a snack. Beverages include lavender lemonade and tea.

P1010168

The highlight is the lavender scones served with passion fruit and lavender jelly. A few years ago, I purchased some food grade lavender but rarely used it. Tasting these scones, I was sorely tempted to buy some more and make it a point to cook more frequently with this beautiful flavor.

P1010174

Sitting on the shady balcony outside the gift shop, we were visited by a flock of small birds who waited not so patiently for scone crumbs. Tawn decided to share his crumbs with them and they gingerly approached and pecked them from his hand.

Surfing Goat Dairy

P1010257

Just down the hill from the lavender farm is the Surfing Goat Dairy, another example of the agricultural variety found on Maui. A working farm that produces more than two dozen varieties of goat cheese that are used at restaurants across the island, Surfing Goat Dairy proudly claims to make da’ feta mo’ betta!

P1010216

One of the younger goats playing on a surf board.

P1010186

The dairy offers tours and there is a small gift shop that sells a variety of their products. Recommended are the cheese tasting flights, which feature both fresh and aged cheeses.

P1010261

We sampled six cheeses, a mixture of fresh and aged. From the back left, clockwise: fresh feta, “Ping Pong Balls” (drained chevre, rolled into balls and marinated in garlic olive oil), Ole! (chevre with jalepenos, lime juice, artichokes, and cilantro), Udderly Delicious (plain, salted chevre), Garden Fantasia (chevre with fresh garden herbs), and French Dream (an aged cheese with herbs de Provence). Lots of fantastic cheese here, many of which have won national awards. 

P1010277

A pleasant, shaded seating area was populated with a friendly farm dog and cat, both of which came over looking for some attention. Despite being outside, both animals had exceptionally soft, well groomed coats. Perhaps the result of drinking plenty of goat milk?

P1010377

Before we left, I snapped a picture of these kids feeding kids. Ha ha…

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

P1210785

The final entry about Maui food concludes with a stop at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei. This restaurant, which is in a strip mall, looks like nothing to write home about but surprises you with tremendous quality. The must-eat item is fish tacos, which are prepared from fresh, locally-caught fish.

P1210782

The owner, Mike Phillips, who is in the shop most evenings, supervises operations and comes out to chat with customers. He took this picture for us. He explained that they are just setting up franchises on the west cost of the mainland, with the initial store to be in Santa Cruz. If a Coconut’s Fish Cafe opens near you, please make sure you try it. As Mike explained, the only advertising they do is customer word-of-mouth. So from my mouth to your ear: word.

P1210781

The beautiful fish taco, made with fresh mahi mahi, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a sweet and tangy mango salsa. This taco was so good that I would seriously consider stopping in Maui next time I’m flying back to the mainland US, just to eat here. My only quibble is that the toppings are cut in very large chunks, making them a bit hard to eat. Smaller bits would ensure you get a little bit of everything in each bite, but that’s a tiny complaint.

There you have it, the conclusion of my Maui Food Madness entries. I hope you enjoyed them!

Part 3
Part 2

Part 1

 

Second Attempt at Mozzarella Cheesemaking

A week ago I tried making homemade mozzarella cheese, using milk bought at the local grocery store.  The results didn’t come together – literally.  Analyzing it, I figured it was either due to an insufficient amount of rennet, the enzyme that helps the proteins in the milk coagulate, or else it was due to the milk being pasteurized at too high a heat.  Undaunted, I wanted to try again and learn how to do this.

While I originally put more weight in theory that the pasteurization was the cause, now that I look back on what I’ve learned, I suspect the insufficient rennet was probably more likely the problem.  But hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

In the wake of my first attempt, a German-Thai friend suggested I try buying milk from Murrah Dairy, the only water buffalo dairy in Thailand.  Great idea, especially considering that the original Italian mozzarella is mozzarella di bufala – buffalo milk mozzarella.  So I ended up driving to their retail store and bought five litres of raw buffalo milk.  The best way to address the pasteurization issue is to use unpasteurized milk, right?

Sadly, I don’t have many pictures of the second attempt.  You’re welcome to watch the video and/or read the description below.

After sanitizing everything in the kitchen, I started heating the milk.  One challenge I encountered was that my recipe is in imperial measurements but the dairy sold the milk in metric measurements.  Being an American (even a fairy metric-savvy one) I made a few errors in calculation and initially thought I was working with two gallons of milk, when in fact I had only about one gallon.  Because of this, I prepared citric acid and rennet solutions that were twice as strong as necessary.

P1020927

Thankfully, I realized this before adding the solutions into the milk, and added only about half of each solution.  The proteins came together much more nicely than in the first attempt, although they still didn’t have the nearly-solid, soft tofu-like consistency shown in the recipe’s pictures.  I strained the curds from the whey and ended up with a pretty nice mass to work with.

P1020932

My next problem came from a lack of understanding of what was meant to happen in the next step.  As a learner, it is helpful for me to know not only what a particular step is but the rationale behind the step.  The recipe told me to either microwave the curds and then knead them, or else to put the curds in hot water (about 170 F) and use a spoon to fold them together, then pull them out and knead them.

The problem was two-fold.  First, I don’t have a microwave.  There goes the easy option. Second, I was hesitant to put the curds in the water because I thought they would just dissolve.  Knowing what I know now, I realize that the whole point of microwaving or putting them in the water is that the cheese begins to melt a bit, helping it form more elasticky strands that you can knead.  No heat and no melting means no kneading.

P1020941

Before I figured this out, I tried placing the curds, still in the cheesecloth, above some boiling water – kind of a bain-marie.  This resulted in the bottom of the curds melting into the cheesecloth, while the tops of the curds didn’t change.  Finally, I figured it out and put the curds into the water and used a spoon to shape them.

Of course, I didn’t have rubber gloves, so kneading the hot cheese was a little painful!  Long story short, having a microwave would have been a huge help.

In the end, I wound up with a ball of mozzarella that was a bit tough and overworked, not nearly as elastic as it should be, and it had picked up a little bit of a greyish cast, possibly from the bread board I was using to knead it on.  Also, cleanup was a pain as the curds cling to everything, especially the metal utensils!

The important question is, how did it taste?

P1020948

Well, after a few hours soaking in a brine/whey solution, the cheese turned out okay. I used it on a pizza in a taste test, half of the pizza covered with my cheese and half with the Murrah Dairy’s cheese.  My cheese was much more rubbery and not as bright white, but it actually tasted fine, like real mozzarella cheese.

P1020950

Conclusion: This is a product that is probably worth buying in the store, even if it is a bit pricey.  Making it is very time and effort consuming.  That said, I’m kind of curious to try another time using store-bought milk, just to confirm my new understanding that the pasteurization wasn’t the issue.  I still like the idea of making my own cheese, and if I had an opportunity to apprentice with a cheese-maker, I would jump at it.  But the constraints of my Bangkok condo kitchen are such that I don’t think I’ll become a regular cheese-maker.

Okay, what’s the next thing to try?