Angelo Santabarbara may not be a big cheese in county politics yet, but the freshman legislator from Rotterdam certainly knows how to produce his fair share of the dairy staple.
The first-generation Italian-American will feature his cheesemaking prowess on “Let’s Cook,” a popular home-cooking program hosted by Delores Scalise on Schenectady’s public access TV station. Santabarbara spent Tuesday afternoon at Channel 16’s Broadway studio, demonstrating a recipe his parents brought to Schenectady County from the old country decades ago.
“My parents did this all the time when I was a little boy,” he said after filming the segment, which will air at 7:30 tonight. “It always tastes better when you make it yourself.”
During the show, the District 4 Republican demonstrates turning about two gallons of fresh milk into “basket cheese.” The mild, often soft-textured cheese is used in traditional Italian Easter dishes.
“It’s all about keeping a tradition alive,” he said. “One of these days, I want to teach my own children how to do this.”
Basket cheese is formed when rennet — a liquid or powder enzymatic additive — separates fresh cream into cheese curd and whey. After several hours, the whey is drained off and the curd is packed into a basket.
The baskets are refrigerated for several hours, leaving a cheese that is similar to fresh mozzarella, a cheese made using a much different process. Santabarbara said the basket cheese is ideal for serving over fresh tomatoes with basil or added to pasta with sauce.
The cheese can also be topped with salt and stored for several weeks to create a hard cheese. Santabarbara said this cheese is ideal for grating.
The process of making basket cheese probably began in antiquity, when fresh milk was stored in animal stomach linings. Residual enzymes in the lining sometimes had a curdling effect.
Though they didn’t know each other in the old country, both Santabarbara’s parents immigrated to the United States from a small town outside of Naples during the 1970s. His father, also named Angelo Santabarbara, fondly recalled preparing the recipe on his family’s farm using cream milked from their cows.
“We’ve been doing it generation after generation,” he said.
The younger Santabarbara approached Scalise earlier this month about featuring his family’s traditional process on her cooking show, which often demonstrates classical Italian dishes. Scalise said the idea seemed to fit well with both the time of year and the theme of her show.
“It is an art,” she said of the cheesemaking. “It’s something not too many people do these days.”
In keeping with the concept of tradition, Santabarbara even visited Seven View Farm in Duanesburg over the weekend to gather his own milk for the cheese. During the show, farmer Seymour VanderVeen guides Santabarbara through the process of milking a cow.
“It was quite an experience,” he said.
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