Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blessed are the Cheesemakers!

I've been meaning to make some cheese. The thing is, I've never made it before so where do I begin? That question was answered for me by someone we know that has livestock, both cows and goats,  who gave us a half gallon of raw cow's milk. Now I had no excuse - it was time to make cheese.

I thought I would begin with mozzarella. I've heard it's quick and easy to make. I went online and found dozens of websites with instructions on how to make fresh mozzarella. I picked the one that seemed simplest. I drove down to the nearest New Season's Market and purchased a box of rennet tablets and a few ounces of citric acid powder for less than $5. The recipe I had chosen to follow was for 1 gallon of milk but, since I only had the half gallon of milk, I halved all the ingredients. The recipe called for using un-chlorinated water. I boiled a cup of water and set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I took a quarter of one of the rennet tablets - the recipe called for 1/2 a tablet - and crushed it with a spoon. This I dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of the boiled water. 

I poured the milk in a saucepan and set the heat to medium. Then, per the recipe, I stirred in 3/4 teaspoon citric acid - again, half of the original. I attached a thermometer to the pan and when the temperature reached 88 degrees (F) I added the rennet. I continued to cook the milk, stirring occasionally until the temperature reached 105 degrees and then shut off the heat. I covered the pan and let it sit. 

The recipe I was following said to let it sit for 20 minutes but I let it sit for about 90 minutes. Nothing was happening! A couple of very tiny curds but that was all! The temperature was still about 97 degrees so I stirred in more rennet - another quarter tablet dissolved in water. I reheated the milk to 105 degrees and removed it from the heat again. This time there was a noticeable difference after 90 minutes, the milk firming up to the consistency of yogurt or sour cream. The recipe, however, had said that there would be an obvious separation of curds and whey. Eventually there was but the curds were much softer than I had anticipated.

Using a slotted spoon, I carefully removed the curds from the pan and placed them into a bowl lined with cheesecloth. Taking the cloth by the ends, I lifted it up and tied the ends together. Then I gently squeezed the curds, and kept squeezing until most of the whey had come out. I then placed the cheese in a small glass dish and microwaved it on high for about 30 seconds. This softened the cheese up enough to where I could knead it and stretch it. I sampled a piece and found it to be rather bland. That's when I realized that I had put no salt in it! I sprinkled a little kosher salt in my hand and worked it into the cheese. I then reheated it in the microwave and worked it and stretched it some more.

This is what I ended up with from a half gallon of milk.

Not too much, I admit, but it was fun to make! Next time I make cheese, I will make a bigger batch. If you're going to make the mess, you might as well make lots, right? I'm going to continue to experiment with the easier stuff for a while - cream cheese, ricotta, cottage cheese, and of course more mozzarella! Watch for future updates!

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