A week or so ago I took a peek at the undersides of the cheeses and discovered that the mold was MUCH more developed under there. The instructions for making camembert hadn’t said anything about flipping the cheese over, and maybe turning it was a given, but I hadn’t been doing it.
Tuesday is becoming our “Make Your Own Salad” night. We all look forward to it, and we all participate in the preparation. I look on it as a little kitchen class for the kids. They get to use sharp knives – great fun!
Anyway, here’s a look at last night’s culinary adventures…
I made dinner the other night. Yes, I’ve been feeling progressively horribler and horribler (sick people get to make up words as they go), but earlier this week I managed to throw a meal together using leftovers from the weekend.
And it was comfort food, after all. Chicken Tetrazzini. Creamy, starchy, warm and comforting.
So I picked all the chicken off the carcass from last Friday’s roast chicken, saving the skin and bones for stock, of course, and I cooked the spaghetti, and I made a bechamel which became the base for the sauce.
But I had no Parmesan. It’s one of the ingredients, though, and what was I going to do? (This is where being sick leads to insanity in the kitchen when things aren’t going the way they should. There’s no room for creativity. Bad Things will happen if you don’t use the Exact Ingredients Called For. Or, at least, that’s how it seems.)
And because I so wanted this to taste right (despite the fact that my taste buds were already working improperly), I caved. Yes, I did.
I’ve been making cheese for a few years now, but not as frequently as I’d like, and certainly not as many varieties as I’d like. I’m hoping to kick myself into a higher gear as this summer flies by, and maintain that gear through the rest of the year.
It’s been a while, but I’m making some cheese! It’s a very simple soft cheese called Lactic Cheese. I know – doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? But it smells good – kind of yogurty – and tonight it should be drained enough for me to taste it.
I was scrolling through facebook a few minutes ago after posting a link to the previous post, and as I scanned status updates and links to news articles and other posts, I was rather startled to bump into my own face.
New England Cheesemaking Supply Company had asked me a while back if they could use my post from last summer about making Feta. I’d said yes, of course, and then promptly forgot about it, figuring I’d find out whenever the post ran.
It’s basically a reprint of my own old post, but if you’re interested at all in cheesemaking, there are lots of great articles and interviews with other cheesemakers – from beginner to professional – in their blog.
I admit it. I cut into this much sooner than I’d originally planned.
I made this Manchego on January 28th – not even a full five weeks ago. Now, there’s no official aging time with Manchego. You can leave it for a week and eat it really young, or age it for 3 weeks, 6 months, or longer. I had kind of intended to let this one age for at least a few months.
But what with being away for a bunch of days, and then being sick for most of last week, I just don’t have any food posts for you. And telling you I ate oatmeal with coconut, banana, raisins and almonds for breakfast just isn’t all that exciting. Is it? Of course not.
So tonight, since Bill had already got dinner under way, I figured I’d cut into the Manchego and see what was going on.
At long last, after a summer-long painting-induced hiatus, I’m back to making cheese again. I missed it. I especially missed goat cheese.
Fortunately for me, I had close to 3 gallons of goats’ milk in the freezer from earlier trips to the Farmers’ Market this summer. I needed to get the milk out of there so I could organize all the soup stocks and bags of clams and conch before chaos took over, so the timing was perfect. I’d ordered direct set Chèvre and Mesophilic cultures from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company earlier in the week, and they had arrived within a couple of days, so this past Sunday was perfect for cheesemaking.
Earlier in the short Little League season, Alex had a game where he struck out every time he was at bat, a rarity for him. I think two things were at play that day - he was still getting used to the pitching machine, and he was learning to hold his arm, his "back" arm, up higher so he could get more power behind it, and this was still new to him and probably slowed down his response time a bit.
Anyway, he was, understandably, dejected after that game, and we told him that ALL batters strike out sometimes. Every one of them, no matter how great they are. They strike out. Sometimes it's just once in a game, sometimes it's the whole game, sometimes it's a whole bad streak where they're just not doing well at all. But it happens. To grown up men who are professional ball players getting played lots of money to play this beautiful game. And they usually always bounce back.
The main thing is, they keep swinging.
I bring this up not to launch into a poignant story about Alex today, but to share this with you:
You know how when you start learning how to do something new, you feel completely inept at the beginning? Despite your best intentions, you still find yourself flailing around, flinging whey all over the place and hoping that you haven't contaminated anything, because if you have, you won't find out about it for another couple of months at least, and it would really be awful if you spent all this time and milk for nothing. Or your carefully but precariously constructed "cheese press" thing slips off-balance and crashes to the floor. Twice. But then...somehow...when you are going through all of this insanity again, suddenly things seem to be working better, and you almost feel worried that that's a BAD sign, because maybe it means that the next glitch will be even BIGGER.
Since then I've made several batches of bread with leftover whey, either from goat's milk or cow's milk, and I've had great results every time.
The main thing to remember, I've learned, is that if you're going to make bread with whey, it needs to be whey from cheeses made with a bacterial culture, not an acid. That's right - not all whey is the same.
One of the things I did on Saturday was to wax this wheel of cheddar. I'd aged it for about 5 days and it had developed a nice rind over that time. Time to wax it and put it downstairs to age with the first cheese.
In addition to the rind, though, the cheese had also developed a couple of small dots of mold on the surface....
A little over a week ago I told you about making my first batch of cheddar, the Farmhouse Cheddar, which you can read about here.
At the end of that post, I said there'd be more to come and I'd post updates, but really? "I flipped the cheese over so the other side could dry some more" doesn't make for great reading. So I took a few pictures now and then and figured I'd post at the end of the drying stage.
Because after the drying phase comes the waxing phase.
Okay, it doesn't look all that special. In fact, if you hadn't read the title of this post, you would be safe in assuming it's cream cheese, or maybe ricotta.
But it's not.
It's goat cheese. My first batch of goat cheese. And it's yummy.
First thing you need to make goat cheese is the milk. A gallon of it. From, of course, goats. And you need to pasteurize the milk.
How does one do that? Well, according to the directions I followed, in the booklet that came with my Goat Cheese Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company (where I want to live, if this whole bedroom renovation project gets to be too much for me), you put your goat milk in a big stainless steel pot, heat it to 145 degrees F, and then keep it at that temperature for 30 minutes.
So I did. Here's the milk in the pot, and you can see the metal probe of my thermometer over on the left.
This is probably the longest and, yes, least exciting part of the job. The waiting. And waiting. You don't want it to heat too fast and scorch the bottom of the pot (so if you've got a nice heavy-duty pot that's what you'd want to use here). So you stir and check the temp and stir and check the temp. At least that's what I did.
I know. A watched pot of goat's milk never reaches 145 degrees F. I tried to look away from time to time, but what if it all suddenly surged up to the boiling point and bubbled over the side of the pot and set my kitchen on fire????
This is the sort of thing you have to think about. It's tough work.
Anyway, at last, my thermometer hit the 145 mark and then came the fun of keeping it at that temperature for half an hour.
I kept it at that temp, or slightly above at times, by constantly adjusting the flame under the pot. And yes, I pretty much stayed glued to the pot and my thermometer for the whole half hour. I didn't want to ruin a whole gallon of fresh goat's milk.
Actually, I have to correct that - it was half a gallon of fresh, and half a gallon I'd frozen from the week before. Goat's milk freezes very nicely.
(And you can see a bit of the frozen chunk in the picture above, actually. It's the part of the milk that looks textured all around where the light is hitting it.)
Okay, so you've brought your milk to temperature, and you're keeping it there.
While you do that, with your third arm (because one has the thermometer and the second arm is controlling the flame), reach over to your sink and fill it about half way with cold, cold, cold water.
And get out your little packet of Direct Set Chevre culture. It came with the kit. I think I got four of them. Plus culture to make my own starter, but that's for another post. I haven't done it yet. I'm waiting for our house to be free of sawdust and joint compound dust and paint.
So here's the little packet.
Now. When your milk has been at 145 F for half an hour, plunge the pot (plunge is an action word! it makes this post exciting!) into your sink of cold water, and stir, stir, stir the milk to bring the temperature down, now, to 86 degrees F.
When you get the milk to 86, remove the pot from the cold water, add in your direct set culture, stir well, and then put the lid back on the pot.
And now? Just leave it alone. I know. So anticlimactic, huh? But that's what you do. You leave it all there, inside the pot, covered, "for 12-20 hours or until firm."
You also need to keep the milk/cheese-to-be at a temperature of at LEAST 72 degrees F in order for the starter culture to work properly.
I think part of the fun, for me, of making cheese is that it flies in the face of everything you're supposed to do to prevent bacterial growth.
There's a part of me that feels rather rebelious, leaving that milk out at room temperature. For 12 or more hours!
You WANT that milk to change. You don't want it to just sit there and remain milk. You WANT that transformation to take place.
Or at least, I do.
Anyway, even though it's June and it's way above freezing, even at night, I worried that my precious milk would get chilly. So I bundled it up in a blanket and a towel before putting it to bed on the back of my stove.
I kissed it goodnight at about 8:30 pm, knowing I couldn't check on it until at least 8:30 the next morning.
Oh, the anticipation!
So the next morning I was up at my usual time of somewhere between 5 and 7...way too early to check on the milk/cheese-to-be...so I sipped my coffee and tried not to stare at the bundle on the stove.
As the unveiling approached, I started getting things ready for the next step.
I got some of the butter muslin that came with my kit (it's like cheesecloth, but has a tighter weave) and lined a collander with it, and set the collander over a pot to catch the whey.
And then, gently, gingerly, I removed the towel and the blanket from the pot.
And then I remembered I needed a big slotted spoon of some kind to ladle the curds out with, so I grabbed that and put it in the muslin-lined collander. And then...
I removed the lid from the pot and peeked inside.
VICTORY IS MINE!!!!
But look! Look around the edge of the pot - you can see that separation has occurred! I have curds, and I have whey!
(And with those baby spiders that were in my back yard recently, I really COULD be Little Miss Muffet at this point!)
Anyway, that's what I was waiting and hoping for. For some reason I worry that I've done something wrong with the preparation...maybe I let the milk go a little TOO high over 145? Dipped a degree lower than 86 before I put the culture in? YOU JUST DON'T KNOW!!! And the suspense was killing me.
But there was no need. Everything set up just the way it was supposed to. Hee hee!!!
So now it's time to ladle the curds into the collander.
I took a big scoop - left-handed, so I could take a picture at the same time. Here it is:
Isn't it lovely? At this point it reminded me of yogurt. Kind of silky and smooth. I scooped out what I could with the big spoon and then poured the rest of the whey through the muslin-lined collander to catch every little bit of curd.
And then I covered it again and let it drain for about an hour.
Just to get rid of the majority of the whey. See? It's thicker now.
Next, I took the corners of the muslin and tied them together....
Hung the muslin on a wooden spoon above the big pot I'd orignally cooked the milk in....
Sort of covered it again, and let it sit.
For 12 hours. Yep. More waiting.
You can let it hang and rain for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, depending on the consistency you want. I wanted it rather dry and firm, so I left it for most of the day.
And then I untied the muslin and - at last - tasted a bit of it.
And you know what? It tasted like goat cheese!
Now at this point you can add salt to it, if you'd like. I sprinkled a little kosher salt over the top and mixed it in with a spoon. Not too much salt - it really didn't need it, in my opinion.
Then I divided it into some ramekins, covered them with plastic, and stuck them in the fridge.
I also weighed the cheese, just to see if I'd matched the yield given in the recipe.
Now, the thing is, I also have a book, put out by Ricki Carrol, the Cheese Queen, who heads up the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and gives workshops (which would be SO COOL to attend), and I was kind of referring to both the book AND the little pamphlet that came with the cheese kit.
Everything's the same, except that in the book the yield is a pound and a half of cheese, and in the pamphlet it says 2 pounds.
I got a pound and a half, and I'm perfectly fine with that! That's a lot of goat cheese, not that I'm complaining!
I gave some to my friend across the street - she loves goat cheese too, and I wanted her opinion on the taste. I'll be bringing some more to a little family get together tonight, and that leaves the rest for us.
And then...sigh...I guess I'll just have to make it again!
Besides trying to work on Julia's bedroom, plus Bill's project of patching the hardwood floor before we sand and poly the whole thing next week, and a T-ball game today, and a kid's birthday party to bring Alex and Julia to later this afternoon AND a family double birthday party to go to after that, and oh, yeah, return Alex's library books...
I am making goat cheese!
It's actually draining RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!
And will continue to drain for hours - 6 to 12 of them in fact.
So the saga will not be finished until tonight, and my report on the whole thing will come some time as soon as possible after that.
But I am EXTREMELY excited about this current cheese project.
I've gotten behind on my posts, so much so that I've done two more batches each of Ricotta and Mozzarella but haven't written about them yet.
I'm not going to rehash the whole recipe and process every time. If you want to see the original Ricotta-making post, go here. And if you want to see the original Mozzarella-making post, go here.
I did, however, want to write about how things went with each successive batch. In a nutshell, things improved. But who wants a nutshell? It's hardly satisfying.
Both times I've made cheeses again, I've made a double batch of mozzarella (if I'm going to make it, why not make plenty?) and a half batch of ricotta.
Second batch of mozzarella went so much smoother than the first chaotic experience. I learned a lot from the first batch. Things like...the milk will heat up to 55 degrees F pretty darn fast, so don't go reading ahead in the recipe or anything. Just WAIT. Which is what I did. Added the citric acid right on time, temperature-wise. I also made sure I had LOTS of bowls on hand, a couple of strainers, slotted spoons, and huge glass of ice water for myself, because it gets pretty hot standing there over a hot pot of milk curds. Oh, yeah, and I was also making bread, too. I'll post about that separately. I made some baguettes to have with the cheeses.
Anyway. With this batch #2 of the mozzarella, I changed a few things. I used half whole milk and half 1%. I can't keep eating full fat mozzarella, and that's that. I didn't notice a huge difference, either, though maybe I would if I did a taste test between a full fat and a part full, part low-fat batch. Hmmmm....that sounds like a fun project, actually.
I also added lipase to the batch. Lipase an enzyme used to give Italian cheeses in particular to enhance the flavor. It comes in powder form and keeps for ages in the freezer. You only need a little - I think I used half a teaspoon for this batch.
I also upped the rennet a bit, because I'd read that if you add lipase, the cheese can have a softer consistency, and so if you add more rennet, that helps balance things back out.
Those, and the switch from all whole to half whole and half 1%, were the only changes I made.
Things went a LOT better. For one thing, the way the curds formed after I added the rennet. Well, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I added the citric acid and the lipase (both are dissolved in cool water, and the lipase needs to sit for 20 minutes before using as well) at the 55 degrees F mark and stirred that in. Right away, little tiny curds started to form. You can see them there on the thermometer....
I kept the thermometer in the liquid and gave it a little stir occasionally, just to see how the curds were doing. I was waiting for the temp to go up to 90, so I could add the rennet. Once the rennet joined the party, the fun began.
Woohoo! Curds and whey! A lot of it!
Best of all, as time went on, the curds basically bunched together and tightened into one big mass and started pulling away from the sides of the pot.
Pretty cool, huh?
I also learned another lesson. In the book it says to add the rennet when the temp reaches 90, and then continue heating to between 100-105. So I'm standing there sweating away (probably added additional flavor to the cheese...I'M ONLY KIDDING), holding the thermometer in the middle of the pot. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And the temperature wouldn't go above 90! Maybe up to 91, but nothing more.
I didn't mind so much - I was busy gazing lovingly at the giant mozzarella-to-be floating in the whey. But I was also pretty hot and icky and sort of wanted to get things finished up. I checked the temperature with another thermometer, thinking maybe the new one I'd bought wasn't any good. But no, the other one registered 90 also.
And then some little voice whispered "check the temperature of the whey near the side of the pot!" And so I did, and OH, okay. Got it. The curds apparently get to 90 and stop or something. Or maybe they somehow insulate themselves from the heat. Whatever it was, the whey was plenty hot enough. I don't know the exact temperature- once I saw the temperature zipping past 100 and not slowing, I moved the pot off the burner and shut off the flame.
YAY! Time to strain!
I'm still on the lookout for a really BIG slotted spoon, but this one I bought recently was an improvement over the strainer - it did a better job of draining out the whey as I scooped up the hot curds.
As you can see, there is still a lot of whey to be strained out of the curds, but it took less time because I had a better handle on what needed to be done. I also didn't splash whey all over the counter, the floor, and myself. Not a lot, anyway.
While I worked on pressing the curds together and pouring off the whey, I was also heating the pot of whey (with salt added) up to 175. I made several balls of curds and set them aside. It's sort of like forming snowballs...sometimes the snow isn't exACTLY the right consistency to retain it's ball shape. Same deal with the curds. They're still kind of wet, and crumbly at the same time. So they'll stick together, but you have to do it carefully, otherwise they'll just break into pieces.
It is taking me 3-4 dips in the hot salted whey (okay, I'm not going in it, I mean dipping the ball of curds in the whey 3-4 times) to achieve the proper stretchy consistency. After the first dunk, I mostly just squeeze out more whey and fold the curds (carefully) over and over a couple of times in my hands, give them another squeeze and then put the ball back into the whey. After the second dip, I can start to see the strings forming.
See them? Little stringy bits? But you can also see it's still rather crumbly, too. So I knead it in the bowl or in my hands, and this time around the ball starts to hold together better.
Back into the whey again, and I start to fold it and stretch, fold it and stretch...
It's pretty close now - much stretchier.
I can't tell you how cool this is. Well, I guess I can. It's really, really cool.
And what did I do with this batch? I'd made it a double batch so we could enjoy some that night and so I'd also have some for the next night, when Bill's brother and his girlfriend and his son and HIS girlfriend came over for dinner. We did beer can chickens (Bill cooked those) and I made a pasta salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of mayo...and two zucchini (from the garden)
and a beautiful little pattypan squash (from the garden)
grilled and then cut up into chunks and tossed into the pasta. I also added some scallions (from our garden), and salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of my ricotta over the top. (The second batch of ricotta went off without a hitch.)
I also made a salad of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and sliced organic hot-house tomatoes. I drizzled the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkled it with freshly ground black pepper and some generous pinches of Mediterranean Sea Salt.
In case you're wondering, after I'd done my two long rows of tomato/mozzarella/basil, I still had a bit of everything left over. So I chopped it up, tossed it together and set it down the center. I figured maybe some people would prefer the slices and others would prefer the chopped stuff.
And ALSO (will it never end???) I served a ball of ricotta in the center of one of my breads. I'd made three baguettes and two circular loaves, both with holes in the center. One looked like a giant bagel, and the other I'd braided and then joined the two ends. I sliced that loaf - the braided one - one quarter at a time and set the whole sliced braided loaf in a pie plate where it fit perfectly. I set the ball of ricotta in the center.
OH - I almost forgot - I'd ALSO made little mozzarella balls - bocconcini - and let them bathe in a blend of olive oil and chopped herbs from the garden. Bill and I ate those the night before, spread on one of my baguettes.
Okay, so all that was from my second batches of mozzarella and ricotta.
I made the third batch of each on Friday, July 4th, while Bill and Alex were out digging quahogs (actually most of them were little neck size) for chowder. Julia was home with me, but there's not much I can let her do while I'm making mozzarella without her being in danger of getting burned. She did, however, help me make pizza dough later in the day.
I'd finished the mozzarella and a small batch of ricotta before Bill and Alex returned from digging. Alex learned how to use a clam rake and did his share of the work, thus earning his dinner. They had 52 clams in all (not the "thousands" that Alex told me initially) - more than enough to make chowder.
Since we had a surplus, we ate the smallest ones raw, on the half shell. Yum. Alex loved them, too. Julia, not so much.
Bill steamed clams and diced potatoes to make chowder and then shucked the rest of the clams and set them out with lemon wedges on a platter.
And what was I doing all this time? Well, I had made pizza dough earlier, so I cut off enough for two pizzas, stretched out the dough on two cookie sheets, and gave them to the kids to work on. I don't have pictures. Julia topped hers with tomato sauce, sliced fresh mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, and zucchini coins I'd sauteed earlier. Alex spread a thin layer of sauce, then added mostly sliced pepperoni, some zucchini, and small pieces of cheddar.
I made another pizza (it was SO HOT in our house by this time, what with all the cheesemaking earlier in the day, and the pizzas baking, and the chowder cooking away on top of the stove) - oh, yeah, speaking of hot in the kitchen - I had also roasted 8 heads of garlic in the morning. I squeezed all the garlic out and pureed it. I'll freeze some and keep the rest handy. I love the stuff.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I made another pizza - pureed roasted garlic smeared on the dough first, topped with sauteed mushrooms (a blend of oyster, crimini and shitake) and ricotta, then drizzled with olive oil. THAT one was pretty tasty, I have to say.
And I made one final pizza, but we were too full to eat it that night.
I'd bought garlic scapes at the Farmers' Market that morning, and I wanted to use them on a pizza. I sauteed the garlic scapes in butter, salt and pepper earlier. When I made the pizza, I topped dough with a nice smear of the roasted garlic puree, then "artistically arranged" several of the garlic scapes on top, arranged bits and pieces of fresh mozzarella here and there and added ricotta in and around the mozzarella. Then I placed 7 of the raw little necks in the loops of the garlic scapes, drizzled it all with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
It smelled really really good while it was baking but, like I said, we were just too stuffed to eat anything more.
We saved it and had it last night (the 5th) for dinner after the kids were in bed. It was fabulous. The two "shades" of garlic - the roasted garlic puree and the sharper scapes...the soft, mild cheeses...and the occasional brine of the clams.
I told my sister yesterday that when I was done and all the mozzarella balls were formed (or eaten), I felt this urge to cry...it was similar to after both my kids were born, only without the pain. And, of course, not as wonderful and amazing as my children, flesh of my flesh, and so on.
It was the aftermath of success, of having made something myself, by my own hands. Tracey recently referenced a line from "Sunday in the Park with George" (yeah, I'm WAY off on a tangent), which, if you aren't familiar with it, is the fabulous musical by Stephen Sondheim revolving around a fictionalized version of the life of artist Georges Seurat, but also about the creative process and art and art vs profit and relationships and all sorts of stuff. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters starred in it and the music sometimes plays in my head for days.
Particularly the song "Finishing the Hat," which is Georges'...explanation? description?...of, basically, what it's like to be an artist. Relationships fall by the wayside, life continues to go on outside, because you "have to finish the hat." And at the very end of the song, after all the pain and passion have subsided...he sings, softer......"Finishing the hat/Look, I made a hat!/....Where there never was a hat!"
And that's my incredibly long and way off topic (sort of) explanation of how I felt upon completion of my first batch of mozzarella.
Look - I made fresh cheese!
But before the success came the work, and while not difficult work, it was new work, and at times my cheesemaking rivaled Lucy Ricardo's chocolate factory assembly line experiences. Really. Well, okay, not exactly, I wasn't stuffing curds down my blouse or anything. But it was a bit of a comedy.
Okay, before I go and revisit my own ineptitude, I have to say, if you want to learn how to make cheese, your first stop should really be at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, owned and run and taught (yes, workshops and DVDs) by Ricki Carroll, aka "The Cheese Queen." I read about Ricki in Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which I talked about a bit here, and I basically knew I had to give it all a try. I ordered the "Ricotta and Mozzarella" kit, and in the meantime I made my first batch of ricotta. I also bought Ricki Carroll's book "Home Cheesemaking" and have pretty much destroyed the pages with all my drooling. I've asked Bill to build me a cheese press...all I'll need now are the cows and goats and sheep to milk and I'll be SET.
Again, I babble.
Okay, I got my kit and I got my book and I got whole, pasteurized, locally produced milk. I had my stainless steel equipment and thermometer and a bowl. I was ready.
And also, weirdly, I was sort of nervous. I don't know why. I usually attack this sort of thing fearlessly. But for whatever reason, I was a little apprehensive.
And then I got annoyed with myself, squared my shoulders, tied on my apron, and got to work.
I used Ricki Carroll's "Thirty-Minute Mozzarella" recipe from her book, basically, but I didn't do it using the microwave (which is what makes it take only 30 minutes to make), because, I don't know, I felt like it was too easy that way.
So here's what I did.
First, I got out everything I'd need (or so I thought).
Following Ricki's recipe, here are the ingredients:
1 1/2 level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
1 gallon pasteurized whole milk
1/8-1/4 teaspoon lipase powder (I didn't use any for this first batch)
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/4 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
1 teaspoon cheese salt (optional) - (I didn't use this either - I ended up following the non-microwave directions, which included adding 1/4 cup cheese salt to the hot whey...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
Okay, here we go...
1. While stirring, add the citiric acid solution to the milk at 55 degrees F and mix thoroughly. (If using lipase, add it now.)
I started off by immediately screwing up. I put the milk in the pot and turned the heat on and walked away to read through the directions again. Okay, fine, I was reviewing directions, HOWEVER, milk heats up rather quickly, and I should have stayed right where I was, thermometer in hand, to wait for the milk to quickly reach that 55 degrees.
By the time the sluggish voice in my head woke up, rubbed its eyes, and remembered to remind me about that 55 degree temperature I was shooting for, the actual temperature of the milk was up to about 82 degrees. Oh GREAT! I've already ruined it!
I shut off the flame and moved the pot to a cold burner and started stirring like I was possessed, frantically trying to cool down the milk. Of course, that wasn't working all that well. Okay, think, Jayne...COLD WATER! THAT'S WHAT I NEED! I filled a big stainless steel bowl with cold water (our icemaker wasn't working, in case you were thinking, rightly, "icewater would be better") and set the pot down in it and continued to stir like a madwoman. The pot was also near an open window. I begged for strong breezes. I checked the temperature. Oooh, already down a whole degree. I'll get down to 55 by the weekend, probably. Damn the stupid not-working icemaker! I need ice! Stir stir stir stir. Another tenth of a degree.
Hey! I suddenly had a functioning brain again. We have freezer pack things to put in coolers and lunch bags! I can use them! I dug out all the frozen plastic things we had and set them below and around the pot in the bowl of water. Quite the assemblage, let me tell you. I stirred and stirred, and hoooooey! Eventually, like around two years later, I got down into the low seventies. You know that saying about a watched pot never boiling? Same thing applies to that pot never cooling.
This was taking way longer than thirty minutes. In fact, just my dumbass mistake and the attempt to fix it had already brought me past the thirty minute mark. I briefly thought of putting the pot in the fridge, but that would mean clearing space and that would take MORE time, and is it really, really, REALLY imperative that the dissolved citric acid go in at EXACTLY 55 degrees? I mean, you keep heating it up anyway, right? Check the temperature...ooh, it's 70 now. FINE. I'm just going to go ahead with it. If I screw it all up, so be it. Dammit. Dumbass.
So after the stirring of the milk and the berating of myself was over, I dried off the bottom of the pot and set it back on the burner. And, holding my breath, added the citric acid and stirred it in. The milk exploded all over the kitchen. Just kidding. Nothing happened. Nothing bad, anyway. Instead, happily, the milk started to coagulate in little tiny, wispy shreds. Exhale. Okay, now what?
2. Heat the milk to 90 degrees F over medium/low heat. (The milk will start to curdle.)
I can manage that, I think. Just don't walk away again!
3. Gently stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion, while heating the milk to between 100-105 degrees F. Turn off the heat. The curds should be pulling away from the sides of the pot; they are ready to scoop out (approximately 3 to 5 minutes for this).
Ack! What do I use to stir in an up and down motion? I forgot this part! I don't have the right equipment after all! I ended up using a large serving spoon and kind of pressing the milk up and down with the bowl of the spoon. I guess it worked - curds formed. I've got CURDS!
4. The curds will look like thick yogurt and have a bit of shine to them, and the whey will be clear. If the whey is still milky white, wait a few more minutes.
My whey looked pretty clear to me, but I waited a few minutes anyway, just to be sure.
5. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put into a 2-quart microwavable bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve the whey.
Okay, I had looked in a couple of stores for a nice, wide, slotted stainless steel spoon or ladle that I could use for this part. I should have looked harder, but I thought I could make due with a sort of mesh strainer with a handle. It was flat, and looked basically like a spoon only with mesh instead of a solid or slotted bowl. It did come in handy, but not at this particular moment. I tried scooping out the curds with it, but since at this point there are big curds and small curds and tiny curds, the tiny ones clogged all the holes in the mesh and I ended up scooping lots of whey along with the curds. So my 2-quart bowl had a nice pile of curds surrounded by a moat of whey. Grrrr. I grabbed a slotted serving spoon from the drawer under the counter and used that for my scooping. It worked well, except it wasn't very big and all the scooping took me 4-EVAH.
And then there was the matter of all the tiny curds. I was bound and determined that I would harvest ALL the curds, every last one of them, in order to get the most mozzarella for my efforts. So I switched back to the mesh spoon and caught the fleeing curds like fish in a net. Only problem was, they got stuck in the mesh (yeah, like dolphins in a tuna net) and I had to bang the mesh spoon on my bowl to free them. I didn't break the bowl, but this really wasn't the best option.
Now, one of the important things when making cheese is CLEANLINESS. So with that uppermost in my fevered brain, I had laid out all my tools on clean paper towels prior to the start of my cheesefest. I planned to ONLY use these. Because I had washed and inspected them all and they were nice and clean.
But then there I was, banging a metal spoon on a glass bowl, just daring the bowl not to break and spill all my hard-earned curds on the floor. I glanced around the kitchen and AHA - I grabbed the bowl of my 6 quart KitchenAid mixer and a mesh strainer (deeper bowl than the spoon thing), set the strainer on the mixing bowl and yes, poured the pot of whey through the 5" diameter strainer to get those last stubborn little curds, dammit! Got 'em! And then I also strained the whey from the curds in my glass bowl. Amazingly, that part went fine.
And then I had to pour the whey from the mixing bowl back into the pot so that later on I could heat that up to heat up the curds so they'd be stretchy...that part comes later. So anyway, I've got the big 6 quart bowl of whey and I'm trying to pour the whey into the pot without spilling it. I didn't want the whey to drip down the edge of the bowl and drip onto the stove...so I tried to hold the bowl so the lip would be at one side of the pot and the rest of the bowl would be completely over the pot and there would be no spillage. I tilted the bowl and the whey rolled out in crashing waves, right over the side of the pot and into my mise en placed bowls of cheese salt, onto the counter, between the counter and the onto the floor. Great going, Jayne!
But at least most of the whey went back into the pot.
Okay...where was I?
6. Microwave the curds on high - No, wait, I'm not going that route. I have to read the section little blurb in the box to the left on that page....
"No microwave? If you don't have a microwave, you may want to put on heavy rubber gloves at this point. Heat the reserved whey to at least 175 degrees F. Add 1/4 cup of cheese salt to the whey. Shape the curd into one or more balls, put them in a ladle or strainer, and dip them into the hot whey for several seconds. Knead the curd with spoons between each dip and repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable."
Well, I don't have rubber gloves, but I do have "chef hands" - I can tolerate the heat a lot better than some people (like my husband, who was getting something off the stove the other day that was hot and I heard him hiss to himself "Ow...don't have chef hands!"), so I figured I could stand to handle the hot curds. I started heating up the whey and while it was heating, I formed some small balls with the curds and put them in another bowl. I had one pot of whey and three different glass bowls, a stainless steel mixing bowl, several spoons (slotted and non-slotted), two thermometers, two types of mesh strainers, and a ladle. I looked SO in control of things. But whatever. I soldiered on.
The whey was nice and hot, and I took one ball of curds, put it in the ladle, and lowered it into the pot for a couple of seconds. Then I poured the ball into an empty bowl and started to knead it. Now, I've kneaded bread and pasta doughs, but I could slam them on a floured countertop and somehow I didn't think that was appropriate for curds. So I just picked up the ball of warmed curds and started pressing it and smushing it in my hands. I don't know how to describe it, but I guess it was a kind of mini-kneading.
8. Knead quickly until it is smooth and elastic. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it is done. If the curds break instead of stretch, they are too cool and need to be reheated.
Still too curdy, so I put the ball back in the ladle, immersed it again, and worked it by hand again. Hm...it was starting to hold together better, and I could actually see little cheesy strands starting to form.
I WAS DOING IT!! Back into the hot whey once more...and this time part of it stuck - in a gooey, cheesy way!!! - to the ladle when I tipped it back into the bowl. This time, when I was kneading it, the whole cheese had been transformed from ricotta-like curds to elastic strands of - can it be??? - fresh mozzarella!
9. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls and eat while warm. Or place them in a bowl of ice water for 1/2 hour to bring the inside temperature down rapidly; this will produce a consistent smooth texture throughout the cheese. Although best eaten fresh, if you must wait, cover and store in the refrigerator.
I continued to play with the stretchy, strandy, shiny, magical ball of mozzarella and hollered for my husband, who was practicing a self-arranged solo version of "Ave Maria" for a wedding he's playing this Saturday. Normally I don't interrupt him when he's practicing, but this was IMPORTANT!!! He didn't come a-running as quickly as I would have liked, but I guess he had to put the guitar down first so I wouldn't drip whey on it.
I tore that first ball in two and gave him half. Okay, the smaller half, but hey, I actually MADE the cheese, so I figured I'd earned the slightly bigger piece. And it was warm and soft and slightly chewy and slightly salty and definitely CHEESE. Bill looked at me, nodding. "It's the real deal." He said. "Good job." (That's his version of jumping up and down and squealing "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" about things.)
Bursting with a million emotions - joy and pride and, yeah, relief - I finished making the rest of my mozzarella balls - in various sizes.
Julia came into the kitchen at some point and had part of a ball - LOVED IT - and wanted more. We told her she had to wait til I was all done. Alex, expectedly, didn't want any. It's that white squishy cheese thing with him. But that's okay, I knew that ahead of time.
Everything within a 4 foot radius of that pot of whey was splashed with little droplets of whey. And later on, I noticed that tiny curds had stuck in and around and on my rings. My glasses were splashed and smeared, too. I was hot and sweaty and breathless and emotionally exhausted (okay, that's a slight exaggeration)...and I was exultant.
I did it!
And the best part is, I can't wait to do it again. This time, I'll know what I'm doing, and I'll be able to enjoy the process and maybe take more pictures. I didn't plan to take pictures with this first batch - I had planned to focus completely on the task at hand. Of course, that flew out the window when I heated my milk too fast at the very beginning, and I ended up taking a couple of pictures when I had a moment of down time. But there were other points that I wanted to take pictures, to give you a more step by step feel for it. So I'll do that when I make batch #2.
Yield: 3/4 - 1 pound
I couldn't get the exact yield of mine because the first two balls were eaten right away. But there was another ball about the same size as the two that were gone, so I weighed what I had and ballparked the actual weight of the whole batch. And it was half an ounce under a pound. So - not bad at all, I say.
Above - on the left - a ball of curds. On the right - two balls of mozzarella. By my own hands.
I know I sound like a lunatic, but really - this was so cool. I "get" the process now, the heating the curds so they are pliable, and working them until they become stretchy. I really can't wait to make some more. And then - so many possibilities! Grilled pizzas...salads of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil...mozzarella sticks for Julia to eat most of and the leave the last nub somewhere on a piece of furniture in a room other than the dining room...FRIED mozzarella!! Lasagne and manicotti and stuffed shells...and chicken or eggplant parmesan...or just - fresh cheese, still warm, eaten while standing by the stove.
You HAVE to try this, folks. Really. It is SO worth it.
And here - I just wanted to link again to this website - I'm not being paid to, but really, if you want to get started making cheese, go check it out.
New England Cheesemaking provides everything you need to make fresh, homemade cheese, they even have a 30 minute Mozzarella. From kits to recipes to books, store bought will never taste the same again.
YAY! I MADE MY FIRST CHEESE! WOO HOO! NOW I'M GOING TO BUY A LARGER PIECE OF LAND AND RAISE COWS AND GOATS AND SHEEP AND MAKE LOTS AND LOTS OF CHEESE!
Okay, yeah, I'm getting carried away. But still. I've never made cheese before - well, okay, I made yogurt cheese but that's basically just straining the liquid out of plain yogurt - I didn't have to COOK anything.
So anyway, I'm on a cheese kick now, so consider yourself warned. I've bought a book, I've ordered a kit, and next up will be fresh mozzarella, baby. ALL. SUMMER. LONG. And when the tomatoes start coming in? And basil? Layered with the FRESH MOZZARELLA THAT I WILL MAKE and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper? OH, you will wish you were my neighbor.
Okay, I've calmed down now.
I've seen other food bloggers mention making their own ricotta and how easy it is, so I finally decided to pick out a recipe and go for it. I used this recipe for this batch, and I'll probably try others here and there.
It was pretty easy, and cool, and fun, and if you're at all inclined, and interested, and if you like Ricotta cheese, then go make some.
This version makes it using whole milk, but traditionally ricotta is made from the whey left over from making mozzarella. I plan to try it that way, too, once I've actually MADE the mozzarella.
So anyway, to make this version, all you need are milk, non-iodized salt (that's kosher salt in the little bowl), and white vinegar. (Please excuse the slight blur to that photo - I was trembling with excitement and the camera shook.)
The fresher the better, as far as the milk goes, and you want to make sure it's not ULTRA-pasteurized. Pasteurized is fine, but not the ULTRA, because that stuff's been pasteurized at too high a temperature to successfully make cheese.
Here we go.
My gallon of milk is in the pot - the recipe in the link tells you to rinse the pot with cold water before adding the milk, in order to prevent scorching - along with the salt, and a thermometer. I'm heating it on medium to bring it to just before the boil - also called scalding - which, per this recipe, should be between 180-185.
Per my scribbled notes, this was begun at 12:13. I stirred it every so often.
Once the milk reached the desired temperature, I took it off the heat, added the vinegar and stirred for "no more than a minute."
While I was stirring, the acid in the vinegar was already causing the curds to separate from the whey.
It was pretty cool, actually.
Then, I covered the pot with a dry dish towel, as instructed, and left it to its own devices. This was at 12:40.
While the ricotta was forming, I made some pasta dough.
The recipe said to let the pot of ricotta-to-be sit for at least 2 hours. I held out for an extra fifteen minutes.
At 2:55, I took the dish towel off for good and here's what I saw.
Nope, it doesn't look all that different from the picture above it. But there's actually more of the curds than there were initially.
Here's a lovely close-up shot.
And a closer one.
Next step is to strain the curds from the whey.
I lined a collander with some cheesecloth and set it on one of the bowls to my mixer.
Then I ladled the curds into the cheesecloth-lined collander.
And let them sit for another couple of hours.
And, TA-DA! It's ricotta.
How simple, huh???????
From one gallon of milk, I got a little over 4 cups of cheese.
And THEN what did I do?
I covered the measuring cup above with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I had to get back to the ravioli I was working on. I could have used the ricotta in the ravioli instead of the goat cheese, yes, but I'd already planned on the goat cheese and had the flavor kind of working in my mind. So I figured I'd make lasagna or manicotti in a day or two with the ricotta.
Which, of course, I did. And I'll share that whole adventure with you next time.
For now, I've got to go make two pie crusts. One of them is for a strawberry-rhubarb pie (strawberries from the Farmers' Market and rhubarb from our back yard), and the other is for a quiche my husband will be making tonight - on the grill! So even though it's a quiche, if it's cooked on the grill, it's a manly food.
That's it for the moment! Now go make some ricotta!