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’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.
I admit it, I was poking around on Photograzing (the Serious Eats version of sites like Food Gawker and Tastespotting), checking to see if the bread photo I'd submitted had been posted. It had - but right next to my pale white bread photo was a luscious looking sandwich of roasted vegetables, goat cheese, and basil. and it looked GOOD. The photo was posted on The Kitchen Sink in a post entitled "Pondering a Picnics-Only Plan."
And not only did I find myself calling my husband over to see that picture, but I also thought - I could make something like that for dinner tonight.
So I did.
We had leftover zucchini, pattypan squash, and kohlrabi that Bill had grilled last Wednesday night. I had about half a baguette. I had fresh mozzarella that I made last Thursday (more on that in a paragraph or two), some 1/8 inch thick prosciutto left over from a recipe cooked here on...um...Saturday. And half a 10 ounce log of Ile de France goat cheese that I was sent by a rep from Ile de France (more on that later, too). What else - pepperoni and slices of romano for Alex. I also had a bowl of fresh basil, brought over on Saturday by a friend. Olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar rounded everything out.
Here's what I did.
I sliced the baguette lengthwise into thirds - I didn't want really thick bread. Plus I wanted to be able to feed all four of us with what we had.
I put the slices on a cookie sheet and drizzled them (generously) with olive oil, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.
I took some more olive oil, and some minced red onion (also left over from Saturday), sauted the onion for a couple minutes, and then sliced the grilled vegetables and placed them in the pan to heat up. I cut up the thick prosciutto into inch-sized pieces...what else did I do...I guess that was it.
Okay, on one third of the olive oil drizzled baguette, I put down a layer of basil leaves, then pepperoni slices, and then thin slices of romano. Ta da.
On the other slices...I put down a layer of basil leaves, and on top of them, slices of fresh mozzarella.
Now let me pause a moment and talk about this mozzarella, because every time I make it, I learn something. I wanted to make cheese because Bill's brother and sister-in-law were here and yeah, sometimes I am a showoff.
And then it sort of backfires, which keeps me humble. The last two times I made mozzarella, I used half whole milk/half 1%. This time, for some reason, I thought I'd try half whole and half fat free. I don't know why. Maybe because I hadn't tried that combination yet. Well, I got all my stuff set up, stirred in my citric acid and lipase...watched the coagulation begin...stirred in the rennet...watched the curds set up...strained the gorgeous curds...added my salt to the whey...and started kneading the curds, and...
They didn't want to stretch. I knew the whey was plenty hot enough - it was hotter than usual, in fact, because I didn't want to spend too much time in the crumbly curd stage. But the curds didn't get stretchy. The held together and all, but they were not soft and elastic like they were supposed to be. The texture was off - my sister-in-law said it was squeaky, and that's pretty much on the money. I formed the cheese into balls as best I could, and stuck them in a bag in the fridge. I tried a piece later - they were tough and unpleasant to chew. Taste was bland. My verdict? Not enough fat. I don't plan to use fat-free milk again in my mozzarella making.
I got creative, because I was determined not to waste the two pounds of cheese I'd made. So I sliced it all thinly and put it in a bowl of generously salted water, and stuck it all back in the fridge. And that helped salvage the batch.
So anyway, back to the open-faced sandwich I was talking about. I put down the basil, and then this salvaged (moister, more flavorful) mozzarella. On top of that went the sliced, grilled, reheated zucchini, pattypan and kohlrabi. On top of them? The prosciutto. And then? Globs of goat cheese.
And here's another story.
A month or so ago I got an email from someone at Ile de France cheese. He asked if I'd be interested in receiving some samples of their cheeses and writing about them in my blog.
And I thought - hey! Free cheese? Count me in!
The thing is, I've bought Ile de France's Brie often and I was already a fan. I'd never had their goat cheese, though, so I asked if I could try that one. I was told the cheese would ship on July 7th and I'd receive it on the 8th "in perfect condition." And you know? That's exactly what happened!
I saved the cheese for the following evening, when Bill's brother and sister-in-law were due to arrive. I figured the more opinions, the merrier.
I served the goat cheese with a couple of different kinds of crackers, and, among the goat cheese fans in the group (Alex wanted no part of it, and my sister-in-law didn't want any), the consensus was that the Ile de France goat cheese was very, very nice. It had a bright, fresh, kind of citrusy flavor (my opinion) - Bill's brother said it wasn't as "goaty" as other goat cheeses - I'm thinking he meant it was milder. Half the log was gone before dinner that day. It was soft and tangy and delicious. I'd like to get some another time, along with a couple of other goat cheeses, and do a tasting, just to compare them all. Hmmm.
Anyway, back to my sandwich.
I put the goat cheese on top of the grilled vegetables, and popped the cookie sheet in a 350 degree (F) oven for about 15 minutes. The cheeses got nice and melty (okay, not the romano so much) and the whole thing smelled heavenly. After I pulled the cookie sheet from the oven, I drizzled some balsamic glaze over the grilled vegetable sandwiches, sliced them into smaller sections, and served them up.
I think I could eat this sort of thing every day for the rest of the summer. We've got squashes ripening on a daily basis - I can't think of a better way to serve them. Really. Sheer heaven. The smokey grill flavor of the zucchini, pattypan and kohlrabi...the hint of bitterness from the kohlrabi (think brussels sprouts or cabbage)...the sweetness of the zucchini and pattypan, the basil, and the balsamic glaze...the soft salty/tangy cheeses and the savory salty proscuitto...and the earthy, fruity olive oil soaking into the bread.
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.