Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trial by Curds: Making Cheese

Before I finish eating all of it, I'm going to write about it.  Inspired by the last blog post about things I want to make from scratch, today I spent about an hour making Mozzarella Cheese in my friend Angie's kitchen.  I first saw this kit in the little town of Ashfield, MA when I was doing an internship with Double Edge Theatre.  Little known to me there is a cheese genius in this town of dairy farms: Ricki Carroll, who has been running the business with her husband Robert since 1978.

You can order kits to make Cheddar, Feta, Gouda, Parmesan, and more.  You can buy wax,molds, sign up for cheesemaking classes, or by some awesome books on Cheesemaking.  The website has an in-depth overview of cheesemaking, including different animal milks to use, pasteurization, raw milk, and an explanation of what the hell rennet is.

"Rennet is an enzyme derived from the stomachs of calves, lambs or goats before they consume anything but milk. It is about 90% pure chymosin." (a chemical coming from the 4th chamber of the cow's stomach)

Good to know I can thank the cow's 4th stomach, because it was certainly magical to watch curds form as we stirred in the rennet.  The 30-Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit includes enough for 30 batches, including the rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese salt, a dairy thermometer, and cheesecloth.  All you need to supply is a gallon of milk!

(We used Straus Family Creamery Cream-Top Whole Milk.  I ate the cream out of the bottle with a knife! YUM!)

Whey, the byproduct of the boiling and curdling, is a very interesting substance.  It is milk-ish:  a white cloud that tastes quite tangy and is packed with protein, enzymes, and the all-important lactose.  What to do with it?  Dry it out to put in my morning smoothie?  Drink it straight up? You can also feed it to your tomatoes or your dog.  Either way, it's good to keep around.  It will surely enrich the soul.  

What is most interesting is that one gallon of milk does not yield very much cheese.   Cow's milk is 88% water, 3-5% protein and 3-5% fat.  The rest is minerals and enzymes.   My blob of Mozz turned out to be a little smaller than my fist, about 4 inches across.   No wonder cheese costs so much. (The more you know!)

We had a few technical issues: forgot to add salt, and neither of us achieved the 'custard-like' curd that is supposed to form in the pot before moving on to the forming&stretching stage, but in the end it tasted like the full-fat organic cheesy goodness.  We had to consult a website for troubleshooting.  The directions in the booklet were not as in depth as I would have liked.  Our hiccups were from overheating & overstirring.  Heat it too quickly or too much then the structure breaks down and you end of with something that is less elastic & shiny.  Ah, well.  That's what's practice is for.  I suppose it is the first pancake rule: this one's going to the dog.  Maybe by the 10th time we make it, it will take 30 minutes start to finish. Either way, it was a real thrill to learn to make something from scratch! 

Next up, ricotta!  (and more pictures)

Cheers to Cheese,

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