Curds and Whey
When we visited the Cooley Family Farm, they served a tasty salad of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, courtesy of the Black Sparrow Pub. Since it's hard to consume a container of store-bought mozzarella before it goes bad, I thought it might be easier to make my own. (For those who are into literary analysis, we could bring on the foreshadowing here - note the past tense of "thought," and ask "is it ever easier to make something yourself?"
I'd bought Aaron a cheesemaking kit for Christmas, so I turned to its recipe for 30-minute mozzarella (the recipe is under the "more information" tab). Thirty minutes my hind end.
Three hours and a gallon of whole organic milk later, this is the result. The mozzarella resembles professionals' mozzarella cheese about as well as the stuff on a school cafeteria pizza. The little balls are more like cheese rocks, and don't have a lot of flavor, probably because I forgot the "add salt" part in my eagerness to bring the "knead piping hot cheese until it's stretchy" part to an end. I haven't tried the ricotta yet - there's so much vinegar in it that I'm kind of afraid to.
So here is what I learned from my cheesemaking experience:
- Hippie grocery stores are a lot more useful than the mainstream stores. I know I used to be able to buy rennet tablets and citric acid in the baking aisles, but couldn't find them in my local groceries. Since the nearby hippie store discounts milk for students, the trip there was probably a good thing, anyway.
- A gallon of milk requires a very big pan.
- A candy thermometer won't accurately measure below 120 or so. I wound up testing the milk like a baby bottle.
- I had curdling issues. The milk wanted to curdle long before I got to the 90 degrees the recipe calls for. But I wanted to stir it gently, to keep the heat even and so it wouldn't burn. I think this kept it from setting up into a nice firm curd once I added the rennet.
- Dogs like whey. Oddly, this is one treat that Oscar seems to like more than Max.
- There are many things that can go wrong with this easy recipe, and I think I found most of them. No matter how much I heated my cheese, it never got to a really nice, stretchy texture.
- You really need genuine butter muslin. Cheesecloth just doesn't do the job, especially for ricotta. A coffee filter is a bad idea for many reasons.
- My ricotta kept looking like it wasn't going to curdle, and so I kept adding vinegar. I cooked it about twice as long as the recipe called for, and eventually got some curdling. Now I wish I'd used less vinegar, or used lemon juice instead.
- The leftover whey from a gallon of milk also requires a really big pot, and a really big bowl to strain it into. I wound up throwing a lot of it away for lack of a place to put it. As I write this, I realize that I should have just poured it back into the empty milk jug. Oops.
- Dogs really like whey. Enough that they'll stand underfoot while you're trying to strain cheese. Max has a spiky hairdo now, and Oscar thinks Max is pretty tasty.
The end result, while not great, is ok. If I can find non-ultra-pasturized milk in half-gallon batches, making my own small amounts of cheese may be worth trying again. The mozzarella made its debut today with my lunch. It wasn't great, but set off the amazingly delicious tomatoes from the Cooleys pretty well. Maybe tonight I'll see how the ricotta goes with berries.