In addition to the milk in our delivery yesterday, I had requested a soft cheese-making kit. We have a bit of an overstock of milk currently, and I didn’t want it to start going bad. Making cheese would use up a gallon of milk – perfect.
The kit consists of a small sheet of instructions, citric acid and vegetable rennet. There’s enough to make quite a few batches of cheese.
I love it our dairy farm offers vegetable rennet instead of calf’s rennet. I don’t mind it’s “derived from mold.”
Last week, in anticipation of The Great CheeseMaking Event, I’d purchased this fabulous, clip-on-pot thermometer.
What I didn’t know then (but do know now) is that one needs to make mozzarella cheese at temperatures well below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, poo. We’ll make do.
First, we add our gallon of milk right from the fridge to a large pot, add our dissolved citric acid to the chilled milk and stir well.
Next, we twist-tie a digital meat thermometer to our pot handle and gently heat the milk to 88 degrees F.
At this point, it is advisable to remove the pot from the heat entirely – it will hold its temperature nicely without further heat required. We add our rennet dissolved in water, stir for 10 seconds and let it sit for 15 minutes. If, for some reason, the temperature dips several degrees below 88, feel free to gently heat it back up again. But it should be fine.
After five minutes, the milk will have noticeably coagulated. After fifteen, the curds should “break cleanly around a finger inserted, and leave the hole filled with whey.”
Then, we slice the curds into one-inch cubes to facilitate the release of more whey, and allow it to stand for 10 minutes.
We could stop right now if we wanted cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese (with just another quick step or two, anyhow.) But we want a nice, fresh mozz – right?
Here, we deviate completely from the instructions on the sheet coming with the kit and begin to follow the Chickens in the Road Method.
Because her method is faster and seems much less fussy.
We scoop the curds out with a slotted spoon and put them into a microwaveable bowl with a pour spout. I didn’t have a glass, spouted bowl large enough to accommodate the full batch, so I used two, two-quart measuring cups.
I stopped taking photos here, because the ensuing bits are messy. Drippy, gloppy, splashy, hands-wetty messy. And, to be completely honest, a little burny.
In a nutshell, we massage and knead the curds together, pressing out as much whey as possible and returning it to the pot. When we have as much out as possible, we pop the bowl into the microwave for a minute, and knead and stretch and pull and separate and pour off. When the whey is less than forthcoming, we pop it back into the microwave for 35 seconds and repeat until whey leakage is minimal.
The cheese curds are hot. Very, very hot. Nearly too hot to work with, actually, and when they were fresh out of the microwave, I used the slotted spoon to press and knead until they cooled down slightly.
Finding the right balance of “not getting out enough whey” and “overworking the cheese” is going to be an art, I think. My final product tastes wonderful, but has a slightly rubbery texture. I’m not sure if that means I worked it too much, or not enough. Time will tell.
The proper method of stretching involves kneading and pulling in a salty brine heated to 150 degrees. I just didn’t quite have that in me today, but perhaps the texture would be improved.
In the end, we have two baseball-sized balls of mozz and nearly a full gallon of whey.
We plunge them into a ice water bath for twenty-ish minutes, and voila. CHEESE. Cheese in about an hour, no less. Not bad.
Cheese that goes quite well with fresh, garden-plucked tomatoes and some fresh basil.
We also have a mess to clean up, and whey to bottle, but them’s the breaks.
I hadn’t realized how much whey would be left over! Barbara uses whey in soups and other cooking. I’m thinking perhaps homemade whey protein shakes for breakfast, perhaps using it in place of water for my favorite bread mixes. Barbara also says it’s great for fermenting veggies, too.
For the complete mozz recipe, see the Chickens in the Road page – see also, her entire, awesome website.