Cheesy Goodness

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My love for cheese is difficult to describe in words. I feel like an interpretive dance would be a much better medium for such an expression of emotion; unfortunately, I can’t do that here. We’ll keep it simple: I (pause) LOVE (pause) CHEESE.

After reading about how simple cheese making can be in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I figured I’d turn my shy, embarrassed crush on cheesecraft into a hands-on adventure. I knew I probably couldn’t go wrong by ordering a starter kit from the Cheese Queen who Kingsolver hails in the book, but I was delighted to find a cheese kit distributor in my own dear Oregon: Urban Cheesecraft (a Cheese Princess, perhaps?). My beloved Mariko, who is always up for adventure, helped me pick out a kit and a gallon of pasturized (not ultra-pasturized) milk at the Alberta Cooperative Grocery.

On to the CHEESE!

My First Experience with Fresh 30-Minute Mozzarella

Step 1: Admire the cute packaging.

Step 2: Dissolve stuff: a.) 1/4 rennet tablet into 1/4 cup cool water (this took a while) b.) 1 1/2 tsp. citric acid into 1 cup cool water.

Step 3: Pour 1 gal. milk into a non-reactive pot (I used my giant enameled cast iron pot) and stir in solution “b.” Heat the mixture to 90 degrees F.

Step 4: Remove pot from heat and slowly stir in rennet solution for 30 seconds. Cover and leave it alone for 5 minutes.

Step 5: Look at the curd and verify that it looks like custard, with a clear separation between the curd and whey. (Mine wasn’t quite there, so I let it stand for couple of minutes more.) Once it is ready, cut the curd into one-inch squares with slices moving from one side of the pot to the other. I like this next part the best: “When you finish cutting, jiggle the pot; you should more easily see your squares with whey in between them.”

Step 6: Put pot back on heat and get the temp up to 105 degrees F. The curds will break up and cook.

Step 6: Once the temp is up there, take the pot off and keep stirring 2-5 minutes. (Wearing a “guapo” man-chest apron is optional, but definitely lends to a better end result.)

Step 7: Ladle curds into a big microwavable bowl. Heat for one minute. Pour out whey as you fold curds together. Microwave another 30 seconds (I had to go longer…more like 1 1/2 minutes…maybe my microwave sucks?)

Step 8: Add 1+ tsp cheese salt, then mix it in by folding/mashing/stretching. Because the mixture was hot, I got aggressive with my wooden spoon until the cheese got a bit shiny, then started stretching it with my hands. This step is really exciting because the cheese starts to resemble cheese!

Step 9: Fold the cheese into a ball, or whatever shape pleases you. Here is a flattened slab I put in a baggie and a ball I cut up so we could eat it ASAP.

Step 10: EAT! We went to the ole’ favorite Insalata Caprese. Tomatoes, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (we went with white balsamic, which keeps it looking clean and bright), and a touch of fresh cracked salt and pepper. Delicious.

I still can’t believe how easy this was. Much easier than making candy…maybe more along the lines of difficulty of a homemade cake. There’s a crazy joy that comes from making something you adore, let me tell you.

I became immediately addicted and made four batches in two days. While batch 1, 2 and 4 turned out perfect mozzarella, batch 3 never melded into the shiny ball as it was supposed to. Instead, this batch ended up more like ricotta. As urged to in the “Pep Talk” section of the instruction manual, I just accepted it as it was. We added some herbs and garlic and used it to stuff pasta shells topped with marinara (yum!).

Another bonus? I used the leftover whey from batch 1 instead of water when I made a few loaves of bread. It added a delicious dairy twist, which my mom was a big fan of.




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