Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

The time has come to talk of cheese, my friends. Cheese that you can make in your very own kitchen, as my friend K and I did this past Sunday. I know - it's pretty exciting, but scootch back off the edge of your seat - all will be revealed.

K had been longing to make cheese, and I was right there for her, wanting to make cheese, too. K purchased this amazing kit from Ricki the Cheese Queen, yes, you heard right, the Cheese Queen. It has everything you need to make 30 batches of mozzarella or ricotta.

Okay, so let's begin! We start, of course, with milk. Low-temperature pasteurized milk, whole or skimmed. We went with whole, cause, come on - fat makes everything more delicious. Apparently ultra-pasteurized milk won't work, because the heat denatures the proteins, and I can't imagine what you end up with, but I don't think it would be pretty. So, we begin with a gallon of milk, like this:
Prior to this, we added 1/4 tablet of rennet into 1/1 cup of water to let it dissolve. We also took 1 1/4 tsp. of citric acid and dissolved it into 1 cup of water. This citric acid solution was then added into the milk, and heated on the stove to 90 degrees. After reaching your temperature, you take the milk off the heat, and add the dissolved rennet, stirring up and down (for some mysterious reason). At that point, you leave the stuff alone for 5 minutes, to work its magic. After that time you get this:

This is curds and whey, people! Let's shudder briefly for Little Miss Muffet, who hopefully was eating cottage cheese. The milk solids, well, solidify into a sort of custardy texture, separating from the whey. Now it's time to cut the cheese! Well, okay, cut the curds...

This is K deftly cutting the curds in a sort of grid to gently break them up, so that they will be ready for the next step, reheating up to 105 degrees, being "slowly moved around," as the instructions told us to do.

After hitting the temperature and with additional stirring time, our curds began to sort come together more in the whey, and ended up looking like this...

Kind of groty, right? I'm not gonna lie to you, at this point, there is an unfortunate (but faint)baby spit-up odor in the mix, but the path to cheese is not without its perils...Well, okay, it really sort of is - it's miraculously easy. Next we drained off the whey - K making a lot of great whey puns all the while. We were shocked at the amount we were left with, momentarily convinced that we had created matter. Here's the curds separated from their pal, the whey.

Now comes a series of trips to the microwave for short periods of time, to heat and then separate more whey. Then comes the stretching, when K bravely handled the piping hot curds, stretching and unifying everything into something that looked like, and - hey - actually was cheese! Before the very end you add in a little salt or herbs or hell, whatever you want.

There it is! Mozzarella cheese! This first batch took maybe 45 minutes to an hour, and the second batch really took just a half-hour, as the directions said it would. Here's the glamour shot of the cheese, right before we sat down and put it to good use with the help of some crackers.

Isn't it pretty? It was damn tasty, too. In addition to cheese, we also used some of the whey for a pizza dough, and made what is darn close to a salted caramel ice cream. All in all, it was a very fulfilling day in the kitchen. As Ricki the Cheese queen says, it's just the beginning of our cheese adventure!


Cheryl said...

Cool making your own cheese! I had no idea it could be pretty easy like this. Who would have thunk it.

Cat said...

Wow - I'm so inspired! I want to try it now! Seriously - where did you meet the Cheese Queen and how can I get the goods?

Cat said...

Ahh - the miracle of google - just found the cheese-making site. Thanks!