Yeah… that might be kind of a cheesy title, but this is going to be one cheesy post!
We have some friends, Sarah & Kramer (referred to by friends as the Kramersteins), that push the definition of “homemade” to a whole new level. So much so that there’s a whole blog coming on just this matter very soon, but for now, it’s suffice to say that there is hardly anything seemingly in their kitchen that they didn’t grow, preserve or make themselves. Well… except for maybe one – cheese. Sarah and I had been talking about trying our hand at it for a long time, but they have two little kids (yes… two kids under the age of 3 and they STILL make everything from scratch. They are definitely superstars!), life gets busy and cheese making kept being pushed down the to-do list.
I dipped my toes in the cheese making world a few months ago when I made ricotta. It was amazingly simple with everyday ingredients. But other cheeses – with their scientific sounding ingredients such as rennet, citric acid and long lists of bacterial starters – are really intimating. The directions for making bleu cheese, for example, read, “Inoculate your cheese curd with a suspension of desired blue cheese to make your own home-produced blue cheese. The most difficult aspects of making this cheese are its stringent requirements for temperature, humidity, and daily turning.” Uh. Yeah. Seems like there’s lots of room for something to go wrong there.
We were going over to the Kramersteins’ house recently for a dinner party, and Sarah suggested I come a little early and we’d make mozzarella that could then be used for the pizzas we were going to create that evening. Wait. What? If I come over an hour beforehand, we can have fresh cheese ready to go that night? Ok! Let’s do this!
Sarah had this recipe picked out from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, ironically a book that I have had for years and never read (move that up my to-do list!) While it’s called 30 Minute Mozzarella, it took us longer this first time as I think we were both a little paranoid that we were going to screw it up so we were meticulous in the steps, reading and rereading the directions to assure we were getting it right. Efforts that definitely paid off.
30 Minute Mozzarella
1 gallon pasteurized milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
1 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool non-chlorinated water
1/4 tsp liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool non-chlorinated water
Measure out additives before you start, in clean glass or ceramic cups.
Gently stir in diluted rennet with up-and-down motion, and continue heating the milk to just over 100°, then turn off heat. Curds should be pulling away from sides of pot, ready to scoop out. The whey should be clear. If it’s still milky, wait a few minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to move curds from pot to a 2 quart microwaveable bowl. Press curds gently with hands to remove as much whey as possible.
Microwave* the curds on high for one minute, then knead the cheese again with hands or a spoon to remove more whey. (Rubber gloves help – this gets hot!) Microwave two more times (about 35 seconds each) kneading between each heating.
At this point, salt the cheese to taste, then knead and pull until it’s smooth and elastic. When you can stretch it into ropes like taffy you are done.
If the curds break instead, they need to be reheated a bit. Once cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls to eat warm or store for later in the refrigerator.
*Lacking a microwave (because you know how I feel about microwaves), you can use the pot of hot whey on the stove for the heating-and-kneading steps. Put the ball of curd back in with a big slotted spoon, and heat it until it’s almost too hot to touch. Good stretching temperature is 175°F.
As guests started arriving there was certainly an interest in our project. I mean really – how many dinner parties do most people go to where the host is making fresh cheese? Oh right… we’re at the Kramersteins’. Of course there’s fresh cheese!
The one note I have to add to the recipe is that we were having so much fun pulling the cheese, that I think we over did it. It had a consistency more like string cheese than fresh mozzarella, but I didn’t hear any complaints. And while it was tempting to gobble it all up fresh and warm, some did actually manage to make it on the pizzas.
Not hardly had two days passed when my cheesehead husband was inquiring about when we could make it again. I started dreaming of warm summer days with red, ripe tomatoes picked fresh from the vine and a handful of fragrant basil gathered from outside the back door. Yes indeed, I suspect there will be more cheesy experiments to come. I sure hope so.