I blame Barbara Kingsolver. I've been thoroughly enjoying Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I respect and applaud her family's decision to break away from the world of corporate food and eat as locally as possible. Really, I do. But part of me (the insecure and immature part I guess) was feeling kind of like a loser as I read, thinking wistfully about the cook and gardener I could be if I would just get my act together and knowing that I probably never will. But then came the chapter on cheese, specifically the 30-minute fresh mozzarella recipe. Really, she insists, normal people can make real cheese in their own kitchens. Well, I was in.
I especially wanted to make cheese with The Spouse this weekend. It might seem like an odd activity for an anniversary but we are, after all, the couple who had to visit both the Tillamook Cheese Factory and the Blue Heron French Cheese Company on our honeymoon. We like our cheese.
I started out simply by heating a gallon of organic milk on the stove. My thermometer isn't terribly accurate at the lower end, so I had to guess about the proper time to add the citric acid. At this point it was more or less like making paneer, which I have done many times. Adding the rennet seems to change the consistency of the curds and make them stick together with more tenacity than paneer. Once the curds formed I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and mashed things around to press out as much of the watery whey as possible. Eventually the mass of curds came together into something resembling either a cauliflower or a brain, depending on your point of view.
The mass of curds is then heated in the microwave for a minute or so and kneaded. This is the fun part as the texture begins to change dramatically. Once it cools, you repeat the heating/kneading until most of the moisture is out of the cheese.
You can then form the cheese into whatever shape you like. I made about 12 2" balls of cheese. The flavor was incredibly delicate and buttery and the cheese squeaks just slightly when chewed which is a sensation I love.
It took a few phone calls to find vegetarian rennet locally but I figured if I was going to make my own cheese I might as well make it kosher as well. The citric acid also took a couple of calls but we were able to round up all the ingredients here in Portland. For those more patient folks wanting to do mail order, I'd take a look here as they seem to have a huge array of items for your cheesemaking needs.
This isn't particularly cost effective as there wasn't a whole lot to show for a gallon of milk, especially once The Dark Lord came through the kitchen and discovered the cheese. But I will certainly try this again, perhaps when I have a pile of fresh grape tomatoes. I can see rolling the fresh mozzarella into tiny balls, and tossing them with fresh basil, tomatoes, and a bit of olive oil for a variation on the Caprese salad. How lovely that would be in deep summer with home grown tomatoes and homemade cheese! I may not have a farm of many acres and I even fell behind in planting my vegetable beds this year, but I did manage to pop a few tomato plants in the ground last month, so that heavenly salad shouldn't be too far away.
Apologies for the photo quality. Given a choice between cheesemaking and documenting cheesemaking, well, the cheese won so I (or The Spouse) snapped what photos we could despite poor lighting.