Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cheese Please

It was on my list of goals for last year, but never attempted. I had it in my head to attempt to make cheese from scratch, just to see what it was all about. I figured I'd start small with mozzarella, and expand from there.

There is not a short supply of recipes online, and I ended up working with this one at Heart, Hands, Home, found - where else? - via Pinterest. This recipe had me at "minimal ingredients."
After some online searching and realizing that I didn't have the time patience to order from the New England Cheesemaking Supply as so many recommend, but when I saw several mentions of Whole Foods as purveyors of rennet and citric acid I thought, "well, that's easy enough." I headed down the block and perused the aisles, finally asking if they carried the necessary products. The answer was no - they had discontinued rennet a few years ago at the store. Perhaps making cheese is not overly popular in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago?

After a few more searches, I stumbled onto Brew & Grow - a hydroponics/home brew resource center. I took advantage of our one weekend of beautiful weather that Chicago is going to apparently get this spring and took a long walk to check it out. With a husband and brother in law itching to try home brewing at some point, I think I'm going to find myself back at this store in the near future. . .
Rennet tablets and citric acid in hand, all that was left was the Cheese Salt. Definitions told me that it really just means non-iodized salt, so my Sea Salt at home would suffice.

Ingredients accounted for, including a gallon of whole milk (making sure the label didn't say "ultra-pasteurized"), I set to work.
Bringing the milk to 90 degrees was a cinch, with 1 tsp. of citric acid mixed in, though I wonder if my thermometer was a bit off, or I should have let it sit longer after the 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in a quarter cup of water and added, as the curdling didn't seem quite as pronounced as it did in the reference recipe and blog photos. Next time I will experiment with this stovetop timing a bit more.
After leaving the milk to sit for 10 minutes, I started spooning the globs into a bowl and getting as much of the yellowish liquid out of the way. A few zaps in the microwave got rid of even more excess liquid, and then the salt was added.
Here's where my version seemed to take a turn. It never got super stretchy or "shiny" - but rather stayed a bit more crumbly. the cheese allowed me to knead it like dough, which was a good sign, but it did seem a little drier than it should have been. I added a bit of water which helped it keep its shape, but this will also be an area I look to perfect.

I rolled the cheese into a log form and then put it in an ice bath for 5 minutes to firm it up. The cheese was wrapped up in parchment paper and put in the fridge for awhile. 
In the end, the taste was a bit on the salty side and it tasted "mealier" than it should have, probably because of the more crumbly consistency it started with.
But I'm going to call it a success because it was a great first attempt - and I can only get better from here! With a pack of 10 rennet tablets, and only 1/4 tablet used for a recipe, I've got 39 more tries.

The price was certainly right for this experiment, assuming that I keep making cheese and not waste the rennet or citric acid, I'd spend about 25 cents per batch on those ingredients. The milk itself is most of the cost, and I found a gallon for $2.50 at our Walmart Express!
So, happy cheese-making to you, and good luck if you try this out! I'll be back at it soon enough. Once mozz is mastered, I can move up the cheesy food chain.

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