I poked a wooden spoon gingerly into the pot and carefully stirred its contents, which looked like a stereotypical witch’s brew. Inside the pot was a thin yellow liquid which smelled of warm milk and was topped with a lot of tiny, globby white lumps. I was making — or trying to make — cheese. So far it was nothing like I’d expected.
I’d decided to try something new and make ricotta. We needed it for the pumpkin lasagna we were planning to take to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. Not only that, but when I’d read about other people’s experiences making cheese, they described it as a magical, almost transcendent experience. I wanted to see if it was really that great.
The recipe I used, from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter, 2012), was pretty simple: haul out a great big pot, dump in your whole milk, add a little bit of lemon juice, and then warm the milk very slowly, stirring no more than twice. This process took so long I set a timer and, in between stirs, did homework. It was during this time that the milk reached its unappetizing gloppy stage.
Then we reached the next step, which involved warming the milk faster, though not quite boiling it. The instructions warned that it would look like it was about to explode, and it did—the curds jumped like there was something alive underneath them.
Once the milk had reached the desired temperature, I used a slotted spoon to remove the curds and put them in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, which was in a funnel, which was atop the mouth of a jar. (This is more complicated than it sounds.) Then I let them drain.
When the curds had drained, they looked not at all like the ricotta you can buy at the supermarket. They were still lumpy, and whiter than store-bought. We’d added no salt, so they were also blander, but they tasted of grass-fed milk.
But they were cheese. They weren’t milk anymore! How do I describe the magic and alchemy of making cheese? It was transcendent! I was an alchemist.
While the cheese was draining, I wrote, “I AM A CHEESEMAKER! I MAKE CHEESE! THIS IS SO COOL! LOOK! I MADE THIS CHEESE! SURE THERE’S NOT MUCH OF IT, BUT…I MADE CHEESE!!!”
In fact, it was such a success that I’m considering making mozzarella next. First, though, I helped make the pumpkin lasagna. I’ll talk about that in my next post. See you then.
Photos by Mom - Wendy.