Cheesemaking Failure: A Tragedy in Three Parts

| 12/4/2019 10:35:00 AM

Homemade yogurt with blueberries 

Picture courtesy of Wendy Chamberlin.

It began, as so many bad ideas do, as a chemistry experiment.

During my last year of high school, I took chemistry at home in our kitchen. I was homeschooled until college, so this wasn’t a sign that my school had messed up—it was an inventive way of meeting the state’s requirements. The book I used, Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field, offered recipes to illustrate the chemical concepts it explained. In the chapter “Colloids, Gels, and Suspensions,” the example it used was cheese. So that was my homework: Make cheese.

No problem, I thought. I’ve made cheese before.

Part One

The basic principle behind making cheese is that it’s just fermented milk. When milk begins to ferment, its whey separates from its fat. Unlike other forms of fermented milk, such as yogurt and kefir, cheese has as much whey squeezed out of it as possible before eating. This is what makes it solid. While thick Greek yogurt has been strained, most cheese is strained, then pressed under heavy weights. Only the loosest cottage cheese skips this step.

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