I have never viewed the making of cheese as a method of food preservation, but many cultures, especially in Europe, use the overabundance of milk produced during calving season in the spring and summer to produce cheese as an important part of their diet. Some of the cheeses are aged and eaten as a source of protein, fat and calcium during the long nights and lean days of those cold European winters, while others are eaten fresh as soon as they are made.
Over the next year, I will dive deep in to the making of cheese and hope that you will join me for the journey. I will start with some soft fresh cheeses (including mozzarella and ricotta in this post), and then move on to the pressed cheeses. To do so, I will need a cheese press — so in another post, I will build one from the parts and components I have in my garage. I hope to post something in the next 2-3 weeks.
Last year, I found a couple of organic dairies in the area that sell raw milk, full of cream that is not homogenized or pasteurized. If you do not have access to raw milk, you can absolutely use milk from your local grocery, but do not use ULTRA-pasteurized milk. During the ultra-pasteurization process, the protein structure is modified and the cheese will not turn out right.
I have made mozzarella with store-bought milk and, while it came out okay, it lacked the smoothness and texture I was looking for. Using the raw milk greatly improved the final product, making it better than anything we could get from the grocery store.
The basic process of making cheese is as follows:
• Form curd from the milk using heat and/or the enzyme rennet.
• Separate the semi-solid curd from the liquid whey.
• Process the curd according to the style of cheese you are making.
The recipe below is simple and requires only a couple of special ingredients. Making ricotta cheese came about after doing some reading and learning that ricotta (which translates to “recooked”) is traditionally made using the whey left over from cheese production. You make the mozzarella, save the whey, and use it to make ricotta. Therefore, you get two cheeses (about 1-1/2 pounds total) from 1 gallon of milk. Not too shabby…
Let’s get started.
These recipes came from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.
Yield: Approximately 12 ounces
Once the curd is made, it is heated and stretched until it is smooth and shiny, at which time it can be stored in cold water or whey.
• 1-1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in ½ cup cool water
• 1 gallon milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
• 1/4 tsp liquid rennet
• Dairy or candy thermometer
• Rubber kitchen gloves
1. Remove the milk from the refrigerator, pour it in a pot on the counter and let it come to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Once it gets to 55 degrees, add the citric acid solution while stirring the milk constantly.
3. Heat the milk to 90 degrees, stirring constantly.
4. Remove from the heat, slowly add the rennet and stir using an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes. DO NOT DISTURB!
5. Check the curd. It should have started to solidify and look like custard with a separation or “break” from the side of the pot. If the curd is too soft, let it sit for a few more minutes. Once the curd is ready, using a knife that reaches the bottom of the pot, cut the curd in a cross-hatched pattern, making sure the knife reaches the bottom of the pot.
6. Return the pot to the stove and carefully heat the mixture while slowly moving the curds with a slotted spoon until it reaches 105oF. Keep the heat low and be vigilant in monitoring the temperature.
7. Once the mixture reaches 105 degrees, immediately remove the pot from the heat and keep stirring gently for 5 minutes.
8. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a 2 quart microwave safe bowl. The remaining liquid is the whey -- RESERVE THE WHEY TO MAKE RICOTTA.
9. Put on the kitchen gloves and press the curd, collecting the excess whey in the bowl. Remove as much whey as possible then transfer the recovered whey back to the pot with the reserved whey.
10. Return the curds to the bowl and microwave them on high for 1 minute. Discard any whey in the bottom of the bowl, and then knead the curd to distribute the heat throughout, which makes it more stretchable. Eventually, the inside of the curd will reach approximately 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which it can be stretched. This is why you need to wear the gloves.
11. Microwave the kneaded curd for 35 seconds and knead again. Then repeat the process for another 35 seconds. This third time, add a teaspoon of kosher salt, if you like, to the whey before you knead it.
12. The curd should be at 145 degrees by the third heating, so knead and stretch it quickly while it is hot until it is smooth and stretchy. You want the curd to stretch like taffy -- if it tears, it is too cool and needs to be reheated in the microwave.
13. Once it is smooth and shiny, the mozzarella cheese you have made can be cut and rolled into small balls or left as one large piece. Enjoy it warm or cool it down rapidly in ice water and store in the refrigerator. Even if you are storing it to use later, try a little while it is warm. It is really pretty amazing and even better, you made it. Good job!
Using the leftover whey from making the mozzarella and a recipe from the same book, Home Cheese Making, we will make the ricotta cheese. The whey should not sit longer than 2-3 hours. The longer it sits, the more of an acidic taste it will have. I like to use it right away.
Yield: Approximately 8 ounces
Fresh whey from making cheese
1. Heat the whey on the stove over medium low heat until it starts to foam and coagulate. You will see the small curds start to form. Do not let it boil. If it boils, it will taste burnt.
2. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 5-10 minutes.
3. Gently remove the whey and transfer it to a butter muslin-lined colander. Let drain for 15-20 minutes.
4. Collect the ricotta from the muslin and store in the refrigerator. It will be good for about a week.
This is a great way to maximize the yield by getting two different cheeses from one gallon of milk, but you can also make ricotta starting with whole milk, rather than leftover whey. It will be creamier, the curds will be larger, and your yield will be higher. The process is very similar and will be covered in another post.
Cheese making can be an odd mixture of hurry up and wait. For all of them, you go through a process similar to this, but afterwards, things change. The aged cheeses are watched over and nurtured. Time and an attention to detail become the two most important factors as we start making the more complex cheeses. As you can tell, I am no expert, but I am looking forward to learning more, doing some reading and research and a lot of experimentation. Feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions you may have. What worked for you? What failed? Tips, things to avoid, and how well did your cheese turn out? I look forward to hearing from you.
Photos by Jennifer Hudson
Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email. He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.
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