Oh yes, I did. I made cheese! And I discovered it is much, much easier than I had thought it would be. I don’t have a master cheesemaker around here – and I certainly don’t claim to be one myself – but this cheese beats the stuff in the supermarket, hands down. And I can just about have it made in the time it would take to go to the store and return!
I used the recipe from Ricki’s Mozzarella Cheesemaking kit, which turns out to be amazingly simple. You’ll need some equipment, of course: a big stainless steel pot (6-8 quarts capacity), a big slotted spoon, a large glass bowl, and a thermometer that can register as low as 80˚F and as high as 140˚F. Oh, and your hands. Clean hands.
- 1 gallon milk - whole milk, as fresh as you can get it, and definitely NOT ultra-pasteurized. If you’ve got a high-quality dairy local to you, use their stuff!
- 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
- 1/4 tablet of vegetable rennet, crushed and dissolved in 1/4 c cold water
- fine salt (might be labeled as cheesemaking salt, or pickling salt)
Dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet in 1/4 c water, and set it aside. Pour all the milk into a big pot, and sprinkle in the citric acid. Stir to dissolve it, then heated the milk to 90˚F, while stirring. When it comes up to temperature, take the pot off the heat, and add in the rennet solution, and stir slowly with an up and down motion, for about 30 seconds. Cover the pot, and let sit undisturbed for 5-6 minutes.
After 5 min or so, check the curd: it should have a custard like texture, with a clear separation between the curd and the whey. If the curd is too soft, or the whey too milky, let it set for a few more minutes.
Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot. Cut crosswise into one inch squares, being sure to cut all the way to the bottom of the pot. Put the pot back on the burner, and heat to 105˚F while slowly moving the curds around with your spoon. When it’s up to temperature, take it off the heat, and continue stirring, slowly, 2-5 minutes: 2 minutes for softer cheese, up to 5 minute for firmer cheese.
Carefully spoon out the curds into a large glass bowl, draining off as much of the whey as you can. Note: save the whey, if you like, for baking! It’s useful. Now you’ll be doing stuff with your hands and some hot curds, later cheese, so if your hands are delicate, you might want to put on CLEAN clean clean rubber gloves. I didn’t bother, I have cook’s hands, used to higher temperatures.
Put the bowl with the curds in the microwave, and zap it for 1 minute. Then drain off the whey, holding your hand over the mass of curds, and tipping the bowl. Gently fold the curds into one piece. Microwave again for 30 seconds, and drain again, folding the curds into one mass. If the curds don’t come together into a mass, zap it for another 30 seconds in the microwave. The curds/cheese should get to about 135˚F.
Knead the cheese until it comes together like dough. While you’re kneading, add a pinch of fine salt. When the cheese mass cools so that it will not knead and stretch, zap it again for 30 seconds to warm it up, drain off any whey, and continue kneading.
When you can form a ball, shape the cheese with your hands, until the outside is smooth and shiny. Rinse out your big bowl with cool water, and let the cheese ball sit underwater for 5 min. After 5 minutes, add some ice cubes, to cool it off even more. This cools the cheese and preserves its texture.
Ta-da! You have cheese. Wonderful, flavorful cheese. It can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, but I predict that it won’t last. It didn’t in my kitchen: we ate it within 2 days.