Thursday, January 16, 2014

DIY 30 Minutes!

2014 is going to be the Year of Cheese.

Not that we're going to go all Wisconsin around here and wear cheese wedge hats...but we are definitely going to be eating more homemade cheese. If you remember, back when I was describing our Real Food journey, I mentioned that I had more or less come to a standstill lately in diet quality as well as skill-acquiring. This is frustrating, because there seems to be no such thing as just "holding ground" in any effort; it seems like we always have to be moving forward, or else we're moving backward. And in Food World, I had gotten to the point where I was going backwards in the quality of how we were eating. Sugar is the easiest way to measure this, as it had made an unprecedented bid for domination in my kitchen without much opposition raised. Darn sugar anyway.

Anyway, one way or another I ended up adding another thing to my "non-resolution" list for the year, and decided that with the exception of coffee, sugar would be taking a drastic step backwards in our dietary intake. So far, success. But on top of that, it was time to make some more forward progress in learning some new things in the kitchen, and re-awakening some interest in new food ideas.

Enter cheese. See, Kara and I made a trip to Oregon a couple weeks back (we appear to do that a lot), and as is our habit lately on such trips, we listened to an audio book. Last time it was Rilla of Ingleside (free audio link). This time it was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I've mentioned this book before, as being one of my absolute food book favorites- actually, probably THE favorite, not because it necessarily espouses my food philosophy, but because it inspires me to try new stuff. It's the reason for my chicken obsession, my ever-growing gardening efforts, my attempts to eat more and more seasonally, and now, cheese.

Yes, cheese. We eat a lot of cheese, in a lot of forms: mozzarella, cheddar, periodic pepperjack, cream cheese, parmesan, cottage cheese, ricotta, you name it. It's good stuff. I've slowly improved the quality of what we buy, finding local sources where I can, and we do have pretty decent stuff sitting around most of the time. But there's two problems with it. One, it adds up. (No surprise there.) And two, it's frustrating to go to the store because you're out of a given kind. If I could learn how to make all the cheeses we eat, then the only product we'd really need to keep on hand is-- milk.

Now, until we have a cow and gallons of milk every day, it will likely never be cost efficient to make our own cheese. Until now, that's exactly why I never convinced myself to learn to make it. But you know, decent cheese making milk is only about $6 a gallon, and that's not a horrible price to experiment with periodically. (You can use cheaper milk too; I just picked my particular choice because it's local/organic/non-homogenized.) And really, it makes much more sense to conquer cheese making now, while I have time and am not drowning in milk, instead of waiting until the someday when we have a cow (it will happen), and having no idea what to do with all the bounty. Preparation is the key to-- well, life, in my opinion.

So I took the first cheese step last night: mozzarella. We don't use this cheese super often, but it's one of the absolute easiest to make, which is a good way to start if you don't want to get discouraged and give up entirely. I tried it awhile back and it crashed and burned-- and sure enough, it took me a year to get around to trying it again. This time, I took the cheater's way to making it: I used a microwave.

*GASP* Yes, a microwave. See, the thing with mozzarella is that it has to be a certain temperature to be melty and stretchy, which is part of its process. You can do this by monitoring the whey heat and letting it reheat in there (that's what I did before and it didn't go so well), or you can just nuke the cheese.

Look, there's two ways of doing this. You can try it the first time in the microwave (even when you know such things are bad for you) because it will be easier and quicker and less intimidating. Ergo, you'll actually do it. Or you can do it the other way, which takes longer, is more fiddly for a beginner, and may or may not turn out. AKA: you won't ever do it, and if you do you won't do it again. That's failure in my book. So if success requires the first step to include a microwave-- well, let's get that microwave conquered so we know what we're doing and then we'll be able to do it the real way without being frightened of it.

Does that make sense? Everybody with me?  Okay. Let's make some cheese.

You should be able to find all the ingredients in your grocery store with the exception of the rennet, which may reside at a local health food store but if not, this is where I buy mine. They also have citric acid, thermometers, cheese knives and $3.99 flat rate shipping, so you could snag the lot and save a trip to the store if you like.

1 1/2 t. citric acid, dissolved in 1/2 c. cool unchlorinated water
1/4 t. rennet OR 1/8 t. double strength rennet dissolved in 1/4 c. cool unchlorinated water
1 gallon whole milk, NOT ultra pasteurized, so look for the UHP or similar initials on your jug

thermometer (needs to go below 100*)
stock pot (6 qt. is fine)
slotted spoon
long knife (should reach to bottom of pot through milk)
rubber gloves (like yellow house cleaning ones)

Pour your milk into the pot, and heat on medium. Stir frequently and check the temperature. I just stand there and hold the thermometer; it really doesn't take long to reach 55*F, which is what we're after.

Once the milk hits 55, remove it from the heat and stir in the citric acid water.

Return to the heat and bring to 90*F, stirring frequently as before. At 90, remove from heat and stir in rennet water using an up and down motion for 30 seconds. (I have no idea why, but I wasn't going to risk disobeying.) Place a lid on the pot and let it sit for five minutes.

After five minutes, touch it; it should feel like baked custard. Isn't this cool looking? In only five minutes! Take your long knife and slice a grid through the cheese. This provides broken surface area for whey to remove itself from the curds. Pause for a moment to watch how cool this is and gleefully pat yourself on the back a bit. You know what you just did? You just made curds and whey. Little Miss Muffett, move over.

Return the pot to the heat and bring the temperature up to 105, stirring slowly. Remove from the heat and continue stirring for five minutes for a firm mozzarella, less for softer. I did five, since I wanted to be able to grate mine.

Scoop out the curds with your slotted spoon into a microwave safe bowl. Once you have them all in the bowl you'll be surprised at how much whey is still in there, so press the curds around with your hands or spoon and pour off the whey until not much comes out. (You can save it to make a whey cheese like ricotta, but instructions won't be up for that for awhile, and the whey needs to be fresh for that. Just for future reference.)

Put on your gloves! Microwave the curds for one minute, and drain off whey again. Fold the cheese over on itself to distribute the heat. Microwave for 30 seconds and fold/drain again, salting if you like. If the cheese is shiny/melty/elastic at this point, you're pretty much done! It should be quite hot and pull like taffy if you hold it in the air. If it isn't this hot, then nuke it again for 30 seconds.

All done! If you want to eat it warm, shape it into whatever shape you want and chow down. If you prefer it cold, roll into balls (I made two) and immerse them in ice water for 30 minutes or so to cool them down. Their texture will feel funky for a little while but will smooth out after the half an hour is up.

Store in the fridge or grate and freeze. Or, you know, make pizza.


  1. Cool beans! It's so neat that it turned out for you! I'm a little confused as to how one stirs "up and down", though. Wouldn't that be known as "chopping"?

    1. I'm not entirely sure. I used my slotted spoon and just pushed it down and up through the milk, so the milk flowed through the slots. Next time I'll go on the wild side and just stir it, and compare results. :-)

  2. hey this is super cool!!!!

  3. Good for you! This has been on my to-learn list for awhile but I've never gotten there. Do you think elevation needs to be taken into account for temps?

    1. The book doesn't mention anything and I'm guessing not, since we live around 4400. :-)

  4. Fun! Does your book include instructions without a microwave? Mine died way back in June and I've gotten used to getting by without it.

    1. It does, actually! Do you want me to type it out and send it over?

    2. I'd love that. I've always thought mozz. would be fun to try.

  5. Wow. I knew you could make your own mozzarella, but I assumed it would be days in the making, not minutes! Your tutorial is really helpful- thank you. I think this might be really fun to do with kids! As far as the up and down stirring motion...I wonder if that might be like folding, like folding beaten egg whites into a batter...maybe the strings are forming and you don't want to break them? Anyway, it's fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this at Treasure Box Tuesday- pinned! ♥

  6. I use mozzarella a lot, but I thought it would be a lot harder to make! I'll have to try my hand at making my own. Thanks for linking to the In and Out of the Kitchen Link Party. Hope to see you next week.