Last August I undertook the task of learning to make cheese. It was no coincidence that this occurred at the same time a bounty of tomatoes emerged from my garden. There is nothing better than a vine ripened tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. A lazy Sunday afternoon provided the time to surf the net for cheese making techniques. Mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make as it does not need pressing or aging. But a look at the sites with recipes and readers comments also revealed that it isn't a walk in the park either. I assembled a shopping list of the needed ingredients, milk, rennet, citric acid, and cheesecloth. I had the citric acid already. Baskin Robbins had dropped their daiquiri ice at one time and I used the citric acid in a home made version. I purchased the rest of the ingredients that week, along with a thermometer.
The following Sunday I got out my stainless steel stock pot (no aluminum allowed). I poured in the gallon of whole milk and let it sit out until it was at 55-60 degrees, at which time I could add the citric acid. You slowly heat the milk to about 88 degrees and add the rennet. I had purchased junket, which was a rennet tablet used for custard. Then you let the mixture set for the curds to start forming. After 20 minutes, there were only the tiniest of curds. I let it sit another 10 and nothing. I let it sit another 15 minutes and still no larger formation of curds. The whey had somewhat separated from the curds, but they were small enough to go through a strainer and looked nothing like the pictures shown. I threw out batch #1 and started fresh on batch #2. It met with the exact same results so I decided to do more research and resume the cheese making the following week.
The cheese recipes, blogs and comments were insightful, but not particularly helpful. There was a variety of suspicions about the causes of the cheese not curding properly. Some blamed it on the milk. Ultra pasteurized milk should be avoided. Fresher milk is better than older milk. Some brands work better than others. Raw milk is best, but you can't buy raw milk these days and I have no cow in my back yard. Can you imagine the size of the pooper scooper I'd need if I did? Some blamed it on the pasteurization process. You can add calcium chloride to the milk to counteract it, but just try finding it in food grade. I have two bags of it in my garage to melt the ice, but it's not something I'd want to throw into something I am going to be eating. Some blamed it on the temperature not being accurate enough. And some blamed it on the type and quantity of rennet. The brand I was using worked well for some and was awful for others. Liquid junket was recommended. Some even blamed it on the water, saying you should only use distilled or bottled.
Cheese making was put on hold until I got my baby girl settled back into her plush dorm with the killer view of Boston. Once I was back in Utah though I gathered a variety of milk brands and types, found the liquid rennet at Whole Foods, and I was ready to experiment with the various tips and techniques that had helped others make successful cheese.
I morphed several recipes and tweaked things here and there. Batch #3 had a little more success, but still wasn't setting up properly. The liquid rennet seemed to help, but it still wasn't curding into solids as it should. Batch #4 was getting a bit better and I tried completing all the steps in the recipe, but it ended up being like ricotta cheese. I used my last gallon of milk on batch #5. I heated the milk a bit higher than recommended. I added a lot more rennet than the recipe called for as per a reader's comment left on one of the recipes. When I went to check the curds, voila! The curds still weren't totally solid, but they were finally bigger curds. To finish the process you drain the curds, then reheat them again in the whey and you start working the curds into a stretchy ball. As the cheese hardens you put it back into the hot whey to soften it so you can stretch it again. Adding some salt at this time adds some flavor to the cheese. I managed to end up with 6 medium sized mozzarella balls. Some were moist and some were dry, but the flavor was good.
Before you get the idea that I was successful and on my way to becoming a cheese maker, let me say I made another 2 batches two weeks later and both failed miserably ending in a batch of ricotta. They were different brands of milk so maybe it was the milk. Or maybe it was the rennet, or the water, or the temperature. All I know is that it ain't easy being cheesy...
What shall I do?
I know I want to run a 5k and half marathon. Okay, so I want to run, but I will end up power walking instead. Maybe try out some new ethnic cuisines. Travel to some new spots. Try some new classes. Support a new charity. Some may be exciting adventures, some may be boring. I welcome your suggestions for something new to try.