Monday, March 10, 2008

cheese princess

This weekend I joined the ranks of an unusual group of DIYers. I made cheese.

I didn’t have to pour through ancient bovine manuals searching for instructions, either. My cheese kit arrived at my door, courtesy of Ricki the Cheese Queen (yes, that is now she refers to herself) in a bright pink and yellow box, with perky graphics, and enough supplies to make 30 pounds of cheese. Now, really, I ask you, what more could a girl need?!

The 30-minute instructions were simple; mix milk with citric acid, heat, add rennet (which is either cow stomach or vegetable-based. I chose the veg option), and leave it alone. At this point the curd (solid white mush, or, ricotta cheese) separates from the whey (clear water-like stuff), the curd is then drained, re-heated, and kneaded until it stretches its way into cheese.

With fantasies of fresh mozzarella goodness, I was off to the store for one gallon of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) organic milk. Milk is treated in several different manners which are incredibly boring to read about, but apparently quite necessary to understand when making certain kinds of cheese. Milk that has been treated at very high temperatures (hence the ultra) will not make mozzarella. Period. That should make milk-intended-for-cheese purchases difficult enough, but dairy companies are not required to accurately detail how the milk has been processed, so even though the first gallon of organic milk I carried home was labeled with the p not u-p word, it was interested in only going half of the way to mozzarella heaven. Ricotta was all it wanted to be, poor thing.
So, I journey back to the store and bring home another dairy company's promise of p not u-p milk, repeat the recipe, and end up with mushy curds again.

Containers of ricotta are crowding the refrigerator, and I slouch on the couch, defeated by cheese, and question our ability to consume 2 pounds of ricotta in the next week. Then I despair at the logic of attempting to consume 2 pounds of ricotta in one week.

My ever-internet resourceful husband is online in an instant, and in a few minutes finds one, just one, local organic dairy that distinguishes between the regular and ultra. Off we go to the one, just one, store 20 minutes away that carries gallon jugs of Organic Valley’s pasteurized whole milk, and back we come, milk in one hand and lasagna noodles (for the ricotta) in the other.

Five hours and three gallons of milk later, I have curd that has separated from the whey, and when reheated, It. Begins. To. Stretch! We ate, very late, my husband’s homemade pizza dough with my very first mozzarella. I know I am worlds away from Ricki’s Cheese Queen status, but perhaps with a few more tries I’ll vie for the Cheese Princess title.


pell said...

I can't wait for late summer garden tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella...and though it would be fun, having our own dairy cow is not practical.

mytzpyk said...

Hey. Save me!

I too attempted to make cheese. Any chance you were inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?

I too slumped on the couch, after switching recipes mid-way, too depressed after dumping a gallon of a substance formerly known as milk down the drain, to go on.

Nevermind the experience of what may have amounted to the assistance of Homeland Security when I went to the big grocer asking for citric acid and rennet. "What 'cha makin?"

Care to share the magical google-ish search terms to identify non-ultra-pasteurized milks?

I suppose I could wait 'till farmers market season to ask around.


bren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bren said...

To Pell: How 'bout a goat?

To mytzpk: Yes, I was inspired by Kingsolver's book. I'm also daydreaming about raising turkeys! But, for now cheese is my daring domestic adventure. Organic Valley is the only dairy producer I have found that clearly indicates pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. Their website listed a South Dakota dairy, so I think they would be worth a try, and I would certainly ask at your farmers market. Good luck, and please let me know how it goes!

yellowplumbeads said...

I've also been considering making cheese. My pie-in-the-sky plan is to (someday) raise sheep, to use for both fiber and milk. I've heard sheep's milk can be frozen and there is a cheese farm near where I live, so any excess could be sold.

However, my few attempts at making yogurt have not gone well, so maybe I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself... :-)