Cheeeyyyeeese!

I’m going to walk you through a very proud hour moment of mine- the night I made mozzarella and ricotta cheese from scratch! …And since I can’t say “cheese” without thinking of Old School each.and.every.time, you get a movie clip freebie (so it’ll be stuck in your head, too!).

This tutorial is light on the photography since my camera is sitting at the bottom of a lake but I managed to snap a few encouraging images of the final products.

Before I even go one step further, in the words of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child in Julie/Julia, it was somewhere between this recipe and my lamb osso bucco that I realized “I was fearless in the kitchen”. In the movie Meryl Streep’s character splits a lobster when she has this realization. My cheesy/lamby moment was slightly less profound…but it reinforced that I’m still willing to take risks when it comes to cooking! Yay me :-) And yay for you, if you’re trying it too!

The ingredients are pretty simple and I happened upon them easily after doing some quick research. Research= calling the natural food store, scanning some websites, as well as some grocery store hopping- which I’ll explain, in a sec.

Ingredients:

    1. One gallon of pasteurized milk  (Ultra pasteurized milk should not be used according to this site, which I mostly referenced for the recipe.
    2. 1 teaspoon Citric Acid
    3. Rennet; 1/4 tablet or 19 drops liquid
    4. 2 tsp. Cheese salt/Non-Iodized Sea Salt/Kosher Salt

Notes on each ingredient:

  1. I persisted in grocery store hopping until I found pasteurized organic milk, from Lowes Foods. At $5.99/gallon, this is certainly the more expensive route but we already don’t drink cow’s milk in our household and we’ve almost totally converted to eating organic cheese, so I thought it was really worth the splurge if our home made cheese habit continues!
  2. The bulk bins at the local natural grocer, Lovey’s Market, seem to have everything…so for $7.49/lb. I scored the citric acid. Since I only needed a small amount I think mine total around $.80 total.
  3. Finding vegetable rennet at Lovey’s for $7.99 per 1/2 oz. made my day. My understanding is that veggie rennet is fairly common and easy to come by. Rennet is an acid. Vinegar and/or lemon juice have also been used in cheese making…if you’re wondering.
  4. Cheese salt is something few have heard of, it seems, unless you are an accomplished cheese maker. I researched on the web a bit and learned that non-iodized sea salt or kosher salt will work for this as well. Evidently, the iodine in regular table salt interrupts the growth of the good bacteria you want, in cheese. We had non-iodized sea salt on hand…$0.00!

Total spent: $14.78**

**The initial investment is quite a bit more than the subsequent batches you’ll make- but, the only item totally consumed was the $5.99 gallon of milk! The rennet, citric acid and salt will definitely last for several more batches.

Tools:

  1. Large pot (mine holds 2 gallons)
  2. Slotted spoon
  3. Small bowl or cup for dissolving the rennet
  4. Cooking thermometer
  5. Rubber gloves that are only used for food handling
  6. Large microwave safe bowl for curds or large pot for stove top heating, if you prefer
  7. Second bowl for whey, if you plan to keep your whey
  8. Third bowl for cooling your cheese
  9. Ice
  10. *Optional* colander (for saving whey and making ricotta)
  11. *Optional* unbleached muslin or cheesecloth (for making ricotta) I used cheesecloth because it was already on hand and it was something of a nightmare to clean. I’m trying muslin next time!

Procedure for Mozzarella Cheese:

Don’t be intimidated because there are 15 steps. They are VERY SIMPLE. However, after much trial-and-error over the years, I do recommend reading through all of the instructions before committing. I still rarely do this when attempting a new recipe (I’ve concluded that I prefer to learn the hard way) and therefore end up with awholelotta surprises…not all welcome…

  1. Pour your gallon of milk into the large pot, set on medium low.
  2. Place the thermometer in the pot immediately or check it frequently if yours doesn’t clip onto the rim. Bring the temperature to 90º F, in about 20 minutes.
  3. While you are waiting for the temperature to rise, sprinkle the 1 tsp. of citric acid into the milk then, stir.
  4. Again, while waiting, you can go ahead and dissolve the rennet in water. If you’re using tablets, it’s a 1/4 tablet to a 1/4 cup cool water. The directions on my liquid rennet stated 1 TBSP of water per 5 drops of rennet so I used 19 drops in 4 TBSP water.
  5. When milk is at 90º F, turn off the heat and pour the dissolved rennet water over your slotted spoon- stir quickly for about 30 seconds.
  6. If your thermometer is attached to the pot, remove it and allow the mixture to sit without disturbing it for about 10 minutes. The rennet is busy working to seperate the curds (white thick layer) from the whey (yellowy liquid layer). Cue Little Miss Muffet…
  7. Using your slotted spoon, remove the curds by cutting into the thick layer that has risen to the top and place them in a microwave safe bowl or transfer to large clean pot on the stove. My curds had not congealed into a very thick layer, however,  they did congeal nonetheless and I was able to remove them. It took awhile. Maybe 20 minutes? I don’t know if that is normal but I sure was meticulous…
  8. Pour off as much of the whey as you can–I saved all of my whey (super high in protein!) for smoothies so use your extra bowl for this step if you plan to do the same. If using the microwave, heat the curds for 60 seconds. If using the stove top method, heat on low then follow the next step.
  9. Pour off the liquid again, stir, pour off any additional liquid and repeat heating for 35 seconds using a microwave or several minutes on the stovetop.
  10. The point with all the heating, stirring and pouring is twofold- remove as much whey as possible and get the cheese to be stringy and sticky. (I know….this isn’t really a step)
  11. Once in the sticky stringy phase and when most whey has been removed, add the 2 TBPS of cheese/non-iodized sea/kosher salt by folding and kneading it into the cheese.
  12. Heat the cheese again as in step 9; 35 seconds microwave/few minutes on low for stovetop.
  13. You want your cheese to stretch “like taffy”. Use those rubber gloves now to test stretching and pulling it because in Mary Murphy’s words from SYTYCD your cheese is on the hot tamale train! My cheese never resembled taffy. It kinda stretched then broke, like flubber. I incorporated it again and repeated the stretching and breaking. I was getting worried because there was no taffy phase. I got over it and I still made cheese. Have no fear.
  14. Shape your cheese into a log or if you are me, a log-ish ball shape that wouldn’t cooperate for a full logging and place this in your third bowl of ice water for about 5 minutes while its becomes firm. When I did this, my cheese looked very white and beautiful albeit lumpy and not at all shiny.
  15. Remove your cheese and slice! Upon removing my cheese, it was a bit slimy. I let it sit on the cutting board then wrapped my it in plastic, tightly, refrigerated for 10 minutes or so and when I took it out, it then looked very much like the shiny store bought mozza you might be used to….and it tasted GREAT! Super fresh and a little tangy…see?

Again, my apologies for the quality of the image. The GREAT NEWS? The home made cheese yielded just over 1lb. of mozzarella totaling less than $5.99 (subtracting the initial investment ingredients), if you consider that the recipe also yielded a half cup or so of ricotta and all that high protein whey! For you mathematicians out there, that’s $.37 per ounce, home made, compared to $.62- $.69 per ounce at the grocer! Boom!

At $9.98 (on the lower end) and $13.98 (on the higher end) per pound of mozzarella from the grocery store, I think it was a totally-worth-it experiment. If you include the “investment ingredients”, my total was still just $.80 over the higher end price of the mozza…and I still have leftovers to make more!

♥♥♥♥

I was so enamored with my new mozzarella skills that I almost forgot about the original pot that I scooped the curds out of. No matter how meticulous I may have been, there were definitely still plenty of curds floating a-whey in there. Ahhh…had to squeeze a “whey” joke in…

You’ll want to carry on with the ricotta making as soon as you finish up the mozzarella, so leave the cleaning for later since you’ll be bringing the ricotta to a high temperature before you can do any more. To give credit where it’s due, I relied on this tutorial to help me through the ricotta process.

Procedure for Ricotta:

  1. With your original, large pot of leftover curds and whey still on the stove from motza making, attach your thermometer and bring the temp up to 200º F. This took me around 30 or so minutes since I had turned off the stove at 90º F, earlier.
  2. Once at 200º F, you’ll see that the curds have a white frothy appearance and they have continued seperating from the whey….which is perfect!
  3. Prepare your colander (with a bowl under it to capture the whey, if you like) with the muslin or many-times-folded piece of cheesecloth draped inside of it.
  4. Slowly and carefully pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander. You may even want to wait until it has cooled a bit.
  5. Draining will take up to an hour if you use muslin. Since I used the cheesecloth, draining happened quickly but it was still far too hot to handle for awhile- at least 30 minutes.
  6. After cooling, squeeze out additional liquid (whey) from the cheese.
  7. Transfer to a bowl that can be covered and add salt and/or herbs to season your ricotta!

Yum! Ricotta! A slightly grainy photo but the freshest ricotta I have ever eaten! I salted mine a bit because I found it bland in it’s original state and next time I’d like to season it with herbs. For the final whey in… (couldn’t resist- had to let my inner dork have a moment…)

This it the remaining whey. It filled a quartsize glasslock jar and a 2 quart pitcher! I do love how not an ounce of the original ingredient (milk) was wasted. It’s also pretty cool how three products were crafted from such simple ingredients.

So, has anyone else ever embarked on a cheesy cheese making adventure? What about making cottage cheese? – it’s a similar procedure. Do you have any tips for a beginner like me? I am impressed that I made edible cheese on the first go round! I’m lucky that Norm doesn’t sugarcoat my cooking and that I can trust his tastebuds- he really enjoyed it! Has anyone else embraced their fearlessness in the kitchen? When was your moment?!

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