Home made cheese

30Jun08

After several years of just buying the stuff, the cheesemaking bug started to itch again. There was a time I made this regularly, in a sunny kitchen at the end of the day: a fresh white cheese, home made from fresh milk, buttermilk and rennet in just over 1 hour. The process is simple and no trouble: anyone can do it. So can you, if you can get hold of rennet.

I searched for quite some time this year. I had some stuff in the fridge, but rennet doesn’t keep forever, so I had to get it new. There used to be a supply at these organic shops, but they didn’t sell it anymore. The place to find your rennet nowadays is to go to the Turkish / Moroccan supermarket. Here you find them in a small plastic bottle with a red lid. Just 15 drops makes a cheese the size of a tea saucer.

You will need: 2 litres of fresh milk (can be pasteurized, but it has to be the kind of milk you have to keep in the fridge. Don’t use UHT mllk). Half a small cup of buttermilk (this will raise the acidity of the milk, increasing the cheese yield). Plus a thermometer and rennet.

Take a large pasta pan or something like that and pour in two litres of milk with half a cup of buttermilk. Stick in your thermometer, turn up the heat, and turn it off as soon as it reaches 32 Celcius. This is sooner than you think, watch the thermometer closely! As soon as it reaches 32 C, add 15 drops of rennet, diluted in some tablespoons of water and stir thouroughly. Then put the pan in a warm place – you can cover it with towels, or put in a box with old newspapers – and wait for about 25 minutes.

After this time, your milk will have set, resembling a pudding. When you touch the surface, it will leave a dent. Take a large knife or palette knife and cut the ‘pudding’ in long strips. Cut crosswise, so you will have a checkerboard pattern, each square being 1 cm wide. Put the lid on the pan again and wait for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, open the pan. The curds will have separated from the whey: a yellowish shiny liquid. Stir with a spoon for several minutes and leave to rest for 10 minutes again (covered by lid). Now the whey has completely run out of the curd. Press a conical sieve in the curd and scoop out the whey (save it!) Then ladle the curds in a colander, lined with muslin and let drain.

The curds just want to stick together and the whey will run out like crazy, producing a soft, white, firming cheese. As your first attempt, wait another 10 minutes and turn the cheese out on a plate. It has a sweet, fresh cheese flavour and is very bland. Have it with olive oil, some coarse sea salt, some basil and tomatoes as you would have mozzarella.

Ah- mozzarella! Making fresh mozzarella from scratch is my ultimate goal in life. I read a recipe on the web involving microwaving the curd after this stage. I had to heat it for 1 minute, and then stretch it., and knead it into a ball. Enthousiastically, I went out to buy milk again and tried with a second batch. But alas, it didn’t work: the result was a grainy hump of rather dry cheese instead of the silken smooth stretchy mozzarella we all know and love.

So. This is going to be one of my experiments the coming weeks, and one of these days I am sure I can show you the triumphant end result! Don’t forget you can make ricotta with the leftover whey. Heat it until it reaches 70C and add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. Scoop out the curds, put on your wooden shoes, and you will definitely feel like an artisanal cheese lady!



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