I’m in Brockton for the 5th time in 7 months, in order to force a few hundred kids to take half a dozen literacy tests so we can tell you if a certain reading intervention program does any good. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about making cheese.
Truth be told, this is an activity with very little to recommend it: store-bought mozzarella is cheaper, easier, and requires neither special ingredients nor hands lined with asbestos, but it is pretty fun to curdle milk in your kitchen. So I recommend it. (If you need a little extra motivation, I recommend reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first, which will have you plowing up your backyard for a miniature farm or, if you lead a stunted urban life, ordering rennet online and becoming that eccentric chick at the office with the herb garden in her window.)
Here’s what you need:
a gallon of milk (I used whole, because I find lowfat cheese an offense against nature. And apparently ultra-pasteurized—anything with a date on it more than a month in the future—won’t work.)
1 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water (Some recipes specify non-chlorinated, but I used good old tap water and it seemed to work fine.)
1/4 tsp liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water (If you live in my neighborhood, I’d be happy to loan you some of my pint of rennet that now lives in the fridge. Somehow I doubt I’ll get through it all at my current rate of 1/4 tsp every 2 months.)
Equipment: a big pot, a big bowl, and a thermometer. If you have one of those digital thermometers with a probe that you can set to go off when your food hits a certain temperature, that helps a lot. This is actually a great thing to have if you’re looking to spend $20 on a kitchen gadget—we use ours all the time, usually for roasting meats.
And here’s how you do it (text lifted directly from Barbara Kingsolver):
1 1/2 level tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1⁄4 cup cool water
Stir the milk on the stove in a stainless steel kettle, heating very gently. At 55° add the citric acid solution and mix thoroughly. At 88° it should begin to curdle.
Gently stir in diluted rennet with up-and-down motion, and continue heating the milk to just over 100°, then turn off heat. [I found that the curds topped out at about 95 degrees while the whey got hotter and hotter. Didn’t seem to be a problem.] Curds should be pulling away from sides of pot, ready to scoop out. The whey should be clear. (If it’s still milky, wait a few minutes.) Use a slotted spoon to move curds from pot to a 2 quart microwaveable bowl.
Press curds gently with hands to remove as much whey as possible.
Microwave the curds on high for one minute, then knead the cheese again with hands or a spoon to remove more whey. (Rubber gloves [or a husband with no nerves in his hands] help[s] – this gets hot!)
Microwave two more times (about 35 seconds each) kneading between each heating. At this point, salt the cheese to taste, then knead and pull until it’s smooth and elastic. [It’s got to be really hot to make this happen; the first time we kept trying to knead it after it cooled down and ended up having to re-microwave 5 or 6 times.] When you can stretch it into ropes like taffy you are done. If the curds break instead, they need to be reheated a bit. Once cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls to eat warm or store for later in the refrigerator. [We’ve stored it in a tub of salted water in the fridge because that’s how the fancy stuff looks in the grocery store. I think it’s also pleasantly tender after soaking in brine.]
Voila! One gallon of milk becomes a handful of cheese. I recommend eating it with the heavenly tomatoes that are about to appear in the farmers market, drizzled with the fancy basil oil your parents gave you for Christmas.
[If you’re actually going to try this, here is a much more thorough explanation.]