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Had a lovely visit from my best friend and his wife. Who, by the way, is a lovely person, and they are too adorable for words when they are together. The annual birthday get-together will now be even more fun! (We did the birthday early this year, because it worked better for people's schedules. We are highly flexible when it comes to this tradition, which I think is one of the reasons we've been able to keep it up for nearly sixteen years.)

Anyway, the three of us spent Sunday morning making mozzarella cheese from the cheese kit that Mom Pony sent me. It was a good thing that we did it as a group for the first time, since it meant that we had, at all times, one person reading the directions and two people interpreting them and fetching equipment as needed.

The first thing I learned is that my Dutch oven holds just over a gallon of liquid. That is to say, it holds the gallon of milk, plus the cup and a half of water containing the dissolved citric acid and rennet to curdle said milk, and thank God for surface tension. Next time, cheese will be made in the stockpot, which is bigger. Amazingly enough, mozzarella cheese doesn't take all that long to make. I'd say we worked for about an hour and a half, and we had edible cheese balls at the end of that time.

The process itself is fairly simple -- you heat and curdle milk, first with citric acid and then further with rennet. The toughest part is separating the curds from the whey. We went through several types of skimming tools and techniques, and we still ended up with a bowl of curds and whey (which we did not take to our spider-infested tuffet, thank you). Fortunately, the next phase of cheesemaking involves heating up the remaining whey to kind of cook the cheese a little bit, so while that's heating, you can devise new and interesting ways to strain the curds. This turns out to be the original purpose of cheesecloth, and whaddaya know, it worked like a charm. I've got some ideas for how to do it better next time.

Next, you squidge the curds into balls and cook them in the whey a bit. I think this is supposed to firm them up. Then you salt them and roll them into mozzarella balls and chill them, and bada bing bada boom, you have fresh mozz!

The texture of the cheese we made isn't quite that smooth rubbery texture of the fresh mozzarella you can get at a deli. It's a bit lumpy and a bit more crumbly than that. But it tastes like deli fresh mozzarella, and it is recognizably cheese. You can spread it on bread or crackers, and I think it could go very well into mattar paneer. Maybe when I try cheesemaking again, I'll get the folding process down better and really figure out how to knead it into a smooth ball (I wonder if it'd be like bread dough that way), but at least I can verify that the process works. Between the three of us, we produced cheese! And a fun time was had by all.

We also toured the university, did a boat tour, had the Birthday Dinner, and a stab at some city-sponsored entertainment, but those are fairly standard Birthday Weekend types of activities. The cheesemaking was something new, and definitely exciting.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 29th, 2012 07:32 am (UTC)
Sounds like hard work! Glad you had such a good time, though.

But... why no pictures of the cheese?
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Aug. 30th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
My though exactly.
Aug. 29th, 2012 11:38 am (UTC)
It's not actually such hard work. I think it took longer than it needed to take because we were all very new at cheesemaking, and every single step led to something unfamiliar. But it's actually a pretty easy process.

Should I go and take pictures of my cheese balls for you? They're not exactly the most attractive things in the world, but if you like, I can do that. We didn't take pictures during the cheesemaking process because a) we were too focused on the actual cheesemaking, and b) the kitchen got fabulously messy, so a camera probably would have been in some serious danger there.
Aug. 29th, 2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
Well, I'd be interested. Is that weird?
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Aug. 29th, 2012 11:39 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, Monty Python was duly quoted (in awful fake British accents) while the cheese was being made! I personally think that's the secret to first-time cheesemaking.
Aug. 29th, 2012 11:16 am (UTC)
That sounds like fun. New stuff is always good.

I misread your penultimate sentence to think you'd "tortured" the university.
Aug. 29th, 2012 11:42 am (UTC)
And now I know how cheesemaking works (I was thinking of the description in Little House in the Big Woods while we were doing it), and I think I know some ways to improve upon our process. Next time, I'll be better at it, and then I'll really master a new skill. I love to be able to do things and make things and have it be fun and useful.

I am torturing the university in other ways besides giving people tours of it! For instance, soon they will have to read La Dissertation, mua ha ha ha ha!
Aug. 29th, 2012 12:46 pm (UTC)
This is the best post. I love your story telling.

I'm glad the cheese turned out. You've convinced me to try it, but I will enlist my mother-in-law's aid, since aid will obviously be required. :-)

Glad you had such a fun time!!
Aug. 29th, 2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
If you're going to do your own, you might want to take a look at this video first. I just found it last night, and it gives much clearer instructions for cheesemaking than I've done. I kind of wish I'd seen it before we did our thing, except that a lot of what was so fun about our process was the complete novelty.

Next time I make cheese, I will: 1) let the curds really sit and develop before I skim them off, 2) strain them in the colander lined with cheesecloth, which really seems to be the way to go, and 3) knead the cheese better and longer than I did. These are all tips I picked up from the video.
Aug. 30th, 2012 04:01 am (UTC)
I'm far too lazy to ever make my own cheese, but I enjoyed readiang your adventure.

Now, this was mozzarella, a resh cheese. Could you use the same method to make an aged cheese? Always supposing you had a cave handy to store it for a while.

I have been to cheese places (in Lancaster, PA), but they only store and sell the cheese now. Not sure where the cheese-making process takes place but certainly didn't see much of it. (I think there were some large vats and beating paddles. Obviously those would be for much larger batches than you are making.)
Aug. 30th, 2012 04:47 am (UTC)
Presumably you could use the same method to make aged cheese. You'd probably have to add some kind of bacteria and age it just right in the right kind of place. But I suspect that the basic process of curdling and squeezing the whey out of milk is basic for most cheeses.

And it really doesn't take that long. Once I get good at it, it'd probably only take about an hour or so.

Edited at 2012-08-30 04:47 am (UTC)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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