I started down the road that led me to this site a while ago, now. I lurked for a couple of months before signing up and starting to talk, so I've been here for about 2 years. When I first started lurking here, I really had no idea that my general approach to life would be changed so much by simply being on this board.
When I first started turning out bread, the texture was like bricks and this site really helped keep me from giving up. Most of you know that feeling, I'm sure. Thanks to everyone here the bug bit me, and now I bake regularly. But that isn't all I do. Baking my own bread and seeing what I could do with some flour, salt, water, and yeast inspired me to branch out. I’ve reached a point where I want to know what’s involved in every part of the process of getting food from farm to plate.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to start making my own cheese. Now on here we tend to advise people to start with an easy recipe or a recipe they like and do it over and over until they get it right, then go from there. I took that same approach and started small. Mozzarella is about as easy as it gets.
I bought a gallon of whole milk, vat pasteurized since ultra-pasteurized milk doesn't work for this, some liquid rennet, and citric acid. I also grabbed some lipase powder, which is what makes cheese "sharp". It isn't really used for mozzarella, but I'm not going to stop at mozzarella.
I put the gallon of milk in a large stock pot and heated it up. When the temp hit about 55F, I added my citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup water. When the temp hit about 88-90F, I added the rennet, one drop dissolved in about 1/2 cup water. Rennet is extremely potent stuff. I stirred it in and turned off the heat, covered the pot, and walked away. After about 10 minutes I came back to this:
That’s curds and whey. At this point it was time to separate the two of them. I poured it into a colander lined with cheesecloth over my 5 quart Dutch oven. The curds are very small and can slip through the gaps in the colander. After I strained it, I wrapped up the curds in the cheesecloth and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. This is the result:
The yellow liquid is whey; it’s got a whole lot of the water-soluble proteins and some sugars from the milk. It smells just like warm milk. It’s very good for you, and people pay good money for jars of whey protein in health food stores…this is the same stuff in liquid form. You can drink it as is, use it to make ricotta, or use it to water your plants. Although it is quite tasty, I opted for that last usage since my garden needs more health food than I need an extra gallon of liquid in my fridge.
After separating them, I heated up the whey to about 140F and put the proto-cheese back in. It needs to be stretched and folded, much like dough. As it’s stretched and folded, more liquid comes out and the cheese gets more and more stringy. During the stretching and folding is when the salt gets added. Fresh mozzarella is only stretched and folded a few times before it’s thrown in brine. String cheese is mozzarella that’s been overstretched. I was aiming for string cheese, so I was fairly pleased with the results, though the picture isn't the best quality:
All in all, I’d say it was a success. I didn’t add quite enough salt so the flavor was very mild. The flavor was also very, very different than any cheese I’ve purchased at the store, including fresh mozzarella. It tasted a bit like the milk that was used to make it, which was awesome. One gallon of milk made about a pound of cheese and over 3.5 quarts of whey.
Next time I’ll add more salt. When I get the mozzarella just right I’ll move on to something like provolone that needs to be aged. Eventually I’d like to make cheddar and Swiss, but those require a lot more expertise and patience.