Monday, April 19, 2010

Everybody knows the moon's made of cheese, Gromit.

Deviating from baking, I recently took a cheese making class at the Healthy Living Grocery Store in South Burlington VT. I’ve been reading many books about cooking and eating in France, and I have more often than not found my mouth watering over the elaborate dishes described. Some of the most vivid descriptions accompany the famous cheese course, after dinner of course.

All this talk of cheese made me curious about the cheese making process. I learned the basics early on from an episode of Mr. Rogers, which showed milk being separated into curds and whey in a huge factory, but that’s about it. While researching local dairy farms that make their own cheese, I found the Family Cow Farmstand, which was advertising a cheese making class. Two and a half hours to learn how to make mozzarella and ricotta cheese for just thirty-five dollars? Sign me up!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my lack of directional skills. My maps usually have two dots on them, point A and point B. Point B is roughly in the accurate direction from the starting point but never distanced proportionally. I jot down a road name here and exit number there, but that’s about it. Needless to say, I had no idea where I was going with my hand made map. I eventually ended up at the grocery store after driving 70 mph on a 40 mph road and running two yellow/red lights and taking up two parking spaces in the parking lot. I was ten minutes late and missed the introduction and beginning of the mozzarella presentation, but I’m so glad I made it.

Both cheese were simple to make. We started with raw milk from the Family Cow Farmstand. Citric acid was added and the milk was heated to 90 degrees while stirring. Rennin, an enzyme that causes the milk to separate into curds and whey, was then added and the mixture was left to sit at room temperature. After about ten minutes the milk began to transform to the consistency of tofu as the curd and whey were separating. The mass of curd was then cut into one inch columns and heated until the curds became sticky and gooey and formed a large ball in the pot. This ball of cheese was taken from the pot and worked for about ten seconds to remove more of the whey and form a ball shape. The cheese was then dunked in an ice bath with salt, and that’s it. I made mozzarella cheese!

The ricotta was made from the leftover whey plus a little more raw milk, and the process was even simpler than the mozzarella. The whey and raw milk mixture was heated slowly to 195 degrees while stirring constantly. Upon reaching 195 degrees, the liquid was poured through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, and the cloth was bundled and left to drain. The curds in the ricotta mixture were very tiny and not discernible to the eye, so I thought the entire liquid would run though the cheesecloth. That was not the case, as after draining for three hours, there was a soft spreadable cheese in the cloth! I made ricotta cheese!!!

Both cheeses were delicious. The mozzarella had a slightly salty exterior from the salt in the water bath, and the inside was sweet and milky. The consistency was perfect, not rubbery at all like some mozzarella found in grocery stores. We ate it in class on French bread with tomato, basil and sea salt. Yum! The ricotta was even better. It was smooth and creamy with an even richer flavor of the raw milk, sweet and earthy.

Both cheeses can be easily made at home. Citric acid and rennin can be purchased at health food stores and raw milk can be purchased at farms around Vermont ( I'm not sure whether it is legal to sell in other states). The only tools you need are a food thermometer, large pot, large slotted spoon and cheesecloth. It’s totally worth the effort for the fresh and delicious cheese, and there’s nothing more satisfying than enjoying something you made yourself.

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