I spent the whole of yesterday making cheese – three types!
I want to have an on-going programme of hard-cheese making, but I’m still experimenting with what works best, so every cheese I make is different. Yesterday I made a cheese using animal rather than vegetable rennet for the first time. I understand that cheeses matured for a long time (which I like) can develop a bitter taste with vegetable rennet, so I thought that I would try the more traditional approach and see what the results are like. Of course it will be months before I know, but all the details are in my cheese-making notebook, so at least I won’t be relying on my memory! I’m starting to feel much more confident about the process involved in making hard cheese, so everything went quite smoothly, although I raised the temperature about three degrees too high at one point, which may have an impact on the final cheese (again, it’s all noted down).
Much of my time, however, was spent making mozzarella. I know that it’s possible to make a quick version (supposedly in 30 minutes), but it doesn’t keep well, so I decided to have a go at a small batch made using the traditional method (which takes about 5 hours). Because it was to be an experiment, I started with just 4 litres of milk. Unlike the hard cheese that I make, mozzarella requires a starter of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes. In addition, its success depends on getting the curds to the correct level of acidity, so a pH meter is essential; fortunately I already have one of these. I did have a slight hitch part way through the process when the pH failed to change after the required time, but it turned out that the problem was not the curds, but the fact that my pH meter needed recalibrating! Once that was done, I was back on track and reached the required pH of 5.2 without further trouble. When the curds are ready, the cheese is worked in very hot water to get the characteristic stretch. It’s too hot for bare hands, so rubber gloves are required and, even then, it’s not entirely comfortable. At this critical point I was delighted to find that I was able to achieve the correct consistency, indicating that the previous steps had worked.
A final soak for an hour in brine, and the balls of mozzarella can be stored for a couple of weeks in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer. We will be testing the results tonight on a pizza. If the taste is good, then next time I will make a much bigger batch.
After all that curd production, I was left with plenty of whey and so the third type of cheese that I made was ricotta. I do this simply by heating the fresh whey and then, once it starts to flocculate, straining it through muslin.
I left this soft cheese unsalted, as I’ll probably make it into a cheesecake later in the week.
Cheese-making does require time and care, but I love having this relationship with my food… knowing exactly what’s in it and what it takes to make it means it becomes a much more valued product.