Monday, 20 January 2014

Say CHEESE!

A few weeks back, Jenni at A Cheerful Living Adventure blogged about Making Mozzarella. Now this is something that MrEH and I have been talking about for a very long while - not mozzarella specifically you understand, but making cheese generally. We nearly treated ourselves to some cheesemaking odds and ends before christmas, until we reminded ourselves that actually, we were meant to be buying presents for other people, not ourselves. Anyway, Jenni made the whole process sound so straightforward and easy that I resolved there and then that I definitely needed to have a go.

Now as we all know, there is every possibility that I would have got no further with this but for two coincidences - I was in one of those rather wonderful aladdin's cave type Lakeland shops in the week and found myself standing slap-bang in front of a shelf of bottles of rennet, and in an entirely unrelated but very happy accident I had put pizza on the meal plan for Saturday night's dinner. I decided this was clearly the push I needed, bought the rennet (£2.09 if you were wondering) and put an extra bottle of milk on the shopping list...



Saturday morning found me carefully reading through the recipe that Jenni had linked to - one by Xanthe Clay. It did indeed look simple but doubts were beginning to creep in, and by the the time I reached the stage of actually measuring out the milk I'd already begun to convince myself that it was all going to go hideously wrong and I'd end up with a totally inedible product and waste all my ingredients....except, there ARE only three ingredients - milk, lemon juice and rennet. The recipe only called for half a teaspoon of the rennet -  a tiny proportion of the bottle so hardly a concern as far as "waste" goes. We had lemons in the fridge already which needed using. So that scuppered that reason to stop, and I just got on with it. *grin*

As per the instructions I heated the milk to 32 deg C - we've got one of those handy digital food thermometers, but without one of those the easiest way to tell would be that it still *just* feels cooler than the back of a (clean) little finger dipped into it.  I then turned off the heat and quickly poured in the lemon juice and then the rennet, gave it a thorough stir and then left it to sit. This was the bit I was most worried about - would it separate? I didn't have long to wait - literally within a few seconds this started happening...

 ...Yay! Separation! Now for the next bit I was concerned about - the recipe confidently stated that I should leave it for 30 minutes to "set" - and I was utterly convinced that it wouldn't happen. I'd even seen posts from other people online saying that they've never managed to get their cheese to set, etc etc...but...


...see? That's the curds lifting away from the side of the pan (we used our large preserving pan which worked brilliantly) as they set and shrink away from the whey! Whey-Hey! (Sorry!) Once the 30 minutes was up, I used a sharp knife to cut the curd into the described chunks, then used a large flat slotted spoon to lift it across into a sieve set over a bowl, at which stage it looked like this...


Another period of waiting now - this time to let more of the whey drain out - turning it over in the sieve a few times during this process helped, as did leaving it longer than the 15 minutes the recipe suggested - thanks again to Jenni for that tip! You sprinkle it with salt at this time too - I used a couple of pinches but should have added more - I suspect a lot drains out in the whey. Next comes the only really labour intensive bit - you scoop a quarter of the curds out into a heatproof bowl and blast them in the microwave for 30 seconds, before using a fork to squish and turn them, draining off the whey which appears as you go along. Eventually they start to form together and you can start kneading them by hand...


...Yes, at this stage it looks nothing like mozzarella, you're right! You repeat the microwaving, for 10 seconds at a time now, removing the curds* to stretch and knead each time until they start to feel more "mozzarella-ish" - honestly, that's what happens, and if you have a go you'll see exactly what I mean!  And after about three goes of this process I ended up with this...


...see - it worked! I made another two balls of mozzarella, and as I came to do the fourth and final lot of curds it occurred to me that I actually had enough for pizzas for tea...so I decided to experiment. Rather than heating this final batch of curds instead I gave them a thorough beating in the bowl, aiming to get rid of some of the "cottage cheesiness" and make them more creamy. I then added a good pinch of garlic Cornish salt (and I could have been more generous with the salt here, too) and a couple of twists of black pepper, and set it aside in the fridge...

 Essentially a slightly lumpier version of a posh cheese spread - and very tasty it is too! I strained the whey through once more too and got a second batch of this from the curds that were left floating about - this was simply (and more generously) salted.

The mozzarella was used that same night to top home made pizzas - and while it didn't melt very much it certainly tasted like the real thing - we both agreed that we'd happily do it again and I think MrEH wants to play next time too - he was at rugby while I made it this time. I need to investigate whether the lack of meltiness is something I've done (worked it too much, or not enough, in the kneading perhaps?) or whether it might be to do with using standard homogenised milk - the majority of recipes tell you that the best cheese is made using non homogenised, but trying to find that round here is needle in a haystack time! I'll investigate the farm shop next time I'm in.


Cost-wise, it was fairly reasonable. My 4 pint bottle of milk was £1 - standard supermarket fare this time I'm afraid. I used fresh lemon juice because we had lemons needing used - had I used bottled juice it would have been about 17p for the amount the recipe used, and the rennet was literally pennies, about 4 of them I reckon. The feeling of knowing that it was freshly made though, without preservatives etc, was great, and it would be relatively easy to make a half quantity of it too which in honesty would have been enough for our pizzas tonight. Would I make it again? Definitely!

Now, the next thing is to decide which cheese to make next!

Robyn

*one note on this - because of the way microwaves cook, initially when you lift the curds out of the bowl they feel no more than warm, however as you start to knead you will find they suddenly increase dramatically in temperature for a few seconds - wear gloves if your hands are sensitive and be very careful.

8 comments:

Pat Machin said...

Lovely! And don't forget you can use the whey in cooking ~ especially to replace the water in bread.

Robyn said...

The pizza dough on Saturday night used some of it, and there's a bottle in the fridge with the rest ready to go into the next loaf we make!

dreamer said...

There's a lot of satisfaction when you make things for yourself instead of just going out and buying them, and learning these extra skills is a great way of being more self reliant. I have made soft cheese from yoghurt, and paneer using lemon juice or vinegar but haven't used rennet yet.

Robyn said...

Paneer is definitely on my list to make - such a great ingredient, and quite pricey to buy, too!

VintagePretty said...

Well done on your first mozzarella! It looks delicious - particularly on pizza (though I imagine I would have had to do some 'executive testing' before it got to that stage ;-) Yum!

Best wishes,

Tash from vintagepretty.org

Robyn said...

I did some executive testing as each stage to be honest - I was curious to see how the flavours and textures changed as the process went on. It was such an interesting thing to do - I think there's a bit of magic in cheesemaking!

alifetimeofdiy said...

Can't believe I missed this post!! You, like Jenni, make it look so easy. I wonder where I could by rennet around here??

Well done Robyn. It looks fab x

Robyn said...

Hmmm....good question as to where you might get it - Rachel found some in a Polish Supermarket I believe but I'm guessing you might not have too many of those, either?!