Archive for August, 2010

My moderate success in making mozzarella for some reason made me think I could make cheddar. And why not? Lots of people make cheese. Um…don’t they? Anyway, how hard could it be? I’ve got the kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply. Easy peasy.

Despite my confidence, the instruction book saying Farmhouse Cheddar is the “easiest cheddar to make” did make it appealing. Plus Test Subject Bill loves cheddar. I could be a super star in his eyes. I mean…I already am, but…this is cheese we’re talking about.

With Test Subject toiling away in California, I had the kitchen (and the house) to myself. If something went bad, it was just me and the kitties to save the day. No one to make a corn shield. No one to look at me like I’m half way to the nut house.

Warming the milk. Check out my sophisticated thermometer holder (that's a skewer for kabobs). I did that one all by myself.

I diligently re-read through the instructions and began heating my milk. Two gallons of milk over low heat takes a geologic age to reach 90 degrees. But I finally got it there and added my Mosphilic direct set culture. (What IS this stuff and where would I acquire such a thing if the world structure blew up and it was just me and a cow in a mountain shack?? I must investigate.)

This is where you’re supposed to leave it at 90 degrees for 45 minutes. This is also where I potentially destroyed my cheese. It took so long to heat up that after I added my culture and stirred it had dropped temperature so I put the lid on my pot (I had to use my waterbath canner because two gallons of milk is more volume that my largest regular pot can hold.) I turned around a half minute later and my temperature was over 100 degrees! I freaked out, ditched the lid, stirred, turned off the heat and cried to the kitties. I left it for 45 minutes, and it took that long just to get back down to 90 degrees.

I seldom actually get mad in the kitchen, but this time around I was PO’d. I’m still mad.

But I wasn’t ready to abandon the project. I didn’t have any more milk and didn’t want to wait and try again later. So I proceeded, hoping for the best. Like the mozzarella, I added my rennet and left it alone for a while. 45 minutes later, I had curd. I cut up the curd using a long bread knife.

Kind of looks like...nevermind.

The next part was tricky. You put the giant pot in your sink full of hot water and slowly bring the temperature up to 100 degrees, not faster than two degrees every five minutes. I have no freaking idea how you are supposed to have that much control in your kitchen sink. I added hot water from my kettle a bit at a time into the water around the pot. As expected, it didn’t raise the temp, didn’t raise the temp, then started shooting up much faster than two degrees in five minutes. *sigh*

By this time I had opened a bottle of wine. If my cheese was going to be destroyed, at least I would care less. It was time to drain. I poured the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer, then tied it up in a bag and hung it to drain out.

The next step is mold. The container, not the living organism. I packed the drained curds (they were fairly squeezed out after an hour) into a cheesecloth lined plastic mold from the kit. This is where a real cheese maker would use their specially designed cheese press to apply the appropriate amount of pressure. Since I am doing a hack job on this cheese, I obtained some weights from Test Subject’s weight set in the basement.

Curds in mold, already draining out more whey.

The size of the five pound and two and a half pound weights were either too big (sit on the rim and put no pressure on the curds) or too small (uneven pressure). So I got the brilliant idea to use canning lids to create a surface for the smaller weight and get more even distribution.

It mostly worked.

In applying pressure to the cheese, you are to put 10 pounds on it for 15 minutes, then flip the cheese in the mold and do 20 pounds for 12 hours. Flip yet again and give it another 12 hours with 20 pounds. This part was easy. Except for when my alarm didn’t got off at 4 a.m. so I could do the second flip and it ended up going an extra four hours.

How much can YOUR cheddar bench press?

Somebody doesn’t want me to make good cheese. Who can I blame?

Finally my cheese was pressed and ready to dry. I put it on a wooden cutting board at room temperature for a little over four days, turning regularly for even drying. I put a mesh colander over it to keep away flies and cat hair.

Once the drying was done, it was time to wax on. I ordered the five pound block of red wax from the cheesemaking company. It was a little hassle to cut but not so bad. I melted it in a pan on the stove and used the brush I bought to apply the wax. This part was fun, like an art project. The wax dripped and dried in places I didn’t want it to but it ended up looking pretty darn sharp when I was finished.

Regarding cheese wax. OMG this stuff is sticky. It does NOT harden up when it dries like a candle. Do not put it in a pot that you want to use for anything else ever again. (I may have a very expensive  wax pot if I can’t figure out how to get the residue off of it.) Anything it touches may very well have wax traces on it forever. Put down wax paper over surfaces and plates to protect them. Don’t plan on ever being able to use the brush again, even for more waxing.

Cheddar after drying. It was actually pretty pale, this pic makes it look yellow because of the light level in my kitchen.

My waxing issues were forgotten though, as I stared at my beautiful red brick. I slapped a label on it and stuck it in the red wine fridge where it will age at 55 degrees until at least late October. A long time to wait to see if I killed it, if it is still cheese and if so, if it is cheddar. I may have turned it into something else. Something dark and unnatural.

So Project Cheddar was a bit traumatic. Challenging and somewhat frustrating. But also totally cool. I am SO going to do it again. I made cheese, man. Seeing that aging chunk of red wax in the wine fridge is strangely fascinating. What is going on underneath that sticky wax? We won’t know until….All Hallow’s Eve….

Sharp looking cheddar.

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If there’s one thing can make my heart go pitter-pat it’s the thought of rotten milk in the form of CHEESE. Who would have thought that adding animal stomach (rennet) to warm milk and then waiting around would produce such wonders as cheddar, parmesan or mozzarella?

My finished goat cheese. YUM.

I began my foray into the world of cheesemaking when I made some goat cheese earlier this year. That was super simple. Pretty much you stir rennet into goat milk, let it sit, then strain. It was easy, tasty, and can be frozen.

But that wasn’t hard core enough for me so I attempted mozzarella. I tried it for the first time a few months ago. It tasted good but wasn’t very pretty. Undaunted, I tried again.

I ordered the mozzarella and ricotta kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. This company offers it all (supplies, advice, ingredients) and breaks down the steps in an easy to follow booklet. This is great for people like me who are just starting to develop our cheese kung fu. We need the short bus version.

My mozzarella curding up and getting stringy.

Mozzarella is a simple cheese to make. NECS has the instructions on their website, which is nice. You pour diluted citric acid (they don’t recommend using lemon juice, maybe because they want to sell you a powdered version) into one gallon of milk, heat it to 90 degrees, add your rennet (you can buy it if you don’t want to  play with your own calf or goat stomach…even though that actually sounds appealing to me…), wait 5 minutes, cut the curd, heat the milk to 105 degrees, stir, pour off the whey and stretch the curds into beautiful, smooth, delicious mozzarella!

Right? It’s that easy….right??

Well, I will admit that the process is easy. They claim it only takes 30 minutes but it always takes me longer. And the stretching part…let’s just say I need some practice.

The first part of the process really is easy. Heating and stirring. Cut the curd. Pour off the whey and save it for lacto-fermenting stuff. No worries. But when it comes to the process after that I ran into a few issues.

Mozzarella gets KKF into hot water.

First, there are two options for heating the curd before stretching: hot water on the stove and the microwave. Since I don’t like to use the microwave much at all these days, I opt for the stove top version. You heat the water to 185 degrees. Note: this is FREAKING HOT, almost boiling. I have a high tolerance for heat and this business is HOT. You are supposed to pull the curds out of this hot water and stretch it like taffy.

Handling stuff that hot is not easy. As soon as the mozzarella is cool enough to handle, it’s not hot enough to stretch. Back into the hot water, where it gets hot enough to stretch but too hot to handle. *sigh* So I did as best I could without totally cooking my fingers.

Streching my first batch of mozzarella. Do NOT use a colander like this one!

Note: in the hot water bath you have a colander and the curds go into the colander. Do not use a wire mesh colander. I did that the first time and it took for-ev-ER to get rid of all the little cheesy bits stuck in between the wires. The second time I used an old, more solid colander like this one and it worked MUCH better. Far easier clean up.

When I got done stretching my cheese and trying to work the salt in while I did that (also not an easy task when your cheese isn’t hot enough) I put it into ice water. This is supposed to help it keep it’s shape (uh, not a problem for my cheese) and protect the silky texture from becoming grainy (since mine never got silky I don’t know why I even bothered with this step).

My finished logs o' mozzarella

So my second mozzarella effort was close to the first. My cheese was not beautiful or silky. However, it was darn tasty and I was able to grate it and use it in my stuffed shells (for which I used strained yogurt as the ricotta and it turned out delicious). Fantastic looking mozzarella eludes me, but hey…once it’s grated up, who’s to know! And there is always tomorrow….Ricki the Cheese Queen’s kit makes 30 batches….

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Ever since I learned how to make guacamole, it has been a staple in our house. If I’m making anything Mexican related, there will be guacamole. And why not? It’s so easy and freaking delicious. To kick things up a notch, I made my own chips to go with it this time. Again, super easy.

For the chips, I located some leftover small flour tortillas from last week’s tacos. I knew there was a reason I kept them. I cut them up into sixths and spread them out on a cookie sheet, then sprayed olive oil on them from my Misto. For seasoning, I sprinkled kosher salt all over them, then gave them a very light coating of cayenne pepper. They went into a 300 degree oven and I turned my attention to the dip.

Smashed guac and handy avocado tool

For my guacamole, I usually use two ripe avocados (gives when squeezed, but not mushy), nice and yellow-green inside (not black/brown or any other color) that I pull out of the skins using this handy tool (use the red one for avocados) and then roughly mash with a couple of forks. This recipe is highly scalable based on your personal tastes and the particular flavor nuances of your ingredients, but I usually go with 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (I use this garlic twist  and LOVE IT – makes mincing garlic an absolute breeze), one jalapeno pepper, minced, about a teaspoon of salt and several good turns of fresh cracked black pepper. I mix everything together with the juice of one lime, then taste. I usually adjust the seasonings two or three times before it’s Goldie Locks juuuuust right.

The chips came out of the oven after 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t time it, just pull them when they look very lightly browned; if you’re not sure, break one in half. If they are crunchy, they’re done. If they don’t break, leave them in longer. They turned out light and crunchy and just a little hot.

Guacamole and chips fit for a kung fu master

I plated up my guac and chips, then decided to top it all off with some of my lacto-fermented roasted tomato salsa. It was beautiful and had a taste worthy of a fiesta. Next time we have guests over for dinner I am SO making this.

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