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Gift Lab: How to Make Tasty Homemade Cheese

October 30, 2014

Paul Allison | UncommonGoods

Product: Italian Cheesemaking Kit

Research:
One of my responsibilities here at UncommonGoods is to answer your questions when you want to know more about an item, and what better way than to actually give this a try and hopefully a taste as well!

To prepare for this endeavor I’ve checked out Mad Millie’s YouTube channel and watched her prepare and make her Mozzarella cheese. If there’s one thing I love it would be cheese and Italian cooking. (OK, that’s two things. But two GREAT things!) In addition I’ve managed to locate some non-homogenized whole milk, there’s no question in my brief readings on Wikipedia and the instructions that starting with the right milk is key.

Hypothesis:
Surely fresh, homemade bread is better than store bought bread so I would hope that homemade cheese would be equally as satisfying.

While I am a tad nervous about the results, I feel like the instructions are clear. Although I am super glad I watched the video, so I have a sense of what my goal should look like. I’m generally good about following directions, although when I cook there are times when I can get experimental and deviate from the recipe to add a dash of this or, OOH that’s a pretty color! I’m just going to have to reign in the wild side and stick to the basics–this time around at least.

I feel like the biggest challenges are the ones I can do little about. For those of you who don’t live in New York, you may be surprised by the size of my kitchen; most surfaces are needed for storage so there’s just a limited number of spots to do your mixing and cooking. Oh, and pardon our appearance while we’re in the middle of renovations (at home)! That and I’m concerned about the size pot to use. My current plan is to use our ancient (I think this is older than me) pasta pot.

Experiment:
Well I have everything laid out, and why yes those ARE our Nesting Prep Bowls back there! The instructions say to sterilize your equipment that will handle the milk for 5 minutes. The challenge will be the colander, so let’s get a bunch of pots a boiling. It’s at this point where I wonder why I decided to do this in a heat wave and without air conditioning. My large pot isn’t making it to a boil, and alas, the lid is lost somewhere in a pile of tools. So, I give it a good 10 minutes rather than 5. Thankfully my colander in the smaller pot has reached a boil as that is my greatest concern. I prepare my ingredients, but I don’t see when I add the salt!

1 - Everything Laid Out
Cheese Supplies

The recipe calls for a full gallon of milk, but my local whole foods only sold the milk in half gallons. And here’s where I have my first tip: Shake the milk before pouring it into the pot. I left a lot of good tasty stuff in the bottle. I decided to use the same smaller pot that was already in action, so it’s already warm and we’re just heating the milk up to just under my current room temperature. (Ouch! The thermometer is reading 103, and while the pot is hot from boiling the room temperature is in the ’90s.) And here’s my next mistake. I can only fit a half gallon of milk into this pot! It’s too late to stop going now, so I’ll just have to adjust on the fly.

Making Cheese | UncommonGoods
Milk for Cheese

I squeeze in the calcium chloride. With the stopper it’s not too hard to simply measure half and then the citric acid and decide to add a tablespoon of salt. I’d already mixed in the citric acid to let it dissolve as if I was going to do a gallon batch, so I have to guestimate how much to pour in. I choose to use more than half as I feel it’s likely that it’s not completely mixed. Because of the heat the mix is at the required temperature faster than I expected and before I can really get everything prepared.

Hot Pot

I quickly turn off the heat and it’s time to add the Rennet tablet. It hasn’t really dissolved, but I hope it should in the milk. I stir it in and cover the milk and set my timer for 25 minutes. After 20 minutes of refuge in air conditioning, I’m back in the kitchen and re-reading the instructions. OH NO! You add the salt in the very last step. So needless to say, I’m very nervous at this point and a bit frustrated at myself.

Ice for Cheese

I set up the ice water and I am trying to get the temperature right for the hot water. I started with warm water, from when I was boiling (rather, trying to boil) my tools to sterilize them and I decide to heat a kettle with boiling water and try to get the temperature right. I end up with water that’s just 140 degrees rather than 158, but I go with it. I check on the cheese and it looks like it’s firmed up to me.

My knife goes in and clearly separates the curds. I slice in the cubes and am a bit nervous. Did I allow enough time for the curds to set? It really just seems like a thin skin of what will become cheese. Once I begin to reheat the mixture and gently stir, the answer soon becomes clear. No. I didn’t. I think the key is to really watch the video. I recognized it wasn’t quite the same. This is definitely a case of being close enough is not going to cut the cheese so to speak.

Cheesemaking Kit

I decide to forge on. Once the curds have reached the warmer temperature I begin to scoop the curds into the cheese cloth and colander. As the curds are loose this takes a long long time and I was not able to maintain the temperature. The recipe calls for letting the curds drain for 5 minutes but the process of just getting them out of the pot takes closer to 15 minutes.

Scooping and Straining Cheese

A little forlorn, I begin to scoop up globs of curd and rest them in hot water briefly. They quickly begin to separate, so I simply start to work them quickly and it’s readily apparent that I do not have mozzarella cheese. I still give them a dunk in the ice water, though, and they do hold up better than I expected.

Squeeze the Cheese

It's not mozzerlla but...

At the end of this experiment it appears that while I failed to make mozzarella I did end up with some REALLY tasty Ricotta cheese.

So tomorrow once the kitchen is once again clean and not quite as hot it will be time to make some lasagna!

Conclusion:
When we did make lasagna with my homemade ricotta, it was AMAZING!

I clearly did not make this easy for myself, and as much as I tried to read and prepare myself, I should have started with the goal of making the simpler recipe for the first time around.

I would emphasize that it is a lot of work to make cheese at home, but that the work has much more to do with the preparation and the clean up rather than the cheesemaking itself. I think it would help to have greater counter space and I’m curious what would of happened if I’d had the larger pot to handle the milk.

I WILL make mozzarella, although not this week. Next time I’m going to do a little more research so I can be confident in the ratio of ingredients I’m going to use. I’m also going to have to have a pot of boiling water on hand so that I can properly prepare my curds and they can be stretched into mozzarella. And now that I know the drill, I won’t add the salt until the end! I’m very hopeful that with this adjustment I will be successful.

The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Personalities: Meet Paul Allison

January 2, 2014

Paul Allison | UncommonGoods

Paul Allison, UncommonGoods Quality Assurance Analyst 
My hometown is…
Brooklyn, NY by way of Chicago and Boston.I’m inspired by…
Music, kindness, and fun!

An uncommon fact about me…
I had the good fortune to travel the world and sing, and got to travel the world one last time as a competitive Magic: the Gathering Card Gamer. (Magic: the Gathering is a fantasy based card game that has been around since the ’90s that has won numerous awards, and revolutionized gaming.)

The best customer interaction I’ve had at UncommonGoods was…
I appreciate every time when I am able to allay my customers’ fears and make everything right.

When I’m not at work, you’ll find me…
I still have the gaming bug, so elbows deep in game geekery–all kinds of gaming, board games, computer games, miniatures and card games (but not the gambling kind).

Working at UncommonGoods I’ve learned…
It’s a wonderful thing to love you job again.

If I could meet anyone currently or formerly alive, it would be…
Benjamin Franklin. He is one of those people who were a pivot in the course of history. Without him the world, and the United States in particular, would be entirely different. He is an amazing figure of intelligence, creativity and diplomacy. Plus, history suggests he was just a plain groovy guy.

Would you rather… have the ability to read minds, or to tell the future?
Can’t I fly instead? To know the future would be an awful temptation to do some awfully selfish things, and a crush of responsibility to try to stop the ill of the world, while being able to read people’s thoughts is awful intrusive. But flying, just get a snuggly jacket to keep warm up there and you get to skip rush hour traffic and get a heckuva view! And maybe I could get over my fear of heights, although no doubt I would soon develop a fear of street lamps after running into a few.