Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cheese Mongers

Disclaimer: This blog post contains many graphic photos of cheese making, and is not recommended for the lactose intolerant or those who are leery of curds. 

With that note of caution out of the way, I'm so pleased to tell you about the adventure I had with my sister, Erin, when she came to town the weekend before last! She said to me at some point on Saturday, hey, we should make something! And I said, like what? And then she gave me a cheese-making book, so that choice was easy. (Thanks, Erin!) We immediately skipped past the do-able cheese-making for beginners and gawked at the beautiful homemade bries; the goat cheeses with fluffy interiors and gooey exteriors that look an awful lot like Humbolt Fog; we talked about Cowgirl Creamery, and we even shared some "all-time best" cheese-eating stories. And then we realized that in order to make many of our most favorite cheeses, one needs about six-to-twelve weeks and many scary-sounding ingredients that have, like, numbers in them. (MM 100 powdered mesophillic starter anyone?)

And so we quickly came to our senses and decided to go back to chapter 1 and make some normal-people cheese. The kind that can be made in an afternoon and eaten that night. After all, we only had the weekend! So we chose two cheeses: Queso blanco from Artisan Cheese-Making at Home, and the microwave mozzarella from The Bust DIY Guide to Life

The key to both recipes (and, I suspect, most cheese-making) is this: get some milk, heat it up, add acid to it, and watch it curdle!
Queso blanco began with a gallon of milk in a stockpot, which we slowly heated up to a steamy 195 degrees. It took about 25 minutes, which should have been good sister catch-up time, but instead we just took turns staring at the thermometer, watching it go up one degree at a time. We were very excited!
When we weren't staring at the thermometer, we prepped our cheesecloth! We were very nervous about our cheesecloth for some reason. We were both so sure that it would slip beneath the curds and all of those delicious bits would then fall through the colander holes! So we binder clipped the cloth in place. Total dorks.
At exactly 195 degrees, we nervously poured in our 1/3 cup of white distilled vinegar. Almost immediately, the curds plumped up and pushed away from the whey. I was about to say it was like magic, but it wasn't. It was like SCIENCE.
We took turns stirring the curds and making gross faces, because curds are gross looking. And then, after we let it sit for about ten minutes (the whey turns sort of green at this point, by the "whey"...and the book told us it was normal, so no judging). Scooping the curds out of the pot and into the cheesecloth was sort of the best part. So we took this video. (It's really short. And bad.)
video
And then I took lots of close-up shots of curds. 
Once the cheese drained a bit, we sprinkled a teaspoon of kosher salt over the cheese and mixed it up with our hands. The book did not warn us that the curds would still be very hot! Apparently this cheese-making business is not for sissies. After a few minutes exclaiming "hoo-ha-ha-hawt!", we hog-tied the cheesecloth and strung that puppy to the sink to drain. Isn't it horrifying looking? Horrifyingly delicious, that is.
In the meantime, we needed to get our mozzarella on. The recipe in the Bust DIY Guide to Life is called "Around the Whey, Girl," and I am very proud to tell you that I resisted singing the LL Cool J song while making this cheese.
 
I'll admit, Erin and I were both dubious about this one. We love mozzarella SO MUCH, and we were certain we would somehow fail. At one point she said, look at that cheese in the photo! It's perfect! And I had to confess that it's actually a stock photo. (Sorry, Erin! Sometimes insider information can be discouraging.)
We got out our big guns: Citric acid and vegetable rennet, both purchased at Brooklyn Kitchen that morning. This time, we combined our gallon of milk and citric acid in a stockpot and heated it up to a mere 90 degrees. At that point, we added the rennet and stirred softly, while an explosion of curds started to form. (Again: SCIENCE.) The recipe tells you to let it sit for three to five minutes, the less time the softer the cheese. Since Erin likes her cheese hard (there should probably be an innuendo there), we let it sit for five. 
At this point, I think we did something wrong, because the recipe tells you to "cut" through the curds with a knife, but ours looked like this. It was like cutting through cottage cheese soup with a knife, so...we skipped to the next step. Which was fine!
Next came the fun part: Kneading the mozzarella! It starts out looking kind of soupy, but then you drain off some of the whey and heat the mozzarella in the microwave for a minute. And then you knead it again and it starts to look like this:
And then you heat it in the microwave for 30 more seconds and knead it again and it starts to look like this:
A shiny happy ball of cheese!

Since it was Erin's last night in town, we decided to take our picnic to Robb's bar and have an al fresco dinner, including a baguette, tomatoes, pesto, arugula, and an advil container full of kosher salt (it made perfect sense at the time.)
And now you're probably wondering...how did it taste?? It tasted amazing!! Both of them! No really! The queso blanco was like a much more flavorful cottage cheese. I liked to scoop mine onto crackers and eat it with lemony arugula. Yum! And the mozzarella was so very much like mozzarella, we were shocked. In hindsight, I would have gone for a slightly softer cheese (thanks a lot, Erin), and one less round in the microwave, but with a slice of tomato and a generous sprinkle of kosher salt, it was quite perky indeed.
And of course, in documenting our feast, Erin (being the big sister) had the sense to smile for the photo with her mouth closed, unlike yuck-o wine mouth to her right.

And that, my friends, is the story of how two sisters make cheese. But guess what? You don't need to have a sister to make cheese! You just need a gallon of milk, some acid, and a dream.

14 comments:

  1. Yum. Cheese.

    Jess

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    1. I know. Funny I wrote this post during a week when we're both not eating cheese! Could I be having cheese withdrawals?

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  2. I would like to request a recurring series on KYP called "The Allday Sisters Make Things." Like cheese. And faces. And short, bad videos.

    Also, this blog entry is awesome and makes me SO HUNGRY FOR CHEESE.

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    1. I'm totally in. Especially with the short, bad videos, but only if I get to stick out my tongue and pretend to eat things every time.

      Liana, I have access to a book on homemade kimchi...

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    2. Good idea! Erin should just come out here every month so that we can make good on that request. (Erin, we must perfect our soft but not too soft cheese!) In the meantime, Nicole, maybe you'd want to make some ginger beer with me when you come visit later this month...? We can make terrible videos and everything!

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    3. Would this give me yet another opportunity to abuse your soda stream? If so, I am IN.

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  3. I've had to cut back on cheese while nursing and i have been sad about it, but after reading this now I am really, really sad about. That loos like it was fun. And tasty.

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    1. Oh man, that is the ultimate sacrifice! But I'm sure your little bundle of joy is worth it. When you're done nursing, I suggest you have yourself a binge!

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  4. I admit, I'm with you on the hard cheese front. If (WHEN!) I make mozzarella again, I'm going with three minutes of sit time! And maybe a little more salt? Or a little less? Erg, now I'm just confused.

    Cheese-making was the best day ever!

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  5. Just reading this blog makes my stomach cramp up. Just kidding! What a blast you two had, as usual.

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  6. Awesome! It looked like so much fun. I got my sister a DIY Cheese Kit from UrbanCheeseCraft last year for Christmas. I think my sister and I should have a cheese making day, too!

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    1. Angela, it is such a perfect sister activity! I'm not sure why, but I think it's because it involves making occasional gross-out faces and then eating cheese and drinking wine. All great sister activities!

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  7. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
    Cheese Making Supplies

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    1. Luke, thanks for reading! I'm super glad that this post was helpful.

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