Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making Good on my New Year's Resolution: Homemade Cheese!

Nearly a year ago, I did what many people tend to do this time of year.  I made some New Year's resolutions.

I'm not going to lie, folks, I've not done too well on most of them.  But instead of letting that get me down, I decided to make the best of the two days I had left in the year and knock one of the four off my list.  And you know what, I feel pretty good about that.

Stellar, actually, because the result was delicious enough to make up for the lack of any progress on the other three resolutions.

I. made. cheese!

It turns out that to make cheese, you need a couple of ingredients that are readily available online, but sort of hard to find in the stores in my tiny town.  I'd used that as an excuse to procrastinate for far too long.  Almost 12 months, to be exact.

So my mom got me this kit made by Urban Cheesecraft from Williams-Sonoma for Christmas, which comes with everything you need to make ricotta and/or mozzarella.  Or some of both.

Mozzarella was my top choice for my foray into cheese-making, so it was perfect.

Now, I've often heard the claim "you can make mozzarella in thirty minutes!"  That may very well be true...if you're a more skilled cheese-maker than I am.  Or if you don't try to make the cheese at lunch time while also trying to feed a houseful of guests.  Even still, it was pretty easy.  Maybe next year's resolution will be to get myself below the 30-minute mark on the mozzarella making...

You start by calibrating the thermometer that came with the kit.  This step probably took thirty minutes by itself.  That might have been because I boiled a pot of water to calibrate with, then absentmindedly dumped it out before calibrating.

The thermometer in the kit comes with a handy tool thing that lets you tighten or loosen the thermometer to get it to read 212 degrees in boiling water.

These are the tricky ingredients I told you about: rennet tablets and citric acid.  You dissolve 1/4 of a rennet tablet in 1/2 cup of non-chlorinated water.  Oh....crap...non-chlorinated?  It's handy to know that before you start this process so you can run to the store.  I used distilled water.

You also dissolve 1-1/2 teaspoons of citric acid in 1 cup of non-chlorinated water.

Then you pour a whole gallon of milk in a big pot.  I used whole milk...the creamier the better when cheese is concerned, I'd say.  Add the citric acid solution and heat over medium-low heat.

Once the milk gets to 90 degrees (which happens awfully quickly, I might add), you stir in the rennet solution.  The directions say to stir it in an up and down motion.  Maybe I should have used a bigger pot.

You'll see the curds (the chunky white part) start to separate from the whey (the yellow part).

You keep heating the pot until the cheese-solution of weirdness gets to about 105 degrees.  Your curds will start to separate from the side of the pan (see the left side of the pot above).

Then turn off the heat.  Look at all those curds and whey.  Little Miss Muffet would be proud.

Next you ladle your curds into a "heat-proof" bowl.  Whatever that is.

Then you have to ladle them into a microwave-safe bowl.  I'm not sure why dirtying two bowls is necessary, except that you get rid of a bunch of the whey from the first bowl.  Also, you can save the whey and use it for lots of things.  I didn't, but I might next time.

Anyway, back to the microwave-safe bowl.  You heat your curds in the microwave thirty seconds at a time at half power.  After each heating session, you pour off the whey in the bowl and fold the curds over a couple times to distribute the heat.

I had to do this about three times before my curds reached the optimal stretching temperature of 135 degrees.

Then, you add some cheese salt (I used a little under 1-1/2 teaspoons, but you can use more if you like saltier cheese).  Once the salt is in, you stretch the cheese to make it come together.  I really doubted that stretching this blob of curdy things was going to do much of anything, but it's like magic.  All the curds turn into cheese.  (I didn't get any pictures of this since cheese-stretching is very much a two-handed job).

There's the pretty ball of cheese. was more like a glob of cheese.

And what do you do with a glob of mozzarella cheese? Why you grate it up for homemade pizza of course!

It looks like...mozzarella.  Which was the point after all. 

Then you make the super secret pizza sauce.  I love this sauce: it's a little tangier and thicker than just plain tomato sauce. Mix a can of tomato puree and a can of tomato sauce together.  That's it. Add some dried or chopped fresh basil or oregano if you're feeling really fancy.

Then put it all together with your favorite pizza dough recipe.  Or one out of a can.  I won't tell.

That, my friends, is the taste of success!

So, with 26 hours left of 2012, I've accomplished the most important of my New Year's resolutions.

What about you?  Are you making any resolutions for 2013?


  1. Totally jealous! I've only made cottage cheese, which is WAY easier... but I want to try this!

    1. You so should! I'd offer to make you a glob and send it, but I know I'd eat it before I could get to the post office!

  2. Great job with this Lisa, the food looks awesome to me, well done on fulfilling your ambitions.

  3. I've thought of making cheese before, but never tried it. It looks great!
    I don't make resolutions.

    1. You're a smart cookie for not making resolutions. I think that's the route I'm taking this year!

  4. WOW! I'm impressed :) For Christmas this year, my husband bought me a kitchen aid mixer. We experimented with home made bread, which came out a little on the heavy side, but still tasted good. I'm not brave enough to try home made cheese this year... but maybe next year. Thanks for the detailed description and pictures!

    1. I LOVE my kitchen aid! Your hubby did good on that present!