August 16, 2017

Would You Like Some Cheese With That?

Homemade mozzarella cheese

Janine Pineo Photo | Homemade mozzarella cheese

• By Janine Pineo •

I was wandering in downtown Bangor a few days ago, having reluctantly left  The Rock & Art Shop after perusing its wonders, and happened by Central Street Farmhouse, where something in the front window caught my eye.

I paused but a moment before stepping inside and attempted to see the item that was singing to me like a siren.

A singing siren waving cheese.

For there, luring me from its cute little box, was a cheesemaking kit.

I read the back. I read the sides. I looked at the price.

After a quick math session in my head, I determined that I could make a pound of cheese for about $5.50.

I paused only a moment when I saw there was a cheddar kit, too, before deciding I really wanted to make mozzarella, thinking of the tomato-basil-mozzarella combinations I could have with the fresh tomatoes and basil so abundant in the garden right now.

The kit is from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. and its Cheese Queen, Ricki. The kits are fun, informative and – best of all – include everything you need but the dairy to make your cheese. It even comes with a thermometer, which is crucial to making cheese correctly.

I picked up a gallon of whole milk a couple days ago with plans to attempt my first batch of cheese Sunday afternoon when all was quiet.

(It is a dream of mine to do things when “all is quiet,” so I continue to delude myself that it might happen someday.)

Moments after setting up for the cheese session, the quiet evaporated. I soldiered on, reading and rereading the instructions for fear I would make a mistake and waste a gallon of milk.

That was not to be.

The trickiest part seemed to be getting the curd to set. It took a couple of minutes longer than the recipe stated for the initial set up, but that was all. Having never made cheese or seen it made in front of me, I was uncertain exactly how sturdy the curd needed to be, so I guessed a bit and crossed my fingers that what I was seeing was OK.

It was. The next few minutes of heating the custard-like curd had me concerned I had not let it set long enough, but then it started to look like cottage cheese curds. The whey was increasing as I heated the mixture up to 105 degrees, relying on my new trusty thermometer.

After a period of stirring, it was time to drain the whey from the curd and heat the curd in the microwave.

I added only half the salt recommended, just a half teaspoon, and after more cheese angst, got the curd heated to 135 degrees and began stretching it.

Yes, it seems mozzarella making is like a taffy pull.

Before I knew it, I had a rubbery band of cheese in my hands.

I ended up making a braid of some sort, cooling it off first in a cool-water bath, then an ice bath as the recipe instructed.

And that was that.

Except for the taste-testing part.

Let’s just say I may need to buy my own cow now.

~~~

To find out more about the cheesemaking kit, click here to visit the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. site. The kit has enough ingredients to make 30 batches of cheese, either mozzarella or ricotta. The recipe book comes with recipes for making cheese, using the cheese and using the whey.

The kit says it takes about 30 minutes to make the cheese. I would liken it to learning how to make fudge. My first few times making fudge took much longer and now I can make a batch in 20 minutes, knowing to the minute when the mixture is ready for the next step. Practice makes perfect, and you get to eat the results.