Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cheddar Cheese! (Part 1)

The Cheddar Challenge begins!!! This is where I am in the process as I type this on Sunday evening. I started at 7am this morning and by 1pm I put the cheese back into its mold to sit under 40 pounds of weight for the next 12 hours. After that I have some work to do tonight and in a few days before it officially ages for the next three months!!

First of all, I just want to say this was a lot of fun, but you really need to dedicate time and patience...have I mentioned that before?? Also, see the package where it says "Just Add Milk"? While that's true, you need more than just milk to buy (unless you have cheese making supplies!). I'll talk about that as I go along.

Here is the link to the PDF recipe for Cheddar Cheese. It's a very long recipe so I won't repeat it all here since I followed the instructions word for word. It's a bit intimidating at first, but it was so easy to follow!

Cheddar doesn't have a lot of ingredients, just milk, bacterial culture, rennet and calcium chloride. All of these came with the kit, but I also bought them separately for future cheese making. I'm starting to get interested in bacteria and mold...yes, I am. :) I need to learn more about these lovely ingredients that would otherwise give me the heebie jeebies. The Cheddar uses a Mesophilic Culture which is a culture that works best for cheeses like Cheddar, Monteray Jack and Feta. These types of cheese don't get heated to more than about 100 F, so the Mesophilic Culture works best at these lower temperatures. There is another type of culture Thermophilic, which works best at higher temperatures. For example, I'll be ordering and using some Thermophilic culture for my Pizza Mozzarella which will be heated to 185 F.

Here is an example of what you need that you might not have. A BIG double boiler. Sure, you could do this all on the stove top in your 12-quart pot, but it would be very difficult NOT to burn the milk and curd, plus keep the right temperature during the process. Another suggestion is to do it in the sink, using the sink as the "double boiler" but I couldn't see that it would be easy to keep the right temperature of the water plus our sinks are tiny. I was in a pinch so I used my water bath canner as my double boiler. I put the Mason Jar tray upside down to hold my cheese pot; and filled it with enough water to reach about a third way up the cheese pot. This worked amazingly!

7 am to 9:30 am

Just like the Mozzarella, you warm up your milk very slowly. When it hits 88F, you add the culture and let it ripen for 45 minutes at 88 F. This is where the double boiler was essential for me, it really kept the temperature of the milk even. Then you add calcium chloride and rennet and again let it sit at 88F for another 45 minutes. This is the easy part because you have a little down time while you're waiting. Just check the double boiler water every so often to make sure it's at 90F. That will ensure your future-cheese is doing fine! This photo shows the soft curds that formed at this part of the process, again, just like a soft tofu. You carefully cut the curds to 1/2 inch squares then let it sit a few minutes.

Curds after 10 minutes and 20 minutes of cooking.

Curds after 30 minutes and 40 minutes of cooking.

9:30 am to 10:45 am

This step was all about patience. This step required me to stir constantly and very slowly for 80 minutes, yup! 80 minutes!...while keeping the temperature to 101-102 F. The above photos show how the curd looked after the first 40 minutes, it was neat to watch it get more solid from a little tofu mess! I was happy to have my laptop on the counter to watch a few tv shows while I stirred, otherwise it would have gotten a little tiring! 

Something that would come in REALLY handy: a digital thermometer with a cable so I don't have to keep inserting my hand held one! I put this on my Christmas list for Alex! It has so many uses...the cable can go right into your meat in the oven while the temperature gauge rests on the counter...anyway, I just love this thing and it would help in the cheese making process too!

This is my finished cooked curd after 80 minutes. The slow and constant stirring encourages the curd to release the yellow whey to become a dryer cheese.

10:45 am to 11:45 am

At this point, the curd is drained, broken apart and salted with various resting times in between. It kind of looks like poutine cheese at this point!

11:45 am to 12:15 pm

First stage of pressing. At this point you shove all the curds into the cheesecloth-covered mold. I needed to keep 10 pounds of weight on the cheese for 20 minutes. Good thing I lift light weights! I used my 7 pound and 4 pound dumbbells for this! This is how it looked in the mold after 20 minutes under 10 pounds of weight. I hope to have a real cheese press in my future!! It would make things a lot easier!

The next thing was to gently remove the cheese from the mold and flip it over so the top goes back into the bottom of the mold for the next stage. I was so nervous at this point! But it was quite solid. I changed my set up a little. I took out my roasting pan for this because the cheese is supposed to drain. Another bit of creativity on my part since I don't have a draining board. In the very first stage, I used my cookie rack but soon realized it will bend under all the added weight so I needed something stronger.

12:15 pm to 12:45pm

Second stage of pressing. Next up, I added seven more pounds to make 18 pounds total and pressed it for a further 20 minutes. Same thing, I had to flip it and put it back into the mold for the third stage of pressing. It was very solid at this point.

So this is where I'll stop for now. This is my Cheddar after 40 minutes of pressing. It is currently sitting hidden behind the microwave with 40 pounds pressing it for 12 hours. (40 pounds is 4 bricks and 2 of the seven pound dumbbells!) I had to hide it and barricade it from the cats!!! I finished the whole process 6 hours after I started and (unfortunately for me) I have to stay up  until 1am to take the cheese out of the mold and prep it for drying. Alex offered to do it, but I want to be up for that part of it too!

It'll stay in my drying container for the next few days...probably until Wednesday morning. At that point it'll be coated with "cheese coating" (it's orange); then aged for 3 months. I'll post about this next weekend!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Homemade Mozzarella (Second Try) SUCCESS!

May I gloat? :)))))

I really take pleasure in creating and after the first Mozzarella didn't quite cut the mustard...I tried again this morning and it was a wonderful success! I'll go through the recipe and the steps again because I tried a different recipe with a different method this time. I'm a believer in old school methods, but I have to say...this microwave method IS A KEEPER.

(from the Kitch'n website; there is a great video on there too, here is the You Tube version)

4 liters of milk 
(the recipe calls for 1 gallon, which is really 3.8 liters, but I used the whole 4L container...I'll be more careful in future cheese making!)
Filtered water
1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp liquid rennet (I used 1/8 tsp double strength liquid)
1-2 tsp cheese salt (or Kosher salt)

Update: (July 16th) I originally used 1 1/2 tsp of cheese salt in the cheese during the folding and stretching...then added 1 tsp to the whey to store the cheese. A day later? WAY too salty! Next time I'll just use half the amount! I think this part is very subjective because usually we love salty cheese, but it was slightly overkill.

You will need:
Minimum 6-quart pot (aluminum is not suggested)
Slotted spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
2 large bowls (one needs to be microwavable)
Long cheese-cutting knife (I used an icing knife - perfect substitute!)
Rubber gloves or heat-proof hands if you have them ;)


This photo shows one of my new tools I got for cheese making - a stainless steel slotted spoon. ESSENTIAL. A tip for cheese making is the up and down "cheese maker's stir". You slowly lift the spoon up and push it down in the milk and so on, to keep an even temperature in your cheese making.

1. Prepare the Citric Acid and Rennet
Measure out 1 cup of water. Stir in the citric acid until dissolved. Measure out 1/4 cup of water in a separate bowl. Stir in the rennet until dissolved.

2. Warm the Milk
Pour the milk into the pot. Stir in the citric acid solution. Set the pot over medium heat and warm to 90°F, stirring gently. At this heat, my curds started to form.

3. Add the Rennet
Remove the pot from heat and gently stir in the rennet solution. Count to 30 (one-banana-two-banana-three-banana...). Stop stirring, cover the pot, and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. I was making coffee and let it sit 7 minutes.

4. Cut the Curds
After five minutes, the milk should have set, and it should look and feel like soft silken tofu. If it is still liquidy, re-cover the pot and let it sit for another five minutes. Once the milk has set, cut it into uniform curds: make several parallel cuts vertically through the curds and then several parallel cuts horizontally, creating a grid-like pattern. Make sure your knife reaches all the way to the bottom of the pot. 

Here is my "checkerboard" pattern. At this point I knew my cheese would be a success because my last batch was still quite runny at this point.

5. Cook the Curds 
Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat and warm the curds to 105°F. Stir slowly as the curds warm, but try not to break them up too much. The curds will eventually clump together and separate more completely from the yellow whey. My curds did separate quite a bit even though I was super gentle with the stirring.

6. Remove the Curds from Heat and Stir
Remove the pot from the heat and continue stirring gently for another 5 minutes.

After Separating, there is still some whey in the curds - that's okay!

7. Separate the Curds from the Whey and Microwave
Ladle the curds into a microwave-safe bowl with the slotted spoon (don't throw out the whey). 

This is what it looks like after the first minute microwaved.

Microwave the curds for one minute, whey and all. After one minute microwaved, drain off the whey. Put on your rubber gloves and fold the curds over on themselves a few times. At this point, the curds will still be very loose and cottage-cheese-like. Note: this is where the video comes in handy, really shows you the simple technique of folding.

8. Microwave the Curds to 135°F
Microwave the curds for another 30 seconds and check their internal temperature. If the temperature has reached 135°F, continue to the next step. If not, continue microwaving in 30-second bursts until they reach temperature. The curds need to reach this temperature in order to stretch properly.
(Mine took 2 minutes total)

9. Stretch and Shape the Mozzarella
When my curds reached 135F, I drained what was left of the whey - though the recipe didn't mention this. Honestly, unless your skin is made of asbestos...use TWO sets of disposable gloves for this next step. I felt the heat despite this, but my hands were safe. 135F is HOT. I'm going to have to look for a better solution...heat-proof cheese making gloves? Do they exist??

Sprinkle 1 1/2 tsps salt over the cheese and squish it with your fingers to incorporate. (July 16th Update: For our taste this is WAY too salty...I'd use 1/2 - 1 tsp only) Using both hands, stretch and fold the curds repeatedly. It will start to tighten, become firm, and take on a glossy sheen. When this happens, you are ready to shape the mozzarella. Make one large ball, two smaller balls, or several bite-sized bocconcini. Try not to over-work the mozzarella. Note: my last batch tore like crazy and I couldn't stretch it at all! This was like a dream to stretch! The little "bubbles" are the cheese salt that hadn't melted yet.

NOTE ABOUT SALT:  If you use iodized salt (table salt) it will kill the lactic bacteria in the cheese - which is essential for aging. Mozzarella isn't aged, but I read tips to just never use table salt in cheese making ever. Buy cheese salt from a cheese making supply shop or use Kosher salt.

10. Using and Storing Your Mozzarella 
The mozzarella can be used immediately or kept refrigerated for a week. To refrigerate, place the mozzarella in a small container. Mix a teaspoon of cheese salt with a cup of cool whey and pour this over the mozzarella. (July 16th Update: Again, the day after, we found this is WAY too salty...I wouldn't even salt the whey for storage) Cover and refrigerate. This recipe took a total of just about an hour to make and made about a pound of cheese. Price-wise, it cost me $7.35 for the milk. The cost of the rennet, citric acid and salt...well, I have TONS of it, so I could divide that up by 25 batches (which I'm sure I have more than enough for) and add 40 cents...$7.75 for two containers of Mozzarella which would cost me $9.98 at the store. Not to mention, there are no additives in mine! As I said, SUCCESS!

A sunny day, a glass of red wine and good company is all you need with a nice cheese plate!! Want to join us? Better hurry, this cheese won't last long!!! :))

Monday, July 10, 2017

Homemade Mozzarella (First Try!)

Welcome to my cheese making blog! I hope that this blog motivates and inspires people to make their own cheese! I'm a beginner at this point and I'll admit that making my own cheese intimidated me a little bit. I have a silly irrational fear of failure which made me lose confidence often during my very first cheese making experience, but it did turn out okay in the end! :)

Saturday morning, I decided to try Mozzarella. We were having pizza for dinner, so I needed some. This is supposed to be the easiest cheese you can make, but I would say it was a little challenging for me anyway. There are five ingredients to make about a pound of cheese:

1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp regular strength liquid rennet (or 1/4 tablet)
1 1/2 cups filtered water
4 liters whole milk
Cheese salt

All of these items aren't easily available in stores, but I found them at Make Cheese located in Alberta. The best and most popular cheese making site I've found is the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. The only reason I didn't buy from them was because I wanted to buy in Canadian dollars, but that site is a gem of information! 

Here are some very useful links (I'll make a list on my sidebar):

Cheese Forum: (I just joined this weekend, I don't know how active it is, but there is a wealth of information here from beginners to experts on cheese making).

Mozzarella Cheese Making Video (20 minutes): I watched this video over and over to get the technique down and I'm so glad I did. I followed both the PDF recipe and watched her video as I was making the cheese. I think it's important to really de-stress, take your time, read the recipes and watch the videos before you start because it's too easy to forget a step!

Step 1: Acidify Your Milk; Heat; Add Rennet: To acidify the milk, I added the citric acid; then heated it to 90F. It looks like this when it's ready, starting to curdle slightly. The next step is to remove the milk from the burner and add your rennet. You leave this sitting for about 20 minutes and a solid mass should form. Mine wasn't a solid mass though (see photo below). 

Step 2: Cut the Curd; Heat; Drain: The next step (once you have your solid curd mass) is to cut a checkerboard into the curd, put it back on the burner and heat it to 105F, stirring very slowly. The curds should start to feel thicker, mine didn't! :(

Then you take the curd off the heat and put it in a colander to drain (KEEP the whey!). My curd looked more like ricotta, but felt like soft Mozzarella (more rubbery than Ricotta). It's supposed to really look like solid pieces.

Step 3: Heat the Curd, Stretch; Form Balls: At this point, you need to heat the curd, stretch and form the Mozzarella. Nearly every recipe I found online suggests using the microwave at this point to make things easy, but I wanted to do it the "real" way...which is something I had in common with the lady in the video! I really suggest watching it to its entirety if you want to do the "water bath" method of prepping your cheese for stretching!

At this point, you heat up your leftover whey to 185F. I added about a tablespoon of cheese salt to the whey to salt up the cheese a little bit. 

Then you scoop out about 1/6th of your curd and dip it in the hot whey "water bath" for about 15 seconds. THIS is the learning curve. I chose 15 seconds, some people may need longer - it all depends on the consistency of your curd.

The goal is to be able to stretch and knead the cheese when it comes out of the water bath without it tearing. You're basically heating up your cheese to make it pliable. A valuable tool: disposable plastic gloves!!! When you are stretching the cheese directly from the 185F whey, it's dang hot! (Please see the video for technique)

:)) I succeeded!! The cheese could have been more solid and it shouldn't have all those craters and cracks in it, but it was very nice! I put these Mozzarella balls into a cold water-filled container in the fridge for 3 hours before using it - this is supposed to harden it up a little. This cheese keeps for 10 days in the fridge. After the 3-hours, I transferred the cheese into containers without brine, as was directed in the video.

I used 2 of them for our pizza. After being used to the "cheese food" Mozzarella from the grocery stores, it takes some getting used to, flavour and texture-wise. 

If I'm completely honest, we do miss the greasy type of brick style Mozzarella for our pizzas. This real cheese melted quite well though and gave a nice creamy texture. I made my Pizza-Ghetti for dinner.

I see why cheese making is called an art. It takes practice, time, the ability to be flexible and patience. We all have access to different milks, rennets and overall ingredients. Not to mention when aging comes into the process, humidity levels and temperature! I have to find what's right for me with the products available! Next time I will try a little less rennet, diluted in more filtered water and add lots of cheese salt. I will NEVER give up because I really enjoy this new hobby!

I found a recipe for a Mozzarella Made With Live Culture. (pictured to the left) This is a cheese that the author of the recipe makes as "pizza cheese". I really like the fresh Buffalo-style Mozzarella, but we mainly use this kind of cheese in melty dishes, so I'm making it my mission to try to make a homemade pizza Mozzarella!