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Say Cheese

This weekend, I had the opportunity to make some homemade mozzarella and ricotta cheeses with some friends, and the results were simply delicious. Although ricotta cheese can be made using basic ingredients most of us have in our kitchens, I chose to use a cheese-making kit, which includes everything needed to make either ricotta or mozzarella — you simply add the milk.

The kit contains cheesecloth, a thermometer, and enough rennet, citric acid, and cheese salt to make 30 batches of either ricotta or mozzarella cheese. It also includes simple recipes and tips to help you get stated. Since the process was so simple, I thought I’d share the recipes and step-by-step instructions, in case you want to try it for yourself. You can use your fresh cheese on pizza, in lasagna, or in any recipe you wish.

We sliced our mozzarella and arranged it over sliced tomatoes, sprinkled it with torn basil leaves and drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. We enjoyed the ricotta spread on crusty wheat bread, topped with a splash of olive oil, chopped sundried tomatoes and Italian spices. Any combination of those ingredients would make a wonderful Italian-style grilled cheese sandwich. The possibilities are endless — so what are you waiting for? Get cheesy!

Mozzarella Cheese (Makes about ¾ pound)

Ingredients

1 gallon milk (make sure your milk is not Ultra- Pasteurized)

1 1/4 cups cool, chlorine-free water

1 1/2 tsp. citric acid

1/4 rennet tablet

1 tsp. salt

 

Tools

1 gallon stainless steel pot

thermometer

slotted spoon

colander

knife

glass bowl

 

First, dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet into 1/4 cup of cool water and set aside. Then mix 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid into 1 cup cool water and pour into your pot and stir until dissolved. Then add the milk into a large stainless steel pot and heat to 90 degrees while stirring constantly.

Remove the pot for the stove and add the rennet mixture, then stir the mixture for about a minute.  Next, cover the pot and let it sit, undisturbed, for five minutes. After five minutes your mixture should congeal and look sort of like a floating mass of tofu. (If not, let it sit for another few minutes.) Take a knife and cut the curd into small squares, then place your pot back on the stove and heat to 105 degrees while slowly moving the curds around with a spoon.

Once the temperature has reached 105 degrees, remove the pot from the stove and continue to stir the curds for another three to five minutes.  Then pour off the liquid, which is called whey, and use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds into a large glass bowl. Reserve the whey for another use*.

Next, microwave the curds for 1 minute. Then drain any excess liquid, shape into a ball and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the cheese ball back in the bowl and microwave for another 30 seconds.  Drain, and check the temperature — The cheese must be 135 degrees to stretch properly. Stretch the cheese a few times and form it into a log or ball.

Place your stretched cheese in a bowl filled with cool water and let it sit for five minutes. Then add one cup of ice cubes to the bowl, and let it sit for an additional 15 minutes to cool down completely. You can now eat the mozzarella, cook with it, or store it in an airtight container for up to a week.

Ricotta Cheese (Makes 1 ¾ – 2 pounds)

Ingredients

1 gallon milk (make sure your milk is not Ultra- Pasteurized)

1 teaspoon citric acid

1 teaspoon salt, optional

 

Tools

large pot

thermometer

measuring spoons

cheese cloth

strainer

mixing bowl

slotted spoon

 

Pour the milk into a large pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 195°F, stirring constantly.  Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the citric acid and salt, stirring gently to combine.

Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey. Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheesecloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. Reserve the whey for another use*.

Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If it becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing. Use your fresh ricotta right away or refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

*Don’t dump that whey! You can use it in place of equal parts water in bread or pizza dough, or add it to smoothies for an added source of protein.

 

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