Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Man Can Cook #18: Say Cheese!

Cheese is part chemistry, part alchemy, part performance art. There aren't many things that we eat that we intentionally let get this close to dangerously inedible before consumption. For some cheeses, the closer they are to that point, the better they are. That kind of cheese making is better left to the experts. There is another  kind of cheese making is fit for rank amateurs like you and I.

Mozzarella is pretty awesome stuff. Anyone with 1/2 a taste bud though can pick out the difference between the rubbery rubbish in the "cheese" aisle (between the Velveeta nut-ball and the pepper-jack) and the good stuff found in higher end markets. What's the difference? Heat, chemicals & machines. The rubbery stuff is pasteurized, full of preservatives and is totally overworked by machines. The good stuff isn't. What do ya say we make the good stuff?

There are a few reasons to get after this as a project now, rather than later.
  • Meddlesome douchebags don't want you to be able to purchase raw milk or have unpasteurized cheese. When was the last time you heard of someone getting sick from milk or cheese? Me either. Let's move on.
  • Because of the above, those same meddlesome douchebags have conspired with the government to create nanny-state regulations which  have made raw milk tough to find. Locate someone who sells it, and make it worth their while to continue to do so. The stores that sell it, don't like to promote that fact so as not to draw attention. Just help keep them selling, by buying.
  • Summer is going to be here in but a few months. That means tomatoes and that means caprese. You want to make sure you have this down PAT by the time your tomatoes are coming ripe.
So, my fellow Americans, let us stand together in defiance of douchebaggery. Give the finger to the "conventional thinking" of the nanny state. We've got no time for petty, parsimonious, pathogenic perplexities. We've got cheese to make!

  • 1ga Raw, organic, cream-on-top milk
  • 1.5tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tablet of rennet crushed and dissolved into 1/4 cup of cold water (if you have liquid rennet it will likely have instructions for how much to use for a given qty of milk)
  • Sea salt (not that Mortons Iodized bullshit)
  • A thermometer that is accurate down to less than 80deg F
  • Big stainless steel pot (8qt or more)
  • Large glass bowl
  • Stainless steel slotted spoon
  • Long kitchen knife

So where do you find Raw milk now? I don't want to name any specific stores for fear of them incurring the wrath of the Lactose Patrol but I'd suggest you look for small grocery outlets that lean toward the organic, natural and local...with lots of Prius' in the parking lot. You're thinking "Whole Foods" aren't you? BZZZT, wrong binky. At least as far as CA is concerned, they folded like a wet dishrag and stopped selling it. Check a local farmers market or two as well...and that's all I'm going to say. I want these people to stay in business. Find them, and lets keep them rolling.

So onto the cheesemaking. Pour the milk into the pot and put the burner on low..very low so as to avoid scorching the milk. Stir in the citric acid and slooooowly heat the milk to 95F. Turn off the heat and pour in the dissolved rennet. Using the stainless spoon stir continuously for 30 seconds to ensure complete distribution of the rennet. Then walk away for 5-10min. Don't touch, don't stir....I friggen mean it. Leave it alone.

When you return the curds will have separated form the whey. Now is the time to grab your daughter and sing about Little Miss Muffett.....if you don't have kids, don't try singing it to someone many times have you been told that people think it's creepy when you do that? Hmm? Hmm?

Grab the knife and cutting all the way to the bottom of the pot, cut the curds into 1" cubes. Now is the time to grab your son and tell him that you just cut the cheese.

Using the slotted spoon or a stir-fry spider gently remove the curd cubes to the glass bowl letting as much whey as possible drip off back into the pot. Pour off any whey that pools in the bowl into the pot when you are done.

Put the glass bowl into the microwave on high for one minute. Remove it and drain off any whey pressing down on the curds with your hand and pour it off. Return the bowl to the microwave for 30 seconds and drain again. Repeat the process until you find the curds coming together when you squeeze them. It'll be pretty hot. At this point, add a generous pinch of salt and begin kneading the cheese like bread dough. How much you work it will ultimately determine the texture.

Less kneading yields a creamier texture similar to "buffala", heavy kneading and even stretching the cheese will get you a texture more appropriate for a "melting" cheese. Either way, it's likely to be 1000 times better than the pastuerized rubbery bullshit from the grocery store.

Once you get it how you like it begin forming it into a ball by tucking the center in with your thumbs and pulling the mass around with your fingers. Continue this until the outside is smooth and shiny.  I've got some photos someplace that I'll try to dig up and insert here later but for now this'll do. Here's what to do with your cheese:

Chill for a while (both you and the cheese), cut into thick slices. Arrange on a plate with equally thick slices of your own home grown tomatoes, enjoy with a glass of fantastic wine and scoff, scoff I say at the nattering nabobs of nanny-state negativism.
Place a golf ball size wad of it in the center of a small round of pizza dough spread with San Marzano tomato sauce, a bit of olive oil, some salt and a sprig of basil for a more authentic Neapolitan pizza than any joint in town.
Pop a very cold ball of it in the smoker for 30 min sometime. Not long enough to melt it, but long enough to give it a delicate smoke. Awesome!

If you are's a little light reading on the nifty process of pasteurization of dairy products: 

15 Things that are killed by pasteurization

Happy cows indeed.......douchebags.

One last thing, don't throw away the whey. It can be used to make ricotta...but honestly, I haven't figured out a reliable process for it. If you've got one, please share.

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