Say Cheese!

This morning started like any other ordinary Monday morning. My cat woke me up by thundering around the house, which I stubbornly ignored until she pulled out her trump card and started scratching the one remaining good piece of furniture in the house. I leapt out of bed and chased after her, and she gleefully led me right to her food bowl.

Well played, cat. Well played.

That’s not really the point of this blog entry, though. I had been doing some research recently on other neat sustainable or homemade things I could do, and references to cheese-making kept popping up.

And today, I decided, was the day.

I downloaded a really cool book from my favorite place, Amazon, called Home Cheese Making. It insisted that I try a soft, forgiving cheese like mozzarella first before attempting a hard cheese like cheddar.

This is advice that I promptly ignored.

I paid a visit to a neat place in Woodland Hills, the Home Beer, Wine, and Cheese Shop. This is where I procured many of my supplies. Then I traveled to Sprouts for milk in reusable containers:

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Because otherwise, that’s not very sustainable, is it??

What follows is a little how-to, but you should definitely get a resource on cheese-making if you want to go crazy like I did.

1. First, you have to sterilize all of your equipment. Its true, people used to brush the goat feces off of their bucket and make a perfectly acceptable batch of cheese, but we’re going to go ahead and avoid contracting H2N2: Cow Nile Virus or Mad Cow Disease.

2. Next, cheerfully dump your 2 gallons of whole milk into your pot. MISTAKE #1: Blithely assuming that the pot you have is CLEARLY big enough for two gallons when it almost wasn’t. Measure your pot, people.

3. Bring your milk up to 90 degrees using an instant-read thermometer. Gently. Do not boil it.

4. Dump in your mesophilic starter, which adds bacteria to the milk to begin the curdling process. Mesophilic means “medium loving” and these particular bacteria enjoy a nice, cozy temperature around 85 degrees. Allow this mixture to cure for about 45 minutes.

5. Scamper gleefully back to the kitchen 45 minutes later to discover that it is still just a pot of milk on the stove. Allow yourself to feel disappointed. Pick yourself back up and add your rennin. NB: There are several different types of rennin. I used animal rennin, because I eat animals. However, if you don’t enjoy the thought of consuming the inner intestinal lining of a calf, there are multiple vegetarian options for rennin.

6. Allow the mixture to set for 45 minutes at a good, constant 90 degrees.

7. Come back to discover that your mixture has set up into CURDS and WHEY and fancy yourself Little Miss Muffet for a moment. Curds are white and semi-solid, whey is yellowish and liquid. Test the “set” of your curds by putting your curd cutting knife (I used a bread knife that I had sterilized) into the curd. If the curds pull away from the knife slightly and the yellowish whey fills the spaces, you have a clean break. Good job!

8. Cut your curds into 1/2″ cubes and give it a little stir to shake things up.

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9. At this point, you fill a larger receptacle with 100 degree water and place your entire pot into this water bath. I used the kitchen sink because, shit, you think huge pots grow on trees or something? Stir your curds constantly for 30 minutes while slowly raising their temperature to 100 degrees.

10. NOW COMES THE PRESSING! AND THE DRAINING! Line a colander with cheesecloth. I recommend “real” cheesecloth, not the grocery store kind, because it does need to be strong and tightly knit. Pour your curds into the colander and then hang that bad boy somewhere non-drafty for an hour and let it drain. Resist the urge to squeeze the plump little curds.

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What you don’t see here is that we used a twelve pack of beer for a counterweight system.

11. When you have patiently waited an hour, now comes the fun part. You should buy a cheese press. No, really. This is one thing I insist upon. You can find one for about $100 on Ebay. Seriously. Go buy one. We did it without one, but since it requires ten pounds of pressure, then twenty pounds, then fifty pounds, we used EVERY SINGLE HEAVY BOOK THAT I HAVE EVER OWNED. If there had been an earthquake last night, that would have been it. We had towering stacks of books carefully wedged under my hanging cabinets.

12. Dump your curds out of your cheesecloth hammock, give them a stir to break them up into walnut-sized pieces, and add your cheese salt. NB: Cheese salt is different than regular salt. Regular, iodized salt will inhibit bacterial growth due to the iodine. Worth the investment for some cheese salt. Pack your mold chock full of delicious rubbery curds. Now, we bought a mold, and admittedly, the cheese that came out of the mold was distinctly more professional looking. But we also made a ghetto cheese mold because we had extra curds, and it worked just fine. One Tuppeware full of stab-y holes from my ice pick and one that fits inside the hole-y one. Bam. Cheese mold.
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13. And then, you de-mold it the next morning, place it on a wooden cutting board or cheese mat (please…I am not buying a cheese mat. I have my limits), and let it air dry and rind up for about 2 days. At the end of that time, you wax that (pictures to follow) and let it cure at room temperature for four weeks and then you consume gleefully with your hard apple cider (homemade) and homemade sourdough.

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CHEESE!!!

Hee hee hee.

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