For many decades folks were satisfied to buy their fermented foods and cheese in the local supermarket. What can be more convenient instead of slaving over the stove and kneading dough? For the last few years, The Times They Are A-Changin' and people want to get their hands back into the pot or bowl. Sourdough bread has had a tremendous resurgence mainly because of the forced lockdown of Covid. Thankfully, many of those cooks who have gone back to work have continued making this healthful bread and if you are at all familiar with the recipes for sourdough you would be aware that you must have a starter in your possession. You can borrow some from a neighbor, but it is not so difficult to make it yourself and with your own starter the entire round loaf of bread is made by you personally and now there is another item that you can add to your recipes, homemade cheese.
I am proud to say that I am a home cheese maker. I usually make it once a year for a special holiday when we eat cheese, and my grandchildren love to spread it on their bread or crackers. There are many different types of cheese on the market from soft cheeses such as cream cheese and cottage cheese and aged cheeses such as blue cheese or parmesan. We will not even touch upon these last two aged cheeses but will try to get you riled up about cottage and mozzarella cheeses.
Cottage or a thick cream cheese are the easiest to create which is why these are the only ones I have attempted. All you need are ingredients that are readily available at home, standard vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and a half a gallon of whole milk. Oh, and don't forget the “cheesecloth”. Yes, cheesecloth is actually produced to make cheese even though you may use it for other purposes such as keeping your chicken bones separated from your chicken soup while it boils. A standard cheese recipe calls for a candy thermometer to get to the exact boiling point, but I have been successfully making cheese without one. You must always watch the pot to get it right.
Recipe For Cottage Cheese
Most cheese recipes are made from milk and either vinegar or lemon juice to make the boiled milk curdle. I use whole milk to give the cheese as thick a feeling as possible under very simple home circumstances. Here is a simple recipe for cheese:
1) Bring a half gallon whole milk to a boil in a pot over a medium flame and keep stirring so no remnants will burn on the bottom of the pot. This is not the time to leave the pot to boil without watching and stirring constantly.
2) Have plain vinegar prepared to pour into the pot once the milk comes to a boil. Recipes differ as to the exact amount so one tablespoon would be fine. If you see the milk is not curdling, try adding a bit more vinegar. Soon the milk will begin to separate into curds and the liquid it separates from is called the whey. (Remember, Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey?) The whey is the liquid, and the curds are the solids which turn into the cheese.
3) When the curdling is done this is the time to put the mixture into the cheesecloth to drain. Alternatively, you can put the mixture through a sieve to catch the curdles properly. This is the time to season the cheese if desired and some people have already put a bit of salt in the original milk and vinegar mixture.
4) Tie a knot in the cheesecloth and keep it draining. What I do is take a clean wooden spoon, hook the handle onto the knotted cheesecloth and hang it on the sink faucet. (Sounds weird but it works.)
5) How hard the cheese will be will depend on how long you keep it drying.
Recipe for Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella cheese might be a bit longer to make but it’s not a big deal as long as you purchase the additional ingredients which are citric acid and rennet (which separates the curds from the whey.) These chemicals intimidated me when I first began making cheese, but I now realize that they are easy to get online on Amazon. As long as you plan in advance, you're good to go and I encourage you to try this recipe. I hope to try it soon as well and find out firsthand just how delicious this stretchy cheese really is. Actually, I have never met a mozzarella cheese I did not like, whether in a ball or sliced in a package. Before beginning let me just warn you that some cheese makers save the whey from Mozzarella to keep it fresh by pouring some whey into a glass jar along with the curdled cheese.
Before beginning our recipe let’s just explain what rennet and citric acid are. Citric Acid is a powdered form of a sour substance similar to the acid found in lemons. Rennet is an enzyme that causes the protein in milk to become solid stretchy curds. Rennet comes both in tablet and liquid form.
A specification in the recipe below is that when it comes to the milk do not use ultra-pasteurized milk which is heated to a higher temperature to kill most bacteria that regular pasteurization could miss. You are free to use any other type of milk.
Ingredients For Mozzarella Cheese
1 ¼ cups water
1 ½ teaspoons citric acid
¼ rennet tablet or ¼ teaspoon liquid rennet (Avoid Junket brand since it is more diluted.)
Gallon whole milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Dissolve together 1 cup of water with the citric acid.
- Dissolve ¼ cup of water with rennet.
- Pour milk and citric acid in a pot and warm till it reaches 90° F
- After removing the pot from the heat stir in the rennet mixture and count to 30.
- Cover the pot and leave it alone for five minutes.
- Open the pot and begin cutting the curds into a grid like pattern to become uniform squares
- looking like silken tofu.
- Return the pot to the stove and cook over medium heat until it reaches 105° F.
- Stir gently trying not to separate the squares and the curds will unite and separate from the whey.
- Remove the pot from heat and mix gently for five more minutes.
- With a slotted spoon remove the curds from the whey (but save the whey) and place curds in a microwave safe bowl.
- Microwave curds for one minute.
- Drain any access whey.
- Using rubber gloves fold curds into each other and put back into the microwave as the curds will still look like cottage cheese.
- Microwave for 30 seconds and see how the curds look because they might need an additional 30 seconds in the microwave
Now comes the fun part where you will sprinkle the salt on the cheese and knead the curds with your hands until the cheese hardens and becomes shiny. Your mozzarella is now ready and can be shaped into one large ball or several smaller ones.
Glass Jars with Lids are Perfect For Keeping Cheese Fresh
The best place to store your creation is in glass jars with lids. Some folks use water and others use the leftover whey to store their mozzarella in the fridge. Glass jars will keep your mozzarella fresh longer than if you put it in plastic containers. The glass jars are wonderful to present your homemade mozzarella at your table or as a beautiful gift.
If you are daring enough to try to make cheese you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is and the short length of time it takes to complete. I recommend that you start with recipe number one to give you confidence and a peaceful state of mine before embarking on recipe number two for mozzarella cheese. The key is to have all the ingredients and accessories ready on hand. For the first recipe, cottage cheese, a pot, cheesecloth, slotted spoon, milk, and vinegar are the essentials with free time to stir the pot without leaving it. Salt and other spices are optional and personal.
For the mozzarella, you will need to purchase two additional ingredients, citric acid, and rennet. A microwave is advisable to get the consistency in the recipe. This recipe has quite an interesting directive about kneading the cheese to the correct consistency which will actually be fun. The triumph is the presentation of both types of cheese in crystal-clear brand-new glass jars to showcase your accomplishments. These jars will help the cheese stay fresh in the refrigerator or as a gift to a relative or friend who needs a lift. You can add some fancy crackers in a clear or decorative bag, and you have a beautiful gift that you can proudly give to someone else or serve at your next get together.