Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

After reading this post about homemade cheddar cheese, I decided I should try my hand at home cheese making. There’s a one-stop shop here in Massachusetts that sells the most popular book on the subject as well as starter kits with everything I’d need to become a fromager, so I ordered a few kits and the book.

Rather than dive right into making hard cheeses, I thought a test run of the basic techniques would be prudent, so I assembled the ingredients I’d need to make a simple mozzarella: a gallon of pasteurized milk (not ultrapasteurized, which contains degraded proteins), a teaspoon and a half of citric acid, a teaspoon of fine salt, and a quarter of a rennet tablet. (Note: I am not related to the owner of the dairy, nor am I an heir to the Shaw’s supermarket dynasty.)

I dissolved the citric acid in a cup of chlorine-free filtered water, and the rennet in a quarter cup of the same. Working with clean pots and spoons (second nature after years of working in cell culture laboratories), I added the milk to a pot set over medium heat, stirred in the citric acid, and let the milk come up to 90° F.

After removing the pot from the heat, I stirred in the rennet solution, then covered the pot and let it sit for about eight minutes, until the curd cleanly separated from the whey.

Using a curd knife (actually a long icing spatula) I cut the curd mass into half-inch cubes.

I put the pot back on the stove and slowly heated it to 105° F, stirring slowly with a slotted spoon. Once at temperature, I killed the heat and continued to stir for another five minutes. The curds sank to the bottom of the pot.

Using a flat perforated ladle, I scooped out all of the curds into a clean glass bowl. This took longer than I thought because much of the curd was small enough to fall through the ladle, so I resorted to using a small strainer to scoop out the remaining curds.

The weight of the mass of curds pushed out more whey, which I drained off before microwaving the bowl for about a minute and a half, until the curds reached 135° F. I added the salt, and stretched the curds until they were smooth and shiny, splitting the mass in two and forming a ball out of each (a skill I mastered as a Silly Putty-obsessed child). I rinsed the balls in cold water, then dropped them in an ice bath to chill.

My first attempt was certainly better than anything I could find in a supermarket, but lacked the creaminess and depth of flavor I’ve come to expect from small-batch mozzarella. Part of that is due to the method I used, which is quick but doesn’t allow for any flavor development from enzymatic action. I probably could have stirred the curds for less time, and stretched less vigorously, both of which produce a softer end product. I cut up one chunk and tossed it into a salad; the other piece will probably end up as pizza topping.

I claim victory: the process was disaster-free and edible. Now that I’m familiar with the basic steps, I plan on making a simple cheddar very soon. And I wound up with a bonus:

That’s two quarts of filtered whey, which I will use in the place of water in this week’s batch of bread dough.

As I worked through the process, this scene came immediately to mind:


Milk: Shaw Farm
Rennet, citric acid: New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers on Punk Domestics
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11 Responses to Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

  1. Julia says:

    Nice work! This is next on my list.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful job! And welcome to the addictive world of cheese making 🙂

    • David says:

      Thanks! I saw your mozzarella photos, using the silpat for stretching is a good idea.

      Where did you get the press you used for the cheddar?

  3. Kate says:

    Gorgeous! I will definitely have to try this. Fresh mozz is one of those things I will definitely ignore my lactose intolerance for. After that maybe cured cheeses are more up my alley… anyway, great job! Let us know if you have suggestions after the second batch.

    • David says:

      I already know I’ll be adding lipase powder to the next batch to get more flavor, I don’t know when I’ll try the more traditional (and time-consuming) method.

      Nice blog, I never knew there was a spice rack challenge.

      Have a look at this post, there’s a superior method for seasoning cast iron.

  4. Karen says:

    I think your results look great. I received one of those cheesemaking kits as a gift, but have not been brave enough to give it a whirl yet. Were your supplies from a kit, or purchased in bulk?

  5. Peter says:

    It’s funny; I somehow leapfrogged over mozzarella in my hurry to get to the funkier kinds. I really need to make some, especially since it’s going to be caprese season really soon.

    • David says:

      I’m sure you have access to raw milk (I don’t) which will improve the taste. You might want to try the 30-minute method with the boy, but use the longer method for more flavorful product. I just received a batch of lipase, which I’ll try with my next batch.

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