Thursday, July 10, 2008

Making Cheese

A few posts back, I mentioned that I was making cheese, and that I would blog about it.

I have a few blogs I read that belong to people that I really don’t know.

One of those blogs is by this girl called Pia. I found her back when I reallyreallyreally wanted to join but I hadn’t gotten an invite yet. I Googled “Ravelry” to find blog posts by any of the lucky people who had already received their invites. I came across Pia’s blog. I read her posts about ravelry and kept reading. There’s a bit more to the story than that, but basically, I actually went to her blog instead of just reading it on Google Reader one time, and I saw that she had a link on her blog to a post by one of her friends, about making cheese.

I think my jaw dropped. People make cheese? Whaaat…I always thought that the only people who ever made cheese were farmer guys who lived on dairies, in French countryside, in 1787. I didn’t know people still made cheese. I thought it was all…commercialized. And like, you had to have your own cows and your own like…French humidity and weird ingredients. Not so! I read the blog post and the girl described all of the steps she took to make cheese.

Huh. I wanted to try it. So I started looking on line for cheese making kits. It was all slightly more spendy than I wanted it to be, though. Because you need a cheese press, and the cultures that you add to the milk, and you need cheese wax and a bunch of stuff. But I was excited about it.

When I had my for-fun job at the mall, one of my coworkers and I used to have our own Finer Things Club, where every time we saw that we were going to work together, we took turns bringing in different cheeses. We would read the package and talk about whatever country it was from and then we would eat the cheese on crackers or with fruit. We always had a couple different kinds so that we could compare and contrast them. (It was a really random thing to be doing while I was working at the mall, but we had a lot of fun with it.) So I went into the mall and I told my coworker about it. She thought it sounded cool.

I told some of my other friends I wanted to try it, too, and they kind of rolled their eyes, but whatever. And after awhile, it was one of those things that I needed to stop talking about, and just do.

So I ordered a cheesemaking kit from online. It said it would come with everything I needed to make eight batches of cheese. Sweet.

It came! And I was so excited about it. I wanted to start making it right away. Exceepppt….Remember how it said it would come with everything I needed? That was a lie. If I were a chef, maybe. If I were a family, maybe. Living in student housing? No way. None of my stuff was right. Everything needed to be stainless steel. Our colander is plastic. Our measuring spoons? Plastic. My candy thermometer that I thought would work fine? Had the wrong range of temperatures. Our long-bladed knife? Not long enough. Our stirring spoon? Plastic. Our pot? No way was it going to hold three gallons of milk. One and a half, maybe. But you can’t cut the recipes in half. Even our water wasn’t fine, because it had to be distilled water. So I went cheese-making-shopping. I bought all of the right stuff.

And then I made cheese.

In a nutshell, here is how you make cheese:

1. Sanitize the kitchen.

2. “Ripen” the milk. That means you add starter bacteria culture to consume the lactose, which starts separating curds and whey. This takes about 90 minutes. The kind I made had to stay at precisely 86 degrees for those 90 minutes.

3. Add calcium chloride to make up for store milk being pasteurized.

4. Dissolve rennet, and add it to the ripened milk. The rennet makes it so that the milk protein becomes solid curds.

5. The whole giant pot becomes one big curd. It’s like a giant milky pot-shaped jello-y thing. This takes another hour and a half.

6. You cut the giant curd into equal sized pieces. Basically you slice it in 1/2” slices one way, turn the pot and do it again. This makes it so that the whey can drain from the curds. Then you use a spoon and move it back and forth across the pot every half inch from the bottom to the top. So you wind up with a bunch of 1/2” cubes floating in yellowish water.

7. You cook the curd.

8. Drain the curds. Pour out the whey. [NOTE: This is kinda cool, because you get to use cheesecloth, which is a popular scavenger hunt item, but not popular for much else.]

9. Salt the curds.

10. Press the cheese. Flip it and press some more, add more weight, etc. The final pressing for the kind I make took 12 hours.

11. Dry the cheese; this takes 1-3 days.

12. Wax the cheese. I used red cheese wax, and I brushed it on.

13. Age the cheese. I aged mine in the refrigerator for one month.

And then you eat it.

I’m not gonna lie. Making cheese is tricky. You have to disinfect the kitchen. There can’t be germs anywhere, because if there are, they get into the cheese, and then they grow, and it ruins the cheese.

The temperature has to stay at constant weird temperatures for extended periods of time, so you have to make a water bath in the kitchen sink, and constantly monitor the pot of curds to be sure that it stays at the right temperature.

I thought it was something that would take a few hours, and each of the steps took so long that it ended up consuming my entire day.

My roommates thought this was an interesting project, and we happened to introduce ourselves at ward prayer a couple days after I had waxed the cheese, so they told the whole ward about it. Everyone wanted to try it when it was ready.

I emailed the girl who blogged about making cheese to see how hers came out. She wrote back:

The cheese tastes great! Sadly, I let life get between me and my cheese and it didn’t get waxed on time. But I was pleased to discover, after chiseling thru the outer crust, that the center was very yummy. I have another batch starting tonight and this time I won’t forget to wax.

And then, I waited a month. And today, I decided to cut the cheese. It’s pretty good. It’s a little salty. But there’s a TON of it! I’m sure I’ll invite our apartment complex to stop by and have some.

The End.


Optimistic. said...

I was waiting the entire time for a "cut the cheese" joke, but it doesn't look like you made it intentionally.

That almost makes it funnier, actually.

LJ said...

I just can't believe that you really did it. It's like you're some domestic goddess or something.

Krebscout said...

I will have you know that I've used cheesecloth on many occassions, including lithography and making my own medium for my oil paints.

But I'm still not as cool as you.

volscian said...

Ooooh man I want to do this so badly! I've thought about it before but never remembered to do the research. I have to try this now. I am obsessed with the idea of cheese with vegetables, herbs and stuff in it, like in Redwall, (Lol, I'm such a dork.)