The Cut: Cheese Making 101

Class: Cheese Making 101

Having great teammates definitely boosted my confidence for our Cheese Making 101 class. “Am I doing this right?” sounds needy. “Are we doing this right?” sounds like team communication. Making cheese is a somewhat sensitive process, so we had to ask that question quite a few times. It was not always obvious that we were going to triumph in this Lifelong Learning class.

Our class-made cheeses for the evening were mozzarella and ricotta. Thanks to Conversational Italian, I can now properly pronounce these formaggi: they are pronounced “mozzarella” and “ricotta.” (My Italian’s getting pretty good, isn’t it?)

Since they don’t require an aging process, these two cheeses are practical to make at home and then serve fresh. Here’s the shopping list: whole milk, citric acid powder, white distilled vinegar, rennet, salt.

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Doug, our cheese-making pro, got our class started with great instructions and provided encouraging assistance at each of our Viking cooking stations. For mozzarella, we started out on the stove. The process involved heating the milk to specific temperature ranges and adding citric acid and rennet to break down and/or “unbend” the milk protein. Then we waited for the batch do its thing with the curdling process. At this point a kitchen microscope would have been handy to confirm that this was not magic. Poof! Curds and whey.

Our next goal was to get the mixture to separate out the curds and whey, so we cut the curd into smaller cubes in the pot (see top photo), waited a few minutes, heated the mixture, waited a little longer. When it was ready, we transferred the curd to another bowl, reheated it in the microwave, and then squooshed, kneaded, and stretched it until it became mozzarella.

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Are you sensing that we had some waiting time? In the kitchen, this is when cooks (i.e. magicians) multi-task; in the kitchen, this is when I get distracted. That’s why I was glad I had teammates to keep me focused on cooking. Our other task was ricotta in the microwave, and fortunately it was very simple. We heated the milk to 185 degrees, added vinegar, stirred, then waited for the curd to set so it could be drained and separated.

Despite a few moments of uncertainty, our mozzarella and ricotta turned out great. Success! — both for making cheese and for building confidence in the kitchen. Next up is a combo cheese-making session at home in our not-as-lovely 1980’s kitchen. Using the leftover whey, I also plan to impress my boyfriend’s parents with gjetost, a Norwegian cheese. Shhh. It’s a Brainfuel surprise.