I just got around to finishing this post about making cheese last semester in Garde Manger class. In fact, I was supposed to post this as part of a make-up cook-at-home assignment. (I thought she had said my product was sufficient, but later mentioned she never saw the story. Oopsie! I still made an A despite the missed points, though.) A promise is a promise, albeit a late one. Here you go, Chef C.
Making cheese, I don’t think it too scandalous to say, is a bit of a glimpse into the mind of God. Or witchcraft, I guess, depending on whose side you take. (Vegans, make your joke here.)
You start with such a completely plain, innocuous substance as milk, throw some other stuff at it, wave your hands in a prescribed motion, and, poof, you have cheese.
Okay, so it’s not quite that simplistic. But it is quite amazing.
In Garde Manger class, we’ve spent a handful of weeks on fresh (unaged) cheeses, because they’re quick, useful, and a good starting point for learning the ropes.
I showed you earlier our fresh lemon cheese, which is somewhere between ricotta and cream cheese in consistency. It was amazingly delicious and made a lovely filling for the sweet applications we used that day.
The next week, I was awfully sick with one of those might-as-well-be-the-flu-but-it’s-not sort of things. I went to class and powered through the lecture, but the chef knew better than to put my snotty, contagious self in the kitchen. I guess since I bothered to show up, she felt sorry for me and let me take some lab work home.
The project: Mozzarella.
I remember passing through the kitchen once last year when this class was doing this same project. Nibbly bliss!
Here’s the process, for those wishing to try at home. It’s awfully fun:
Bocconcini (Mozzarella balls)
(Adapted from Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen by Culinary Institute of America)
- 5 1/2 oz. salt
- 1 gallon water
- 2 lbs. cheese curd, cut into 1/2″ cubes
Right off the bat, I know you’re asking yourself, where in the world do I buy cheese curd?
Honestly, we were just given the curds, purchased from Ben E. Keith (a restaurant/foodservice supplier), to save time. But the awesome folks over at Fermentables, who offer supplies to make beer, wine and cheese at home, sell an inexpensive cheesemaking kit with the goods (rennet, for example) to make your own. Easy peasy.
But I’m leaving it to you to read those instructions on the package.
Add salt to your water, and bring it to 160 degrees. Then take the pot off the heat.
And here’s where I made a BIG ol’ mess.
The instructions in our book say to put the curds in a colander and lower it into the water so the cheese is covered. Thinking myself clever, I used a wire colander. Not so smart. Let’s just say that half the cheese stayed with the device, which had to go in the trash.
Then I dumped the curds directly in the water. We were instructed to use chopsticks to pull the cheese into the smooth strings that make this cheese what it is. Turns out I overcooked my curds, and I ended up with something more like rubber bands than delicious cheese.
I carried on anyway, laying the stretched curds out into a long log atop some plastic wrap. This is supposed to be only 1 inch in diameter, but since they were so rubbery, mine were about 1 1/2″ or 2″. Oh well.
Twist the ends of the plastic wrap so the entire log is wrapped well, then get out some thin twine or, as I used, dental floss. You’d probably be better off to not use mint flavored, though. Cut 5″ pieces and tie off the log into uniform spheres. The curd strands will have enough pressure now to form solid balls.
Put your strand of cheesy pearl goodness into a large bowl and place it in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight. Unwrap, cut between the balls if necessary, and enjoy.
Honesty time: Mine wasn’t that great. It was a little too much the consistency of one of those hi-bounce balls you get in a grocery store vending machine. But other than that, it was fantastic. :/
If they’d turned out better, they would have done well in my marinade, the juices from some spicy roasted grapes (you read that right) I made the same evening. That would have all come together into something fab, even if I don’t know just what.
Despite my difficulties, the process was actually pretty fun. As with most cooking experiences, you may have to screw it up at least once before you can make it really fantastic. I’ll definitely do it again.