In 2007, Barbara Kingsolver released a book called “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and I am loving this book!  It challenges me to stop and think about where my food came from, how it was cared for and how it was harvested.   I’m not quite finished with the book but have already started shopping for seeds and making plans for this summer’s garden.  (hope you’re reading this, Honey, because you’re going to be busy expanding the garden beds for the 2010 garden!) 

Included in Kingsolver’s book are recipes for all sorts of things – and the one for homemade cheese has been stuck in my mind since reading about it.  This weekend, I went to the health food store in town, got my supplies and made homemade mozzarella and ricotta cheese! 

First the mozzarella – easy, quick and pretty fun to make. 

The recipe called for 1 gallon of pasteurized milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

1-1/2 tsp citric acid – dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water

1/4 tsp vegetable rennet – diluted in 1/4 cup cool water

Sea salt or kosher salt (to taste)

Begin by measuring out all the ingredients. In a large stainless steel kettle, gently warm the milk. At 55 degrees, add citric acid and continue heating. At 88 degrees, the milk should begin to curdle. Once it starts curdling, add the diluted rennet and stir with an up and down motion until it reaches 100 degrees. Turn off the heat and wait for the curds to pull away from the sides. That’s your cue to lift the curds into a 2 qt microwaveable dish and start pouring off the whey. 

After discarding the whey, place the bowl in the microwave and nuke for 1 minute.  Remove, press out the whey, drain the excess and return to the microwave.  Repeat another time or two until the whey is removed.  It gets pretty hot, but I used a spoon to do most of the pressing. 

In spite of the heat, you have to gingerly knead the cheese – the recipe suggests gloves, but I’m tough.   When you are able to stretch it like taffy, it’s ready. 

Roll it in a ball, take pictures, call the spouse or the neighbor or the dog in to marvel at your little miracle &  then taste the deliciousness of warm cheese before you wrap it and put it in the fridge.   It’s not soft like fresh mozzarella – it’s pizza mozzarella and quite good with sliced fruit or tomato.  

Some notes: I used 2% milk instead of whole milk.  Also, my digital probe thermometer did not perform very well at these low temps, but I used visual cues and it came out fine.  For the more complicated cheeses, I would invest in a different type of thermometer.  The full recipe can be found here:   30 Minute Mozzarella

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Next came the ricotta . . . this recipe is actually from Epicurious – I halved the recipe.  These four things are all you need to make a silky delicious ricotta cheese: 

1 quart whole milk 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt 
1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice 

Begin by lining a large sieve with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl.  (using cheesecloth for cheese making – imagine that!)

Next, combine the milk and cream in a heavy pot and heat at a moderate temperature (just a shade over medium) until it begins to boil. Stir a few times to prevent scorching. Once it begins to boil, stir in the lemon juice and turn the fire down to low. Stir occasionally for a minute or two until the mixture begins to curdle. When the curds and whey separate, pour the cheese into the sieve and let it drain at room temp for 1 hour.Transfer the delicious little batch of ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate.   The recipe says to discard the whey, but Wilson and Purl got a little taste first, ’cause that’s how it’s done in my kitchen.This stuff is amazing!  It’s creamier and silkier than pre-made – worth making it fresh because it’s so easy!To test my new ricotta, I prepared a chicken recipe I found in Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen blog: Stuffed Chicken Spiral with White Wine Sauce.  It was tender, juicy and sauced with a tangy wine and caper sauce that finished it off perfectly!  The ricotta performed well in this dish.

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