Thursday, August 5, 2010

Obsession and Batch #5

Batch #5

I--perhaps we all do this--I go through bouts of obsession. I've been obsessed with scuba diving. Learning a language. Reading every last book an author has written (Rumer Godden. Still working on that). Knitting. Watercolors.

Obsessions can be lovely things (um, when not destructive, let me clarify). Obsessions consume you so you drink up and drink in everything you can about your new love. Revelations come to you--once I realized every single pattern in knitting was simply a variation of knit or purl, I knitted some incredibly complex things for a beginner--because I was no longer intimidated.

This month's current obsession has been fresh homemade mozzarella. I was late to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle party. That's the book by Barbara Kingsolver, the one where she and her family "retire" (in quotes--retire to work incredibly hard) to a farm in southwest Virginia. For one year, the family decides to eat entirely local and forgo anything not local (I think everyone got to pick a luxury item--coffee, for example). In the course of the year, they learn to make mozzarella--and it sounds incredibly simple.

So since I obsess about things, especially about the food I read about in books, I decided I need to make mozzarella. And in the course of that decision? I also committed to TEACH a class about mozzarella making.

How hard can it be, right? (And that? That's my life's mantra.) The only ingredients are whole milk, citric acid, rennet and salt. That's IT.

Well. Batch #1. Nice, but solid--too much like string cheese texture (firmer than fresh; too dry). Batch #2. Although the bottle was marked NOT ultra-pasteurized, the milk just curdled. Some reading says even those milks are occasionally over heated and could have been too much like ultra pasteurized. I actually went right out that evening and bought yet another gallon (for Batch #3) of a different brand. I was gentler. I kneaded. I drained the whey (the liquid left over when the cheese curdles. I have seen a lot of curds and whey this week.), I kneaded stretched some and still? Still too hard and dry (not hard--cheese for sure, but not that soft, lovely cheese that is fresh mozz.)...Yesterday I made another batch (Batch #4), still with the inexpensive, store brand not ultra-pasteurized. I went upstairs into the lovely kitchen we have (where I'll be making the mozz in two weeks time)...STILL not what I would be proud of--yes, still cheese, still tasty but NOT RIGHT.

In the meantime I found a video of Paula Harris, the Cheese Maven, on the website at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I watched it once. I watched it twice. She uses gloves. (What, was I too proud to wear gloves? Did I think that real cheesemakers don't use gloves? If I did think that then I was wrong, but maybe I was trying to be this guy at a cheesemaking party in Italy. I so wish I had  been invited to that party...that water looks intensely hot and that cheese looks incredibly tender and delicious...those guys are appreciating their food. I love Italians...But I digress.)

Yesterday I went to Earth Fare. I bought a gallon of milk in glass jars from Virginia and another gallon of milk from a farm just south of here in South Carolina.

I could hardly wait to try it. It was perfection. The curds came together and stretched just the way they were supposed to. I used the gloves and quickly folded and kneaded, distributing the heat through the cheese. It turned glossy. It stayed soft. I tasted it and quickly ran it down to the office here in the building so everyone could taste warm mozzarella cheese.

Obsession? Conquered. Now to do it over and over and over again. Maybe my next career will be cheesemaker and cheesemonger. Cool.

Last Night's Dinner...and lunch...and breakfast
Now I think I need a big burger. I haven't eaten meat since I started my mozzarella batches.

The Mozzarella Obsession

1.5 tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water (most bottled waters: Poland Springs works) (have ready)
1 gallon whole milk, NOT ultra pasteurized and coming from as close to home as possible (I am completely convinced that this will give you the best, non-string-cheese-like results)
1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water (have ready)
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt (not iodized)

Equipment: large stainless steel stockpot, slotted spoon, thermometer (get one that reads as low as 80 to 100 degrees F), colander, bowl (microwave safe), gloves (You can find everything at NE Cheese Supply Co.--well, maybe not the gloves, but I haven't checked...def. the citric acid, the rennet, a thermometer....)

1. Stir dissolved citric acid into milk in stock pot. Place over medium heat, stir to distribute citric acid and clip thermometer to side of pot. (No clip? Just keep testing milk as it heats. Don't walk away!) Stir gently now and then or simply jiggle the pot (learned that from Paula Harris video).

2.When milk reaches 88 to 90 degrees F, add dissolved rennet and stir thoroughly, but gently and only for several seconds. Reduce heat to low. Now DON'T TOUCH THE POT. Set timer for 5 minutes. When you check the milk after 5 minutes, it should have come together in a smooth mass, looking very much like yogurt.Turn heat off.

3. Use long knife and cut the solidified milk into cubes. Place colander over a bowl and place bowl right next to stockpot. Use slotted spoon to get all the curds into the strainer. Gently tilt strainer, letting whey run off as much as possible. Dump whey back into stockpot and gently turn curds into bowl.

4. Start folding curds over on themselves (do this in the bowl--it keeps the mess down)--you are encouraging them to form one piece, although curds will still escape. Fold over a few times. Drain whey again. Place bowl in micowave for 1 minute (on high). Put your gloves on and (with cheese curds still in the bowl) fold curds over again and again, working quickly to distribute heat evenly through cheese. It should be coming together even more. Drain as needed.

5. Place bowl back in microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds. With your gloves still on, fold cheese over and over again, draining several times. Pat cheese ball a bit flat and sprinkle with salt. Fold over on itself several times again.

6. Place bowl back in microwave for another 30 seconds on high. With gloves STILL on, fold over and over on itself again--at this point the cheese should no longer look "curdy" but should look smooth. It will be stretchy, too--fold over and over on itself (in or out of bowl at this point--there's no more whey coming out of the ball now) until the mozzarella cheese is smooth and shiny. Shape into ball, place on plate. Slice and eat warm RIGHT AWAY or wrap it tightly in plastic and chill.

Practice makes perfect. Batch #6 Chez Babette will be tomorrow. No, I am NOT tired of mozzarella yet.

DEFINITELY check the Paula Harris video out...seeing is believing.


celia said...

All the people I love most in the world have mad obsessive passions. It's what makes them more interesting!

Good on you for nailing this recipe! Next stop - buffalo milk! :)

Babette said...

HA. Great minds think alike...I was already wondering how I could get my hands on some buffalo milk...I was about to google mozz. curds made from bufala (is that the Italian?)--which you stretch in near to boiling water...

Tara said...

I also wanted to try mozzarella when I read that book! Now the heat of desire has faded, so I just want to come over there and eat yours. Mmmm.

Jan said...

I want to know who eats all of your mishaps? Sounds yummy!

Babette said...

Geez, everyone is invited over. My husband had the audacity to say he doesn't really like fresh mozzarella that much...this from a man who eats canned corned beef shipped in from Argentina...yuck.

So please. Save me from my cheese!

Merut said...

I think we are living parallel lives. I too got into a mozzarella making stint recently, due to somebody having read Barbara Kingsolver's book and saying mozzarella is easy to make. Yeah right. I've failed in 3 batches, and now I'm taking a mental break before continuing on to a fourth. Congrats on your success!

Sara Reistad-Long said...

What a great post--I was salivating!