This is my first blog post about my latest obsession with handcrafting as much as possible. I have been a madwoman in the kitchen, of late, making my own yogurt, granola and granola bars, breads, soft cheeses and facial scrubs. I will post about those another time, because today, I want to tell the story of my first Hard Cheese.
I once asked my friend Larry DiLo if he knew how to make cheese. His response was, as follows:
“My Grandmother told me, if anyone ever asks you how to make cheese, run for your life!”
Apparently Grandma DiLo did not enjoy her cheesemaking experience.
He never did tell me anything useful about making cheese, and many years passed, but the urge to make my own handcrafted cheese never quite went away. This past month, the urge has come back with a vengeance and I began seeking out rennet, a necessary ingredient for making milk solidify into cheese.
It took me weeks to find, locally (I got mine at Oceana Natural Foods 159 SE 2nd Newport, Oregon) but I spent the time wisely, learning how to make yogurt and cottage cheese and ricotta from scratch, and that is what spawned this revolution of handcrafting more things in my life. I did, finally, locate some junket rennet (a vegetarian product) whose informational materials assured me that it would work beautifully for cheese making.
I bought 3 gallons of whole milk to begin my journey, and read 3 books on the subject.
Friday night, I brought one gallon of milk to 68 degrees F, and added to it 1/4 of a cup of yogurt (my own homemade!). As it happens, it should have been 1/2 a cup, but, alas, we live and learn.
The milk was left on the counter, at room temperature for the night. Saturday morning, I brought this mixture back to the stove and up to 86 degrees. After, I added a 1/2 a rennet tablet in a 1/4 cup of cold water to the mixture and let it stand.
The directions assured me the coagulation process would take between one and 3 hours. The goal of this is to leave the pan, undisturbed, until you can poke your (sterilized) finger into the mixture and draw it back out again, the coagulated milk curds breaking cleanly, not being liquid-y , anymore.
I spent a very fretful day pondering all the things I may have done wrong, thus dooming my efforts and wasting a full gallon of milk. From hour 2, on. Still, it said, repeatedly, in the directions, have patience, and don’t disturb the milk. So I endeavored to hone my patience to be equal to the task
This process took my milk closer to 6 hours, than to 3, but it did work.
When I had cut the curds, I heated the mixture up to 102 degrees over a period of 15 minutes and stirred it constantly using my bare (once again sterilized) hand. There was something really primative and sensuous about it, and I found that instead of being bored as I often am while stirring constantly, I was mesmerised by the feeling of my cheese being born.
Soon I had curds and soon the curds were in a press, squishing out the whey and compacting my cheese into a solid form. Of course, by soon, I mean within hours.
By Sunday morning, I had the little round pictured above, all coated in salt and ready to go into the fridge, wrapped in cloth for more than a month of aging.
It was a significant amount of work. And a huge investment of time. But hopefully, my efforts will be rewarded with some delicious, handcrafted cheese made right in my own kitchen.
More updates to follow on this little round, as there are yet many steps to complete before it can be eaten. Now, there is a post to look forward to: The Unveiling of Hard Cheese!