The Alchemical Kitchen: Cheese-Making
Barbara Kingsolver was right: It is as easy as baking a cake.
by Rebecca Brenner
It’s probably pretty obvious by now that, here in the Alchemical Kitchen, I am inspired by do-it-yourself food projects. I love the satisfaction of pouring local raw milk over live kefir grains and waiting patiently as it turns into delicious kefir. Their may be no grater pleasure than opening my canned local, summer produce in the middle of a snowy Utah winter. I love the indulgence of a cup of tea made from herbs grown in my own backyard.
I must admit that when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” a few years back I was in awe of her description of making her own cheese. But I thought, “There’s no way!” It seemed like an impossible task that would take too many steps and require too much expensive equipment. I wasn’t buying it, even though Kingsolver swore it was as easy as baking a cake.
For weeks after reading the book, I tried to forget about cheese making. I wandered up and down the cheese aisle, trying to block the idea that I could use raw, local milk and make some of these varieties myself. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forget; if Kingsolver, a busy writer, speaker, farmer and mother of two, could make her own cheese, then the Alchemical Kitchen certainly could.
I ordered the kit she used-Ricki Carol’s 30-Minute Mozzarella kit from New England Cheese Supply Company. When it arrived a few days later, I laid the contents on the counter: rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese salt, cheese muslin, DVD and a small pamphlet. I’m not sure if it was the citric acid or the DVD, but seeing everything I needed to turn milk into cheese made me uncharacteristically nervous.
But Kingsolver’s words rang in my head-“As easy as baking a cake.”
Truth is, I’m not the baker in this family. My husband Allan is. Allan’s work requires him to be extremely precise and analytical, a good balance to my free-thinking creativity. It was then I knew that Allan was the bridge between me and homemade cheese.
By the time Allan had returned from work that evening, I had taken to heart my favorite line posted on front of the kit: “Making your own cheese is fun and easy.” He walked into the kitchen and I excitedly exclaimed this while holding out the pamphlet. Allan took the pamphlet from my hands and began to meticulously go through the directions. I pulled the raw milk from the refrigerator… poured our dog Montana a little bowl… took her for a walk around the block… soaked in a hot bath….
I heard Allan call from the kitchen, “Are you going to try this mozzarella or what?!” I excitedly pulled on my robe and made a beeline for the kitchen. Apparently, the 30-minute mozzarella recipe truly took only 30 minutes. Allan was already finishing up with the whole milk ricotta cheese. I couldn’t believe my eyes: Allan had made cheese. I stared at him in disbelief, even with the fresh, delicious cheese melting in my mouth. Through his big, accomplished grin he confirmed, “It really is as easy as baking a cake.”
Since that evening, cheese making has become a weekly practice in our home. We have become pretty good at many of the soft cheese varieties: ricotta, mozzarella, Boconcini, cream cheese and kefir cheese. We’ve even branched out into some non-dairy cheese: almond, cashew and soy. One of our favorite quick meals is sprouted barley pizza dough, pesto from last summer and homemade mozzarella.
I’m not sure why I resisted the cheese-making process so much at first. Maybe because I couldn’t believe that I could make such a fabulous artisan food myself. But this is what I love most about do-it-yourself food practices-it’s a taking back of confidence, of trusting my abilities to do what generations before me have done. This not only lessens my dependence on big food-processing factories outside of my home and community, but also offers me the opportunity to invite friends and family into the kitchen to create something local and delicious. And you know what they say: If you can bake a cake… .
Rebecca is a nutritionist and owner of Park City Holistic Health. For more healthy DIY recipes visit her at www.parkcityholistichealth.com and www.playfulnoshings.blogspot.com.
Basic cheesemaking supplies and equipment
Once you have the basic supplies, making cheese is about as expensive as a gallon of milk. In addition, you get the satisfaction of having made it yourself!
coarse, similar to pickling salt; it draws moisture from the curd, helping to release more whey; also inhibits growth of bad bacteria, helping to preserve the cheese
includes all of the above; beginners kits from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, www.cheesemaking.com, cost $25-30; also available at Real Foods markets in Heber, Orem, and coming to SLC soon
large metal slotted spoon or small metal strainer
large stainless steel pot
large glass bowl
cow or goat milk
preferably raw, local or at least organic; pasteurized milk is acceptable, just make sure it is not ultra-pasteurized (it will say so on the jug)
For the nondairy version, replace milk and cream with raw cashews
for homemade kefir recipe, revisit the Alchemical Kitchen column on Raw Milk in the November 08 CATALYST
1 gallon milk
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon of salt
1. Place milk, citric acid and salt in non-reactive pot. Slowly heat to 190 degrees.
2. Curds will separate from the whey (the liquid). Turn off the heat and let set for 5-10 minutes.
3. Line a colander with cheesecloth and ladle the curds with metal slotted spoon or hand held strainer into the colander.
4. Tie the cloth into a bag and hang to drain for ½ hour or more.
5. When drained to desired consistency, your cheese is ready. Makes approximately 2 lbs.
2 quarts cream
1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 4 ounces of warm water
1. Place cream in a large glass bowl an leave on counter until it drops to room temperature-about 72 degrees F.
2. Add the rennet and water and mix.
3. Cover with clean towel and let set for 12 hours.
4. A solid curd will have formed. Place curd into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the four corners of the cloth and hang the small bag to drain for another 12 hours.
5. Remove from cheesecloth and mold into desired shape. Keeps in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Makes about 1 lb. of cream cheese.
1 quart kefir
1. Line colander with muslin.
2. Pour kefir into the muslin, tie the four corners of muslin together, and hang to drain for 12-24 hours (depending on desired consistency).
3. Remove cheese from cloth, shape, and enjoy. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
• When making dairy cheese, you will always separate your curds from whey (the liquid). Make sure to keep the whey. You can use it for baking as a highly nutritious substitute for milk or fermenting vegetables (see the Alchemical Kitchen on Fermenting veggies).
1¾ cup of raw cashews
2 tablespoons of tahini
5 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of salt
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1. Place cashews in glass bowl, cover completely with water, and allow to soak overnight.
2. Drain cashews and rinse.
3. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until very smooth – about 8 minutes (less in a Vita-Mix).
4. Return mixture to glass bowl, cover loosely with a towel, and let sit 12-24 hours. The texture of your cashew cheese will be very smooth and creamy. Great for spreads and dips.