Jiggle All the Whey!

This was a very exciting holiday for team Food It Yourself. Dad and Syllie and I made manicotti for Christmas dinner, which is typical. What we did differently this year was make our own mozzarella. Yes, you read correctly- we made cheese. If you are a very long time reader of this blog, you will remember the first time I checked off this Stock Pot List item. (Click here if you do not remember.) That cheese used only acid from lemon juice to coagulate the milk proteins. Syllie found some rennet at a local shop and wanted to try some next-level cheese making. So we did, using this recipe from New England Cheese Making Supply.

What is rennet and why is it important for cheese making? Rennet is a mix of enzymes that work on the proteins in milk to get the milk to form curd- solid lumps of protein and fat. Milk proteins have a small negative charge, which keeps them from clumping together. Rennet enzymes remove that charge, encouraging the proteins to clump and congeal, trapping fat in their matrix and separating the solids (curd) from the liquid (whey) of the milk. Originally, rennet could only be sourced from the stomachs of claves, lambs, and kid goats butchered prior to weaning. Now, vegetable-sourced enzymes are available.

Unfortunately, we found two barriers while we planned our cheese making. Both were easily overcome, however. First, we could not find citric acid, as called for in the recipe. A quick internet search found that lemon juice could be used instead; two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar is equal to one half teaspoon powdered citric acid. Next, Syllie purchased powdered rennet but the recipe listed amounts for liquid rennet and rennet tablets. Using information on the back of the rennet bottle and some math, Syllie figured we would need 5.28 g of rennet powder. To be honest, solving those two little problems was the most difficult part of the cheese making process. Check this out:

We mixed one gallon of milk and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice, heated it to 90F, then mixed in the rennet solution. We got curd! It took about 15 minutes to get a wiggly-but-firm curd we could cut with a knife. We cooked the curd as directed in the recipe. My best advice for this whole process is to measure everything very carefully and use an instant-read thermometer to make sure you get the temperature correct. All enzymes, including those in rennet, have a range of temperature and pH (acidity level) at which they function best. Conditions which are too hot, too cold, too acidic or too alkaline can prevent an enzyme from doing its thing.

We used a cheese cloth for its indented purpose- separating the liquid whey from the cheese curds. After a good draining, we heated the curds in the microwave (yeah, the microwave) and started kneading them. It took four or five heat/knead cycles, so we all took turns. The curds were crumbly at first, but very suddenly, we had a smooth ball of cheese. We wrapped the warm cheese and left it to cool thoroughly in the refrigerator.

The next day our mozzarella was firm, stringy, and perfect for shredding as part of a manicotti filling. It was much less salty than commercially prepared cheese. It tasted mild and milky. Dad and Syllie and I could not get over it- we made CHEESE! It worked exactly as we’d hoped.

My family always enjoys cooking together, whether we are preparing an old favorite or a brand new recipe. This time, our new recipe turned out perfectly. Some times it does not go well. It is always fun because we get to spend time together. What dishes do you like to cook with your family? What would you like to try in the future? Share in the comments section.