Now I know that there are 30 minute cheese recipes all over the Internet. However, I think most instructions lack detail. At least when I was starting out, I thought they lacked detail that I needed to know. My post today should help to clarify any questions you may have when reading instructions from others. Let's make some cheese!
It wouldn't be cooking with food storage if we didn't use powdered milk. For new readers, we are not talking about the powdered milk you get at the grocery store. In my opinion, that stuff isn't edible! I use Provident Pantry from Emergency Essentials. This stuff tastes like regular skim milk from the grocery store! The non-fortified milk is excellent too!
Full disclosure, I am not compensated in any way for mentioning suppliers. I am just a satisfied customer recommending them because I know you will get good service and a good product.
You can use just plain powdered milk and get great cheese but I always add some cream to it as well. In the past, I have used Gossner shelf stable cream. However, that isn't available here in the south so I have to order it over the Internet and have it shipped to me. In the interest of finding a better way, last month I went to Trader Joe's and bought some of their shelf stable cream. It is about the same price and I saved on shipping. It is really good! (I haven't made butter with it yet - that will be the true test!)
You should make up the milk ahead of time and let it chill for 6 to 12 hours. I made the milk yesterday afternoon and made the cheese this morning. To make one gallon of milk, add four cups of powder to 1 gallon of water and wisk it together. (I always use very warm water to ensure the powder mixes well.) Don't add the cream yet.
Next, pour the gallon of milk into a stainless steel pot. Remove one cup of the milk. You will be replacing it with one cup of cream later.
Prepare the rennet by dissolving it in water. If using rennet tablets, cut the tablet into quarters - you don't need the entire tablet. If using liquid rennet, use 1/4 tsp. I use tablets, they store for years in the freezer. The tablets I use are vegetable rennet. Here is a picture of mine before adding water.
It is best to use cool chlorine-free water. I used room temperature bottled water. Dissolve the tablet (or liquid) into 1/4 cup water. Stir until dissolved and set aside.
Now, mix 2 tsp of citric acid into one cup of cool, chlorine-free water. I used room temperature bottled water here too.
You can get rennet tablets and citric acid at any cheesemaking store. I usually get mine from here. I think Lehman's also carries them. (Lehman's is a great company too - just price shop before ordering, they can be a bit expensive.) Citric acid is a critical ingredient in many homemade products. I use it in making hand lotion as well as cheese. I buy food grade and keep a five pound bucket in my food storage program.
Place the pot of milk on the stove and add one cup of cream.
Now stir the cream and milk vigorously. I mean really vigorously! (Well, as vigorously as you can without splashing and spilling it.) If you scraped the cream solids into the pot instead of shaking the carton well before you poured it, you will have to stir vigorously for a while to incorporate the cream solids into the milk. You will know you are finished when the cream and milk don't separate. You shouldn't be able to tell you even added the cream.
When you stop stirring, and the milk and cream aren't separating, add the citric acid. You should start stirring again when adding the citric acid but I don't have three arms so I can't do that and take a picture at the same time!
Stir well (stirring vigorously is not needed here) when adding the citric acid. You should stir about one minute. Heat the milk to 90 degrees. Sir while heating. Be careful here, 90 degrees is not that hot and you could overheat the milk. Use a thermometer for best results.
When the milk is at 90 degrees, remove from heat and slowly add the rennet. I always stir the rennet again before adding to ensure it is dissolved well.
To add the rennet slowly, I dribble it in. A few drops at a time. The rennet should be stirred in for 30 seconds. However, the stirring here should be in an up and down motion. This motion is completely unnatural to me and feels weird when I do it. You must resist the temptation to stir horizontally around the pot! I usually dribble in about half the rennet, stir a bit and then dribble in the rest and stir for an additional 20 seconds. Then cover the pot and leave undisturbed for five minutes. I always leave mine for six to seven minutes. The time isn't as important as what is supposed to happen to the milk. The curds should distinctly separate from the whey.
The curds should have the consistency of custard. The whey should be a yellow color. If the whey is a bit white and milky, let it sit longer.
Using a very long knife that will reach to the bottom of the pot, cut the curds into one inch strips.
Turn the pot a bit and cut the curds again at a 90 degree angle to the first cut. When you are finished, the curds should look like little one inch squares.
Put the pot back on the stove and heat the curds to 110 degrees. While you are heating, stir the curds slowly. Really slow. (OK, let me add here that you are back to normal stirring now.) Use a thermometer for best results, don't heat the curds to over 110 degrees. In addition, if you don't get the curds up to 110 degrees, you will not have a firm cheese that holds it shape well. Here is what it looks like as you start to heat and stir. The second picture was taken at the half way point. The last picture is what it looks like when it gets to 110 degrees.
You can now remove the cheese from the whey. You can pour the cheese into a colander in the sink and discard the whey if you would like. I like to save the whey to make bread. So, to do that, I have to scoop the cheese out of the pot. I still do it in the sink and place the cheese in a colander so the whey will drain. A slotted spoon helps a lot.
Triple check the pot of whey to make sure you got all the cheese out. Every time I think I got it all, I stir around some more and find a chunk of cheese! When you have finished, place the cheese in a microwave safe bowl.
Now I am sure everyone realizes that a microwave is not needed to make cheese. People have been making cheese for centuries. However, the first time you make it, a microwave is very helpful to get an understanding of what the cheese should look like as it is heated. You are trying to heat the cheese to 135 degrees. The microwave does it fast and easy. After you have made cheese once or twice, you can heat the cheese in a pan of hot water (really hot - 185 degrees hot). The next time I make mozzarella cheese I will use the hot water method and show you how to do it. For now, we will use the microwave. Heat on high for one minute. Here is a picture of mine.
See the whey in the bowl? As you heat the cheese in the microwave, you will get additional whey separation. Pour this whey off. Using your spoon (you can use your hands as well), fold the cheese over to get it into one piece. You can add salt now as well. I used one tablespoon.
If you fold the cheese over a few more times and take a taste, the cheese will taste salty. Don't worry! You didn't add too much salt. Wait to taste the cheese until later. Place the cheese back in the microwave for 30 seconds more.
Now is the fun part! Take the cheese out of the bowl and stretch it! Be careful because it is hot! You can wear rubber gloves if you want to. I never do. (This requries both hands so my husband took the picture.)
The goal is to stretch it until it is smooth and shiny. If the cheese won't stretch, place it back in the microwave for 30 seconds. Once it is smooth and shiny, continue to pull it like taffy for a while longer. The more you work the cheese, the firmer it will be. Don't be afraid to really work it here. Other instructions I read in the past say if you overwork the cheese it will end up dry. My goal is to get a cheese that is as firm as store bought. To get it that firm, you really must work it. If you don't get it that firm, it will still taste good. It will just be a bit softer. When you have finished, shape the cheese into a ball. You can also shape it into a log, roll it into little balls, or add some herbs and spices and then shape it.
This last step is important. Place it in ice water (or really cold water) to cool the cheese down. You want to cool it down quickly so it will hold its shape and stay smooth. Cheese that cools down slowly can loose its shape and have a grainy texture. Cooling in cold water prevents this. It only needs to stay in the water a few minutes. Here is a picture of mine.
And there you have it! Delicious mozzarella cheese you made yourself from powdered milk!
If you find that your first batch of cheese is too soft to grate or cut well, place it in the freezer for a few minutes and it will firm up and make it easier to cut. Then, on your second batch, take note of the steps mentioned above that will help make the cheese firmer. It took me about four batches to get my cheese firm enough for my liking.