Curds (or Kudos) to the First Guy Who Ever Made Cheese!
Apparently, way back in time, people decided to transport milk products inside the stomachs of animals like cows and sheep. These animals called ruminants had a certain enzyme in the first of several sections in their stomachs which would break down the cellulose in the plants and grasses they consumed. This enzyme called rennet also curdled the milk these ancient people transported in these ruminant animals stomachs thus producing curds and whey. What a happy accident! I bet the first guy who ever thought to do this was really surprised.
Despite how visceral the process of early cheese making was, what with cow and sheep stomachs used to tote your curds and whey around in, I decided to try making a simple recipe for fresh mozzarella using these less crude ingredients:
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 1/2 tsp. citric acid for canning vegetables
- 1/8 of a rennet tablet crushed and dissolved in 1/2 cup water (no sheep’s stomach please)
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt.
First, put the milk in an appropriate non-reactive metal pot. Non-stick or stainless work well. Add the citric acid granules and heat the milk to 90°, add the dissolved rennet (I crushed it to a powder between two spoons first) and water and stir. Cover the pot for 5 minutes then check if it has congealed by using a knife to pull it away from the edge and see if the milk lifts away from the sides. It should appear solid.
With a long knife score the now solidified mass into 1 inch cubes, horizontally and vertically also going in at an angle. Turn the heat up to 130° and gently stir, trying not to disturb the curds too much.
While this comes up to temperature, set up a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl and with a slotted spoon fish out the large curds and place them in the cheesecloth. Squeeze out as much moisture as you can over the bowl and place the contents of the cheesecloth in another bowl.
Line the strainer in the other bowl again and pour the whey from the pot in it to catch the remaining curds, squeeze it of moisture and place the contents with the first batch. You will see whey collecting so hold on to the mass of cheese and pour out any you can. Sprinkle in the salt and gently fold it over a few times to incorporate it.
Place the bowl in the microwave and cook on high for 30 seconds at a time, pouring off whey and gently kneading between intervals until the cheese becomes more elastic and even glossy. Use rubber gloves if the cheese becomes too hot to handle. By the fourth interval of heating, there should be very little whey and the cheese can be shaped into a ball slightly larger than a baseball. Sprinkle this with a pinch of salt, place it in a plastic bag, refrigerate for at least 4 hours and you will have delicious fresh mozzarella cheese to enjoy.
I have to admire the guy who one day milked his cow or goat and decided to carry it back home in a vessel made from a previously slaughtered cow or goat’s stomach only to get home and find something very different from milk in his sack …and still decide to eat it and eventually make a craft of it. He certainly changed the world. And dear sir, who ever you were, I’m encouraged to experiment with making harder cheeses and eventually crafting my own brand.