October 20, 2011 —
Last week I made mozzarella cheese. It put a new spin on the old nursery rhyme. Now I know what “curds and whey” really are.
I followed an easy recipe I read about in Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which tells of her family’s year-long experiment in which they vow to eat only foods grown locally or that they have raised or grown themselves. A likely story, you say, until you remember that our grandparents (or maybe a few more generations removed) were pretty adept at this—keeping a few egg laying chickens and canning tomatoes and peaches or putting up their own sausage for winter.
The book was an adventure story of sorts as well as an investigative look at our food culture and food production. It got me thinking—back to my own farm childhood and forward toward what I hope will be better food choices not only for my family but also for our community. And while I still slink off to McDonalds, I do try to buy local produce in season and try to raise at least lettuces and tomatoes each summer.
So—why not try to make cheese? It sounded intriguing and will make a good 4-H project after a little practice. Besides, I could eat fresh mozzarella and tomato salads morning, noon and night.
I assembled the ingredients and equipment, including a thermometer and a stainless steel pot. The instructions said aluminum and cast iron would not work. After that, I washed the stove and sink with a bleach solution as recommended.
My daughter, home from school with a bit of a fever, lay on the couch watching TV—an animated version of “Watership Down” with British-accented rabbits racing around in an apocalyptic frenzy. Foreboding bunny dialogue drifted in the background while I heated and stirred the milk.
Then, abruptly, the curds began to form—as suddenly as the soft edges of a fried egg. What we have here is the curious reality of cheese, I thought. As it’s said, “There is a thin veil between this world and the next.” However, I doubt it has ever been said in regards to cheese.
My daughter took my photo kneading and stretching the elastic white mass. I added a little salt, and it was done.
“What a cute cheese,” Lily pronounced from her couch when I showed her the smooth and glossy finished product. It was tasty, too.
The mozzarella recipe in Kingsolver’s book can also be found at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company website (www.cheesemaking.com ). The website provides step-by-step directions with photographs for “Ricki’s 30 Minute Mozzarella,” which can be made with just a gallon of store-bought milk, unchlorinated water, citric acid and rennet—the composite of enzymes used in cheese making to coagulate the milk.
Gathering the ingredients was simple after I located the rennet—my search for rennet ended at The Good Earth Health Food Store in Callicoon, NY, which graciously ordered it for me.