Thursday, April 18, 2013

It ain't easy being cheesy

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a cheese making class with a friend of mine.  We made ricotta cheese (pictured) and mozzarella.  It was a lot of fun.

There are a few cheeses you can make in your kitchen that don't take very long and that isn't very complicated.  You'll only need citric acid, milk, and rennet (or rennet for most of them). 

Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk, as it's been heated so high that the casein in the milk will not form a curd.  Some people are against using milk that's been pasteurized at all, but I am a fan of playing it safe.

You can make mozzarella or ricotta pretty easily at home.  And it's fun; certainly with mozzarella, the hands-on part would be fun with kids.  With mozzarella you heat the milk, add the citric acid and the rennet, and press the curds against a sieve or slotted spoon.  You stir them in a bowl until they are a smooth ball, then heat them in the microwave for a sixty seconds.  Then you take it and pull it and stretch it.  You heat it beforehand to get the curds to melt; if it's not stretchy or if it's still crumbly, heat it for another 30 seconds.

I won't go into detail because a) my memory is terrible and b) the links will take you to some how-to's.  You can also get a kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply.  They're a good resource if you decide to venture into the hard cheeses, though those require curing and aging.

Now, here's where you'll be surprised: while I enjoyed the class, I don't see myself doing this.  And the instructor admitted that she does not make her own cheese on a regular basis, either.

First, it takes a gallon of milk to make a pound (or a little under a pound) of mozzarella or ricotta.  I suppose you could save money doing it but I don't think it's such a savings that it's worth the time you'd take to make the cheese and clean up your kitchen after. 

Second, it takes a lot of time.  Yes, you can do it in 30-45 minutes, or maybe 90 minutes, and in the grand scheme of things, it's not that onerous. But it's time I personally would rather be spending doing something else.

This is not to say you shouldn't try it if you want to do it! It was fun. It's certainly a fun project to do with friends or family on a rainy day. And I totally get why some folks would derive a real sense of satisfaction from making their own cheese (I have, after all, made my own yogurt, albeit with varying results).  But for me personally, the class was a fun distraction, not an inspiration to make cheese on a regular basis.


  1. We haven't been able to find any milk in our area that isn't either ultra-pasteurized or mixed with ultra-pasteurized.

    One good thing though, failed mozarella still makes good labneh.

  2. My kids and I made cheese once when they were young. It was a fun thing to do, but not something I'm ready to add to my regular list. Where it does come in handy is knowing how to make a cottage cheese (with milk and vinegar), for when making lasagna or stuffed shells and you don't have enough cottage or ricotta, and you can make just a small amount, as needed. Alton Brown has good directions online. It might also be in Joy of Cooking.

    The other scenario I could see this worthwhile is if you are wanting fresh mozzarella, for say a dinner gathering of friends, and you live far from stores which would carry it.