I got to spend all of today hanging out with one of my favorite people, Jerrilynn! We got together to make traditional mozzarella. However, when she got here I realized that I had more milk than we needed, so we decided to make cottage cheese at the same time. Two pots of cheese in five hours! Can we do it? Yes, we can! First up was the cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a very basic, but very important cheese. Every skill that you need as a cheesemaker (with the exception of aging) can be learned by making cottage cheese. Remember the cheesemaking chapter in Little House in the Big Woods? Caroline Ingalls was making cottage cheese there…the only difference between the cheese she made and the cheese Jerri and I made was that Caroline pressed and aged hers, turning it into farmer’s cheese instead. (We can make that one later!) We started with two gallons of fresh, raw cows milk, warmed to around 74F. We added 1/8 of a teaspoon of MM100 mesophilic culture, and allowed it to bloom on the surface of the warmed milk for one minute. Then we stirred it in, mixing the culture throughout the milk, so we would get a rich, flavorful cheese. We allowed this to rest in a warm place for about an hour.
Next, we dissolved 1/2 of a teaspoon of animal rennet in 1/4 cup of cool water. If you are using city water, make sure that you set it out overnight to get rid of the chlorine. Chlorinated water damages rennet and prevents it from working…it’s the reason why you can do EVERYTHING right, and still only end up with soft, spreadable cheese instead of the amazing cheddar that you were hoping for. Buy gallons of distilled water at the store or set yours out overnight, but don’t use chlorinated water in cheese. Another word about rennet: rennet should be poured in SLOWLY with one hand, while stirring in an up and down motion with your other hand. Did you ever have a Spirograph when you were a kid? (This must be the day for reminiscing about our childhoods!) The motion for renneting cheese is exactly like one of the spirals that you would make with your Spirograph pens. Up and down, back and forth, side to side, across the cheese. Do this up and down, back and forth, side to side motion, slowly drizzling in the rennet, until you can feel the milk getting thicker. Then stop, or you risk making your curds tough. I used about half of our prepared rennet/water mixture in the cheese Jerri and I made. Cover the cheese and let it rest for up to four hours…this batch of cottage cheese needed about two; it was a very warm day, which speeds things up considerably. Curds are ready to cut when a long knife, inserted into the middle of the cheese, comes out clean and the whey is clear. The curds should be pulling slightly away from the side of the pot, too.
Here are our curds, sliced into half inch cubes. As soon as we cut them, I turned the burner on LOW and began warming them up. I also like to stir with a nice long wire whisk at this point, because I like my cottage cheese curds a little smaller. Don’t fret if your curds aren’t cut perfectly evenly…mine aren’t, and our cheese was still delicious. Stir, stir, stir with your wire whisk, until all the curds are (roughly) the same size, and your whey is at 110 degrees F. Once they are there, turn off the heat and test a couple…they should squeak in your teeth, and be chewy, rather than gelatinous. If they aren’t there yet, that’s okay. Keep stirring and keep the temp close to 110F. Once your curds are the right texture, remove the pot from the heat, line a colander with a layer of cheesecloth and drain them. You’re in the home stretch now.
They look so pretty! Finally, I like to rinse my cottage cheese in cool water…just gently run some water through it, or dip your curds, wrapped in cheesecloth, into a bowl of water. This rinses away any remaining whey, preventing further fermentation and keeping your cheese sweet. Then I add a pinch of sea salt, and if you’d like your cottage cheese to be more liquidy, toss in a splash of cream or milk. Done! My favorite way to eat this cheese is with fresh stone fruit…peaches are in season right now and I can’t keep enough cottage cheese around for my family. Next up, Jerri and I make mozzarella, and I’ll try to explain our method of making two kinds of cheese at one time. It was quite the juggling act. Happy culturing!