The cheeses for this cheese-making workshop are mozzarella and ricotta. These are cheeses presumably invented in Italy but now prized all over the world, the second being a byproduct of the first. Mozzarella is the gooey topping for lasagna, pizza, and other Italian dishes which everyone likes so much. Here in Central America, mozzarella makes itself at home on enchiladas or quesadillas, with its famous melting quality. It’s not easy to fit into a new culture, but if we were all so friendly and likable, sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of others, it would be much easier, more like… melted cheese.
Here is a simplified recipe which has evolved in my kitchen through the natural selection of shortcuts inherent to that environment. Recipes generally call to acidify sweet milk with citric acid, but milk that is naturally sour needs no acidification, so I just use a blend of sweet and sour milk. It may be whole or skimmed, or some of each. To make hard cheeses, you will need rennet, which can be purchased in liquid form from Western Dairies in Spanish Lookout. To make it easier to measure small amounts, I put mine in a dropper bottle. You need ¼ tsp to 4 gallons of milk, or 6 drops to a gallon. Stir in the rennet and let the milk set. In less than an hour, your milk will curdle, or become a solid rather than a liquid. The curd is ready to cut when you can cut into it with a knife and it makes a ‘clean break’, being of cutting rather than pudding consistency. Take a long kitchen knife and cut the curds into cubes, more or less. Stir them around a little bit to cut them in every direction, but don’t be rough with your curds. After sitting for 10 minutes or so, you will see the curds have begun to shrink and the whey has increased, for the whey is being expelled. To complete this process, heat the curds gently on the stove, keeping them well stirred so they heat evenly. If you don’t plan to make ricotta cheese, you can pour off most of the whey as soon as possible to save the energy of heating it all. Keep heating till your curds reach a fairly high temperature and begin to melt. Then comes the fun part. With your stirring spoon, pull the curds upward, letting them stretch down in strings. Once they are well stretched, fish out the mozzarella with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add salt, cutting and kneading it while the cheese is still hot. Pack your mozzarella into a bread pan or other mold to cool and set.
Meanwhile, if you want to make ricotta cheese, which is derived from the remaining protein particles present in whey, let your whey keep heating until it is close to the boiling point (well steaming). Recipes call for adding ½ cup vinegar to the whey produced by 4 gallons of milk, but anything acidic, such as lemon juice or the whey from cottage cheese making, works just as well. Pour your acidic stuff in and watch as the whey clarifies and white chunks or particles form. You may have to let it sit awhile to let it work. Strain the whey through a fine cloth, not a colander or strainer. Let it drip overnight.
Your children will eat more raw veggies if you serve them with this nutritious dip made from ricotta cheese. You can vary it using your imagination and available ingredients.
- 1 c. ricotta cheese
- 1Tbs. sour cream
- 1 Tbs. mayonnaise or salad dressing
Seasonings such as prepared mustard, honey, garlic or onion powder, dried or fresh minced herbs, seasoning salt, relish or minced pickles, and salt, all to taste. Mix all the ingredients and serve with raw veggie platter.
By the way, you can also make ricotta cheese more easily from whole milk by heating 1 gallon of milk to around 190 degrees, then adding ¼ cup of vinegar a little at a time, until the milk curdles. Pour curds and whey into a colander lined with a fine cloth. Tie corners together and let hang till desired consistency.
Editor’s Note: Raw/fresh milk mozzarella is definitely more smooth and delicious, but pasteurized milk does work; it just doesn’t come together smoothly and perfectly like raw milk does.