Saturday, July 19, 2008


So here’s the fun! We’re making cheese- at home. That’s right- in the spirit of playing with our food we have attempted to make our own Mozzarella.

Whilst reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book- ‘Animal, Vegetable , Miracle’ I was so inspired by the stories of home made cheese, that I shared the idea with Ash – and we jumped in boots and all.

There are plenty of places in Melbourne that support the eating of good cheese and artisan cheese supply/purchase- there are even cheese clubs (think Richmond Hill Larder) and cheese making classes (the Larder again and Red Hill Cheese- Mornington). But the problem we came up against was not finding enthusiasts or supportive ideas and guidelines- it was in finding rennet- that ingredient that ‘sets’ the milk and helps the curds separate from the whey so that cheese can firm up and harden.

We searched high and low. Even online suppliers were hard to find (and somewhat a dampener on our enthusiasm when we could not start right away).

We did locate a place at Little River that supplies rennet, Cheese Links, but not being open on a Saturday meant that the 55km drive out of Melbourne might have been a waste if we had turned up to a shut up shop.

We did find other online suppliers (countrybrewer)- and we will pursue the purchase of rennet in the following days and weeks- but in the interests of getting started we located the recipe for some ‘Junket’ Mozzarella.

Now according to all the research, the major difference between junket and rennet is 1.) the price (though for the small amounts required for home cheese making, this is hardly a factor), and 2.) the reliability of the reaction caused by the product. Rennet apparently makes for a more predictable and stable outcome in cheese making and the flavour is always consistent.
In contrast, junket certainly sets the milk and helps to separate the curds and the whey, but there were numerous warnings that it was unpredictable in its consistency and depending on other factors also had the potential to impart a bitterness to the cheese.

Undaunted and desperate to get some form of cheese making on the whey (ha!), we purchased all our ingredients and a milk thermometer (for latte’s and cappuccino’s daaahling) and set up shop in the kitchen.

After meticulously wiping down and disinfecting the kitchen bench, we set the milk to warm and the citric acid and junket to separate our curds and whey…

And we wait…. For 1 hour to be precise- worrying like new mothers about the consistency of our junket and watching nervously as some of the milk curdled and the rest looked decidedly lush and full. What is a cheese lover/mother to do?
Little Miss Muffet sat on her Tuffet, eating her curds and whey….
While Ashley had a nap on the couch- drowsy from the mid winter sunshine.

*1 hour later*

Once the wait is done and the baby is born… I mean set. At this stage the curds come away from the sides of the pan easily and in one lovely milky jelly mass.
So we slice the junket in to cubes and reheat the mass to 42decC and stir it gently for another 35minutes of babying the cheese.

As we do this, the curds attempt to merge back together and we constantly and gently separate them with our plastic spatular.
Then when the reheating is done- the lovely lumps are lifted out with a slotted poon and placed in a colander to drain as much of the greenish whey away as possible.

And this is where the fun sets in- the chance that we really have to ‘play with our food’. The curd firms up as the moisture seeps away and then in a pyrex bowl we heat it in the microwave and then knead it like a soft smelly dough.
More whey seeps out- Ash burns his fingers whilst kneading- then we reheat it and knead it again.
This is done three times, then we place the cheese to set once and for all in a bowl of cool salted water and set it in the fridge.

So here’s the truth- with the use of junket rather than rennet, the look of the cheese was a little different to what we expected (hence the warning that junket can be unpredictable). Let’s call it lumpy looking- not the smooth elastic mozzarella that you’re used to seeing in shinny balls at the supermarket. But… it tasted wonderful. Like great creamy, salty wedges of happiness.
Once past the lumpy exterior, the consistency was wonderful- all rubbery and firm- moist, but not wet.
We left it in brine over night, which made the outside heavy on the salt, but this added to the flavour sensation.
It’s a food game we will play again- to the point of suggesting that we may even try to make one cheese a week, rather than buy the copious amounts of (sometimes questionable quality) cheese that we do.
We ate it fresh with home baked bread, fresh basil and slices of tomato - with a little bit of olive oil and a dash of lemon juice- I was very happy with my Sunday lunch!

It was odiforous- but there is nothing like great funky smells to bring you closer to your food.

So here is the recipe we used and pictures of each stage of development…
It seems to have worked (all our conversions are our own).

Junket Mozzarella Cheese-

2 litres of milk
3/4 of a tsp of citric acid powder dissolved in a 1/4 of a cup of cool water
1/8 of a teaspoon of junket powder dissolved in 1/8 cup of cool water.

In a 2litre heavy based stainless steel saucepan gently heat the milk to 31decC.
Add the citric acid and water mixture and stir well with a sterilized plastic of stainless steel spoon.
Add the junket solution and stir well. The milk will appear to curdle- this is exactly the result we are hoping to achieve.
Leave the junket to set for 1 hour- when pushing lightly on the surface you will see the set junket separate from the edge of the pan leaving the greenish whey behind.
The junket is ready when this consistency has been achieved.

With a long stainless steel knife cut the curds into small cubes (around 2cm x 2cm- or a similar and manageable size).

Reheat the curds and stir until they are warmed through again.
Drain the curds in a colander, then place them in a pyrex bowl and then knead them until they make a firm ball.
Reheat them for 1 minute on high in the microwave and knead again.
Repeat until you have done this three times.
Form cheese into a ball and place in slated, cold water to store. Once cold- served sliced!

Wonderful- if a little labour intensive.

A note on the milk: (make sure it is unpasturized and certainly NOT UHT treated, or it wont set, the protein strands are too knocked about by UHT treatment).

1 comment:

neil said...

What a sensational effort, I'm sure it tasted great too. You're right, it looks a lot of work, but the upside is that your kitchen would never have been cleaner, not that I think it isn't...