Adventures in Cheese Making

I started this post a couple of weeks ago and never got around to finishing it. I had some extra time this morning. 5:45am Body Pump at the Athletic Club has me downtown before I have a chance to be distracted at home, and at the coffee shop before 8am. It’s a nice Monday morning ritual. This morning I wasn’t feeling particularly like writing, or that I had anything I wanted to dive into, but the process of writing itself is therapeutic for me so I found this post to finish up.

My diet has been a wreck lately. Basically since I started tapering for the marathon or even earlier, I started kinda sorta saying “F*ck it” and eating whatever I want. I’m still not going crazy but certainly not being mindful. It hasn’t done me any favors, so back on track this week. I have to say that eating meat has not done me any favors either so I’m back on little to no meat.

No matter how much will power I have, the one thing that will forever wreck my diet is my love for cheese…

A couple of weeks ago I took a Burratta and Mozzarella Cheese Making Class and it was so SO interesting. I must share. My boss’s wife signed up for the class and invited me and another friend to join. “You had me at cheese”, I said.

The Truffle Shop is a retail cheese shop in Congress Park, Denver, which miraculously I’ve never been to but will for sure be frequenting now that I know of it’s existance. Jim and I love to have cheese plates at home when we’re feeling fancy ❤ They also sell Fois Gras and I wish I didn’t know that.

Note: After spending some time at the shop and getting to know the owners, I would be confident that any cheese or meat that you get from this shop is fresh, ethical, and local as much as is possible BUT I don’t think there is any way that Fois Gras can be ethical, which is unfortunate.

Artisan cheese can range in taste, texture, color and smell but at the core of it, all cheese starts with just a few ingredients.

  1. Raw Milk*
  2. Rennet
  3. Salt
  4. Water

* You can make cheese at home with pasteurized milk, but you will need to add a yeast starter. 

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Let’s start with Raw Milk. Raw means un-pasteurized and un-homogenized milk i.e. milk that is unprocessed straight from the cow, goat, buffalo, etc. (a grass-fed, pasture raised animal). It is not easy for average consumers to get raw milk because it must meet very specific conditions in order to be safe and healthy.

Simply put, raw milk distribution would not be possible on the massive scale that our food system requires (and because most of the milk you get in the store comes from factory farms with unhealthy cows to begin with!), so milk that you find in the store is always going to be pasteurized and likely homogenized. Pasteurization ensures that all bad bacteria have been killed. During the process all good bacteria are also killed. Then, producers add vitamins back in. It is super processed.  Homogenization is a process that breaks down the fat in the milk so that the cream does not separate, further processing the milk away from it’s original state. IMG_0608

One step further, milk that you find at the store that can live on the shelf without refrigeration (like Organic Valley and a lot of shit your kids are probably drinking) has been ultra-pasteurized, which pretty much kills everything, good and bad in the milk so it has very little nutritional value left.

I’m not advocating that everyone switch to raw milk, but if you are going to drink milk it’s good to know some facts about what you’re consuming. Here is a website that discusses some facts about raw milk – www.realmilk.com . One thing I found very interesting is how the laws differ from state to state regarding how you can obtain raw milk. In Colorado, retail sales are not legal but you can buy into a “herd share” which allows you a certain amount of milk from your herd.

The second ingredient is one that I also have a bit to say about. Rennet. Well, I was surprised to learn that rennet is an enzyme produced in the bellies of baby animals and these animals are killed in the process of extracting this enzyme. I’ve spent half of my life as a vegetarian and never knew this! It’s kind of horrifying. IMG_5094

The good news is that animal rennet can also be genetically engineered so that no animals are harmed in the making of it. Sources say that up to 80% of the market share of rennet is GM.

What is the purpose of rennet? Rennet is the ingredient that causes the milk to form curds. It is important to the process.

If it sounds like I’m rambling, I probably am. I could just tell you how to make cheese but I think the more interesting part of this is the education what is actually in the cheese that we love and eat so much of.

The last ingredients, water and salt. No rant about these two.

Making cheese is actually really easy. My guess is that the hardest part is perfecting each step of the process, which probably takes a few batches of trial and error. There are plenty of recipes online.

Here is an outline of the steps we followed to make mozzarella.

Step 1: Warm the raw milk. You can slowly warm it on the stove, or you can use a set of bowls to create a double boiler. Warm it to about 88-90° F.

Step 2: Remove milk from heat. Add a few drops of rennet. Stir for about 30 seconds. Cover and set aside for a few minutes.

Step 3: When you check your bowl after a few minutes, you should see that the top is starting to jellify.

Step 4: You will then cut the top layer of gel into small chunks that become your cheese curds! Then separate the curds from the liquid (the liquid is what we know as whey!) Clean and drain the curds. Cheese cloths aren’t called cheese cloths for nothin, people.

Note, you can also buy industrial cheese curds and skip steps 1-4. 

Step 5: Add your cleaned and drained curds to a bowl.

Step 6: Add salt. Lots and lots of salt.

Step 7: Reheat the curds by pouring hot water (just below boiling) into the bowl.

Step 8: Use your hands to fold the curds and stretch them. Fold and stretch, fold and stretch, dip into water to warm in between. Eventually you will have one smooth elastic piece.

Step 9: Form the piece into a ball.

Voila – Mozarella!

Of course I don’t have a picture of the finished product, but here are a few from the process…

I haven’t tried this at home yet but revisiting this topic today has me wanting to give it a go. Now that my weekends are starting to free up again, I have time to do things like make cheese, with vegetarian rennet of course. I’m looking forward to experimenting!

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I don’t have a Monday music recommendation today but I started GLOW (which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wresting) on Netflix over the weekend and I’m loving it!

The show centers around two actresses and former friends who find themselves cast in a women’s wrestling show. The 80’s hair and fashion alone are worth the watch. It’s a fun, lighthearted show with some badass women. Mark Maron stars as the washed up director who stumbles quite frequently while trying to lead this group of women – a la Tom Hanks in a League of Their Own.

Go check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

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