Taking cooking classes inspires and fuels my passion for food and food writing. I don’t get to do them often, but when I do, I always find it such a pleasure.
I recently had the joy of taking Nicole Kramer Easterday’s Three Cheeses in Three Hours class with her company, FARMCurious. It was partly in preparation to teach some classes with FARMcurious in the future (it always help to know the lay of the land before teaching). But as someone who enjoys making food from scratch that most people would think is impossible (like puff pastry or pickles), this was mainly for pleasure. And the class did not disappoint! This post will feature the mozzarella portion of the class.
Photos and more after the break!
The class was focused around making three different cheeses over the course of three hours: ricotta, fresh goat cheese, and mozzarella. I only had experience with ricotta, and I didn’t even use thermometer while doing it (which Nicole taught me could be helpful).
The first thing most people want to know about their cooking teachers are their qualifications. Do they simply have lots of experience making this particular food, or did they study professionally? In most cases, neither choice is better than the other—each just provides a different type of learning. However, when it comes to making cheese, there is a bit of science involved that could save you a lot of heartache and gallons of organic milk.
Here is Nicole’s story: once upon a time, she had an office job (I forget what it was), and it wasn’t fueling her passions enough. She decided to try her hand at making cheese, so she bought cheese making kits off the internet and set to work. She found that while making mozzarella, around 1 out of 5 times she made it, it did not turn out. She was curious why that happened, and to figure it out, she decided to study the science of cheese making in school.
She was able to take the mozzarella making instructions included in the kit she bought, a mere 8 step process, and expanded it to a 21 step process, which ensures a perfect mozzarella. She went on to create FARMcurious as a place to teach urban homesteading classes, and today, you can take a variety of cooking classes, from cheese-making to wine making and creating fermented foods.
When I arrived, we were greeted with a beautiful Weck jar filled with champagne and flowers. We had a chance to taste two different flavored versions of her fresh goat cheese, along with a special cheese she made from reducing whey (the leftover liquid from making cheese with rennet).
There were four stations set up: one to make ricotta (a really quick process) and three to make mozzarella. The goat cheese, which doesn’t take much prep time, but requires a sit for several hours followed by straining for several hours, was shown to us in Food Network fashion. That is, she showed us what the process and product looked like at different stages, and then we tasted a finished goat cheese.
One of her volunteer assistants worked the ricotta station, since most of us wanted to make mozzarella. I tried to document all of the steps, but since I was helping make it, not all are shown here.
We started by dissolving citric acid in cool water, adding it to the pan, and quickly pouring the milk into the pot (too slow and the milk would curdle too soon). We stirred the pot in almost a ferris wheel motion until it reached 88 degrees F, then removed it from the heat. We added some calcium chloride dissolved in water, along with 1/4 tablet of vegetarian rennet dissolved into water.
We had strict instructions to not stir the milk for any longer than 30 seconds in the ferris wheel motion, because any long would break up the curd and destroy the cheese. We covered the pot and let it sit until the when pressed on, the curd showed a clear separation from the whey.
Next came cutting the cheese into individual curds at several angles. In a professional cheese making company, the cheese would be in a square vat and have a multi-toothed comb dragged through it to create the curds, but since we were using large pots, we had to get creative. We then let the curds sit to firm up for 5 minutes.
The pot went back on the burner over low heat and we slowly stirred the curds to break them up until the temperature reached 106 degrees F. Then it came off the heat again, and was stirred for another 5 minutes to firm up the curds.
While the curds were resting, we put another pot over the heat with water and cheese salt (although Kosher would work fine) until it was simmering. We poured the curds through a butter cheesecloth-lined strainer and let it drain for 15 minutes.
The mass of curds was upended onto a carving cutting board (with little notches that perfectly drained whey from the curds) and cut it into 1 inch strips.
Then came the fun part–the stretching! One strip was lowered into the simmering salted water bath until it looked like it was melting, and then with rubber gloved hands, we stretch the curd into long strands, and folded it back onto itself until all the lumps were gone and the cheese ball was shiny.
If we wanted to make the ball shape set, we would soak them in ice water for 5 minutes. But we simply put them on a plate (or in our bellies) as they were finished. Stretching the curds was not as easy as I imagined, but it was still really fun to try.
I was lucky enough to come home with several balls of mozzarella, which I used to make a simple margarita pizza with fresh tomato sauce and garnished with torn fresh basil.
As you can see below, the cheese melted beautifully and tasted even better.
If you’d like to take a cheese making class with Nicole, go here
FARMCurious is also running a Kickstarter campaign featuring the FARMCurious Fermenting set, including ReCAP lids, which will reduce the risk of mason jars exploding, reduce the funky smell that accompanies fermentation, and minimize the growth of nasty yeast and mold that turn many people off of fermenting. By backing this campaign, you can help Nicole and FARMCurious bring their fermenting kit to the masses! Check out more info here.