If Only We’d Made Cheese in High School Chemistry Class

My mother likes to tell people what I said about chemistry class, “I don’t know why anyone would care about the rate of a reaction. I don’t even care about the reaction itself.”

This, coming from the daughter of two biochemists.

I’ve always loved science, but failing at one type forever brands you a flunkie.

And yet, I’ve spent more hours than I can count creating science on the stove, in the oven and, unfortunately, in the fridge of the bluish-green variety.

Chemistry was never so fun than at a recent cheesemaking class with cheese whiz Mary Rosenblum (and science-fiction author). Thanks to SlowFood Portland (organizers) and to Chef Robert Reynolds Chef Studio (use of space).

It helps that Mary has a casual swagger in the kitchen and is a most generous teacher, making you feel as though her 20 years of cheesemaking could be yours if you allowed yourself to experiment and not worry too much. Suddenly, the rate of the reaction and especially the reaction are interesting, and not just because you get to eat the results. Alas, Mary is a storyteller, a science-fiction one at that. I found myself on the edge of my seat wanting to know how the milk thickened.

Most of all, the way Mary taught cheesemaking is how I feel about cooking. It’s not that complicated, mistakes aren’t the end of the world (in fact they’re good teachers), it’s fun and creative. If we demystified cooking, more people would do it.

Among what I learned was:

• A local source for pasture-raised milk, which will produce a better cheese. Or buy raw milk.

• Since spring milk tastes better, you can buy a lot and freeze it. But that shouldn’t stop you from making cheese any time.

• Feta lasts as long as a year if it’s in brine. Mary packs her feta, as well as the soft mold cheese we made, in jars with garlic cloves and olive oil. Great gift idea.

• You don’t have to go nuts with sanitation in the kitchen. Just use common sense. Example: don’t pet the cat and then stick your hands in the cheese.

• Feed your mistakes to your chickens or your neighbors chickens. They’ll love it.

• Do get yourself a cheese thermometer though, as they have finer increments of degrees than a candy thermometer.

• Most store-bought milk has stabilizers that increase shelf life, even organic milk, but produce lesser quality cheese.

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Ricotta Cheese
by Mary Rosenblum

1. Heat a gallon of whole or skim milk on the stove to at least 190 degrees. Remove from heat.

2. Use either 1/4 cup of vinegar or lemon juice, or 1 teaspoon of tartaric or citric acid dissolved in water, and add to the milk. Wait till you see the curd start to separate from the whey (which will be clear). Stir very gently to incorporate the acid into all the milk but be careful not to break up the curds too much. Add more acid if solids don’t separate.

3. When cool enough, drain the curds through a wet, boiled or microwaved muslin (or some other thin clean cotton). It’s okay to let the curds and whey sit overnight.

4. Rinse curds under water if you want to remove the vinegar or lemon flavor. Alternately, you can add a lemon rind for flavor.

5. Refrigerate or freeze. Ricotta is one of the few cheeses that freeze well. Use in any recipe calling for ricotta.

How easy is that?

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Consider becoming a member of SlowFood Portland for other events like this.

0 comments

  1. Eileen says:

    “Example: don’t pet the cat and then stick your hands in the cheese.”

    sigh.

    And here I was thinking that’d be my specialty niche.
    Even have a catchy name: Fromage Tuxedo Fuzz

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