On curds and whey

Here’s the version I remember from my childhood:

Little Miss Muffett
sat on her tuffet,
eating her cottage cheese.
Along came a spider
who sat down beside her
and asked “Can I have some please?”

(I knew what cottage cheese was pretty early on…curds and whey were a much more recent learning experience.)

In that spirit of sharing, my parents got us a home cheesemaking kit for Christmas from cheesemaking.com. I guess we must have been bemoaning the lack of France in our lives lately (we haven’t been to Provence since…*gasp*…summer 2009!). The kit came with a recipe book and some essential ingredients for ricotta and mozzarella and a thermometer and an instructional DVD to whet your appetite. It worked. Soon after unwrapping the present, we started stockpiling milk. Note: supermarket milk is just fine for these recipes, as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized (H-Milch ist verboten).


We started off with (what seemed to us to be) the simpler of the two varieties our kit supported: ricotta. Taken literally, you’re supposed to make ricotta from the left-overs of other cheesemaking exploits (ricotta means “recooked” in Italian). But you can also start with milk, provided you have a stainless steel pan and a skimmer (not hard to find) and about an hour to kill experimenting with hot milk. The kit says these recipes take half an hour, and maybe they will, once we’ve practiced this more.

First curds 3 Our ricotta curds are just starting to come together.

Ready to drain 2A little firmer now.

The ricotta was a good beginner cheese to make. I really have never liked it straight, and usually just tolerate it in lasagna, but this batch tasted good to me — probably appreciation borne out of our emotional investment in this cheese. And the lasagna it went into (including our homemade Hot Italian Sausage) was top notch. Sadly, no evidence remains of it whatsoever.

PC281381I love English Muffins. I practically wept for joy when I saw that one of the recommended uses of leftover whey from the ricotta recipe was making loaves of English Muffin bread. We had enough whey leftover for four loaves. I tried to cram all that into our three loaf pans and wound up with a comb-over on one of them. Oops. Still tasted good though.

After our ricotta success story, we watched the mozzarella segment on the video a couple more times, went over the recipe in the book, and practically memorized the recipe from the included booklet, only to find that all three recipes differ from each other somewhat. Well, OK. I guess artisanal cheesemaking means you have to experiment and fine-tune your own methods over time. Which is great, because I am looking forward to doing this again and again, and there are enough supplies in our kit to keep us going for quite some time.


P1021400One of the first steps is making sure you’ve got enough curd density after separation from the whey. You can see Sarah’s able to press into the soft cushiony curds and make them start to flip away from the side of the pot. It took us a little longer to get to this stage than we expected; something like eleven minutes instead of just five.

P1021403Once you get there, though, you’ve got to slice up those thickened curds in three dimensions.

P1021404Reminds me of ice along the shore of Lake Ontario. After you’ve cut your curds on three axes, they go back on the heat for a few minutes to allow more cheesey magic to happen.

P1021406Then drain out as much whey as you can without damaging those curd structures. I’m keeping our whey intending to use it in pizza dough sometime very soon. Then we’ll take this mozzarella out for a test drive, too.

P1021407Nuke it for a minute, season with some salt, and get stretching.

P1021409Re-nuke a few more times. When it stretches like taffy without breaking, it’s ready. Quickly form it into a ball, braid, log, or little bite-sized lumps while it’s still too hot to properly handle. It’s ready to eat now, so why not enjoy?

P1021412If you’re not going to consume it warm, dunk it in ice water for a while (how long? one recipe said a few minutes, and another said thirty — and these were all from the same company!) to preserve the texture. OK, we’re going to have to work on our mozza-balling.

P1031414We gave the whey bread a few more chances today. This is what the English Muffin bread is supposed to look like.

P1031415Whey also makes for a swell pizza crust. It was smooth and elastic and very easy to work with, once you’ve kneaded enough flour into it (thank you KitchenAid dough hook!). I’m excited to use it in other places (soups and broths come to mind), since there’s so much of it left over from a batch of cheese.

P1031416Aww, yeah. This kicked European Pizza butt. The better part of a gallon of milk is represented here between the homemade mozz (about half of our mozz batch is on the pizza) and whey in the dough. Plus Sarah’s pizza sauce. Some homemade Hot Italian Sausage would have been great here, but I’d just made some the other day to go into the lasagna mentioned above, so we opted for a simple salami. I’m hoping the next experimental kitchen adventures will involve sausage stuffing and I don’t want to blow my Wurst wad.