Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rusticating, Part II

As I posted a few weeks ago, this has been a summer full of "rustic" activities: gardening, picking fresh local fruit, visiting the Charlottesville City Market, canning, etc.  Two weekends ago, I decided to try my hand at yet another activity that has me thinking that maybe I was actually raised on a farm and just don't remember: cheese making.  For whatever reason, I suddenly just had a burning desire to make cheese with my own two little hands.  Yes, I know, I am a freak of nature.  So, I did some digging around on the internet and found instructions/recipes for both ricotta cheese and mozzarella that seemed relatively straightforward.

I started with the ricotta cheese, which seemed fairly foolproof, even for a cheese-making novice like me.  Basically, you throw milk (which I buy in glass bottles, 1950's style, from a local dairy that supplies Charlottesville Krogers), vinegar and some yogurt into a pot and heat it until it curdles, then you dump the whole thing into a strainer lined with cheese cloth and about half an hour later, ta-da, you have ricotta cheese! 
Ricotta cheese starting to form curds (in my very poorly lit kitchen)

Ricotta cheese straining in cheesecloth-lined collander
Finished ricotta in a container!
Making ricotta was so easy that I felt motivated to try making mozzarella, which requires some slightly more exotic ingredients and a little bit more time and effort.   You need a good candy thermometer (or something else that reads temps under 100 degrees F well), twice as much milk, rennet, citric acid, and salt.  I have never in my life had to purchase rennet before, but fortunately Rebecca's Natural Foods in the Barracks Road Shopping Center carries rennet, citric acid, and cheesecloth.   There are varying "recipes" on the internet, but basically, you heat the milk to around 88 degrees, add the rennet (dissolved in some water), add the citric acid, heat to around 105 degrees, and then scoop out balls of cheese curds and squeeze the whey from them with your hands.  You then place the balls of cheese into the microwave (this is the faster way...if you are particularly industrious, you can dip them back into the whey until they soften) for a few seconds, remove them, squeeze out the whey, knead, and repeat until the mozzarella reaches the texture you want.  You add salt at the second kneading (I am kind of anti-salt, especially since I'm working for a company focused on hypertension and salt sensitivity this summer, but you can't make mozzarella without salt.  Seriously.).   I think I over-kneaded a bit....probably one too many rounds of kneading, because once I had refrigerated the cheese, it came out more like mozzarella that you could grate and put on a pizza than soft "fresh" mozzarella that you would turn into mozzarella caprese.  But that didn't stop me from making a nice caprese with some local tomatoes (only my cherry and grape tomatoes are ripe) and home-grown basil!

Essential ingredients - vegetable rennet and citric acid
Just getting started....

Some nice preliminary curdling action around 88-90 degrees F
The first ball o' cheese

Mozzarella balls, pre-microwaving and pre-kneading

Finished mozzarella balls, ready to go into the fridge

A nice fresh caprese salad platter!
After my cheesemaking, I decided to make some braided Italian herb bread (I like to pack a lot into one day, OK?), and then I packed up the whole lot to take over to Brianne's, where she was cooking up some very tasty pasta with veggies.  We enjoyed the food and then topped off the evening for a trip to Splendora's for gelato.  Tasty, local/homemade, Italian food - what more can a girl want?

That is a good-looking homemade bread if I say so myself
I took a few days off after The Great Cheesemaking of 2010, and then my parents came into town for the weekend.  On Saturday, we grabbed breakfast at Albemarle Baking Company, picked up sandwiches to go at Bellair Market, hit up three wineries (Barboursville, Prince Michel, and Sweely Estate), and topped off the day with dinner at The Bavarian Chef (totally worth the drive, but don't go on the hottest day of the year - their poor little A/C just couldn't keep up!).  Sunday, we did breakfast at a little place down the street from my apartment and then went peach-picking at Chiles Peach Orchard and blackberry-picking at Hill Top Berry Farm (they also have a winery/mead-ery) before the parents hit the road and left me to my own devices.  Naturally, once they left, the hot water canner came out again and I started canning up a storm.  In two evenings, I made peach salsa, peach pie filling, peach melba jam, blackberries in framboise, blackberry syrup, blackberry apple chutney, blackberries preserved in water (for use in baking recipes later in the year...blackberry cobbler in February?  Yes, please!), and maple walnut syrup (because I could...). 

Mmmmm....tasty canned goods!

This is what my coat closet looks like now...anyone need some canned goods?

And that, in a nutshell, is Rustication, Part II. 

No comments:

Post a Comment