Last week Patrick Kingsley from the Guardian road tested a couple of Cheese Making Kits…one being The Big Cheese Making Kit.
Not a bad first effort. We think he would improve with practice. All you experts out there that have recently been making your own should send him your top tips!
Knocking up a mozzarella in the comfort of your own kitchen is easier than you might think. But will it pass the pizza test?
“Blessed are the cheesemakers,” said Jesus, according to The Life of Brian. I don’t think he meant me though. It is midnight, shards of cheese-splattered glass lie smashed in my kitchen sink, while a litre of contaminated cheese culture drips on the floor. Cursed are the cheesemakers, more like.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. I’m trying out make-your-own cheese kits and they are supposed to be idiot-proof. I have a “starter” pack from The Cheese Making Shop, and a mozzarella from The Big Cheese Making Kit. By the time they arrive, I already see myself as a less ubiquitous version of Alex James. So much so, that I decide to call the woman who is most to blame for James’s obsession with cheese, expert Juliet Harbutt. Homemade cheese, I ask Harbutt, what’s the vibe? “People used to make their own cheese all the time,” she reassures me. “In isolated areas, it would have been normal for someone with a cow to make cheese with excess milk. That’s how you preserved it.” Well that’s a relief, I say. I’m planning on making some myself!
There is a crackle on the line. “You’re definitely, definitely better off buying cheese from people who know what they’re doing,” says Harbutt. “But,” she concedes, “it is fun”. “You definitely want to be using full-fat milk,” she says. “If you skim the milk, you take away some of the solids.” Two: “You want to make sure you’ve got a nice clean kitchen. Cheese attracts mould. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it will make a difference to your cheese.”
Buoyed, I return home with several pints of whole milk, and turn to the Cheese Making Shop’s basic kit for soft cheese, with a curious collection of accessories: its thermometer, sieve, mould, a sort of bandage, and a chemical labelled – slightly alarmingly – “dickmilch”. What this all means, I don’t know, but I fully expect to be savouring homemade fromage soon.
“Warm the milk to 30C,” it says. Fine. “Add 100ml of the prepared mother culture, instructions in the envelope.” Nervously, I open the envelope. This is fast becoming something out of a murder mystery meal. “The ripening of the cheese culture will take 20-24 hours,” says a bit of paper. My heart sinks. Twenty-four hours? It’s already 11pm. I heat milk to 90C, and am told to add the quaintly named dickmilch after it has cooled to room temperature. Stupidly, I add it too soon. In a panic, I take the glass jar outside in the freezing night air. Twenty minutes later, the milk has cooled, I put it in the sink. The glass – stressed at the sudden rise in temperature – cracks. You know the rest.
I abandon this cheese. It may be just the thing for those with time and skill; I want something that requires even less expertise than the little demanded by The Cheese Making Shop.
I turn to The Big Cheese Making Kit’s mozzarella, which should take one hour. I heat the milk (eight pints), add citric acid, and rennet, to separate the milk into curds (solids) and whey (liquid). The curds look like scrambled egg until I squidge them into balls, and dip them back into the hot whey. After some kneading and salting, they begin to look and taste like mozzarella.
Or so I think until I take it proudly into the office the next morning for G2’s food editor to sample. “It tastes vaguely of some sort of cheese content,” concedes Susan Smillie. Across the office, mozzarella expert Bob Granleese – Mozzarella Bob, I call him – is no fan either. He spits it out. “Oh my god,” he says, appalled, before being persuaded to try it again. “No. It’s as far from mozzarella as you can get. It’s got no texture and no taste. It’s like airline cheese”
Morale low, I turn to the Guardian and Observer’s foodie-in-chief, Jay Rayner. To begin with, it’s more of the same. “Compared to a great mozzarella, Patrick’s effort is of course, a total calamity,” he writes. It’s the kind of thing that would make an Italian dairy farmer weep.” Reading this, I start to do something similar. “Then again,” he continues, “as a first, homemade effort, it isn’t bad.” Isn’t bad! Did you hear the man! “Tease it gently apart and you do actually get some of the leaf structure inside that you are supposed to get. It’s quite salty but hiding under there is a hint of that creaminess and freshness we crave in a good example. It wouldn’t stand up in an assemblage with great tomatoes and basil but melted on a pizza it would probably pass muster. Just. In short, a good try”
Heartened, I follow up Rayner’s pizza suggestion. I top a base with my mozzarella, artichokes and capers. The mozzarella is too firm to melt completely, but my guests are happy. “I could live on this,” says one friend. Take that, Mozzarella Bob!