Down on the Farm - Part II - Kitchen Cultures

Crazy things often go on in our kitchen. On a given day you might walk into our house and find a large pot of boiling vegetation of Queen Anne’s Lace, walnuts, or rhododendron leaves. This would be for the natural dyes Kara is making for the yarn she is spinning. She and Kristen (a weaver) are collaborating on a carpet-making project using fleece of our Angoras. Our kitchen also has to double as a biology or chemistry lab, so you have do have to watch out for experiments in progress. Biology years are the worst. Since dissection specimens (even though they are preserved) do best when stored in the frig, you can sometimes get a shock upon seeing a dead perch or frog staring at you if you dig too deeply. This year I’m going to have to decide if I really want a fetal pig and sheep heart to take up valuable storage space. (True, the cow eyeballs for the younger ones will have to reside there a short time, since I won’t order preserved ones but get them from our local beef farm.)

Summer allows more time for all kinds of kitchen explorations. Besides trying out new ways to use up our garden produce, I’ve been having fun dipping into the world of cheesemaking. A sizeable minority of our family is lactose intolerant. However, when I read in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that homemade cheeses can have considerable less lactose than factory produced cheeses, I was intrigued. Here’s how it works: To make cheese, milk is made more acidic, which causes the protein solids to coagulate and form curd. Gentle heating helps separate the liquid whey from the solid curds. Bacteria are used to curdle the milk, and – here’s the good part – the bacteria eat lactose! Also, lactose is in the whey, so they more you get rid of, the better. Generally, the harder the cheese, the lower the lactose content. Soft cheeses like cream cheese are especially troublesome. Apparently mass produced cheeses vary greatly in lactose content because factories use speedy production methods which don’t allow sufficient time for whey (and hence lactose) removal. When making soft cheese at home, you can remove more whey, ending up with a more digestible cheese.

So we tried “30 Minute Mozzarella.” (Check this out for complete instructions and photos of Ricki Carrrol, “The Cheese Queen” showing how to make mozzarella step by step.) The hardest thing about making this cheese is getting your hands on rennet. You used to be able to buy it at grocery stores, but I couldn’t find any there. I tried my natural foods store, and they didn’t have it either, so I ended up purchasing some from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I used skim milk for my first batch of cheese, and it was very good, but the quantity was low, and as the cheese cooled it turned from a lovely white to a clear – glycerin soap looking glob. Still, it was very tasty. The second time I used the recommended whole milk, which resulted in a softer, but beautiful white ball of cheese. The quantity of cheese the second time was significantly larger than the first time as well. The jury is still out in our home as to whether our homemade mozzarella was actually problem-free for my lactose intolerant folks. I’m hooked, though. I’ll probably be working on this cheese thing for a while. Maybe I’ll even try some hard cheeses, though they require purchased starters and mechanical presses. I’ve even suggested we need a dairy goat, but Tim said a horse would be less trouble.

Here’s what you will need to make one batch of “30 Minute Mozzarella”:

1 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra pasteurized milk. Good news – both the milk I purchased at Aldi and Kroger worked.)
¼ rennet tablet or ¼ teaspoon liquid rennet
¼ cup chlorine free water (OK – I used tap water, and it worked.)
1 ½ teaspoon citric acid (grocery store or Bloomingfoods)
Dairy thermometer

By the way, speaking of culturing milk, yogurt is also easily made at home. Here’s what I do:

1 quart milk (skim or whatever you drink)
½ c. powdered milk (improves consistency)
¼ - 1/3 c. commercial yogurt, preferably plain, but anything that says it has “live cultures”
Thermometer (Candy or dairy)
Small cooler, tall enough for canning jar
Quart canning jar

Mix powdered milk into liquid milk, then heat to 160-180 degrees to kill unwanted organisms. I heat the milk for about 8 minutes on high in my microwave.
Let milk cool to 110-115 degrees.
While milk cools, sterilize canning jar by placing in boiling water for about 5 minutes. (All utensils ought to be scalded as well.)
When milk is 110-115 degrees, mix 1 cup milk with 1/3 c. yogurt. Then add this back to rest of warm milk. Pour into canning jar and fasten lid tightly.
Now you need to incubate your mixture until the yogurt bacteria multiply sufficiently to thicken the mixture to desired consistency. A simple way is to place your jar in a small cooler filled with warm water (110-120). Close cooler and leave undisturbed.
Check yogurt after about 3 hours. If it needs longer, make sure water temperature is still in correct range. Usually works in 3-6 hours. When thick enough, store in refrigerator.

Very easy to double to make two quarts. We like to have this on hand to use in baking or any recipe that calls for milk or sour cream. When baking with yogurt instead of milk, use half as much baking powder and add 1 t. baking soda for each 2 c. flour.

Hope you'all enjoy some crazy kitchen fun this summer, too!


Jill said…
Dear Anne,
Have you read about and tried using a crock-pot to incubate yoghurt? Like with many of my recipes (often unsuccessful) I read about it somewhere, never filed away the information, and when I tried to reproduce the method on my own it failed abysmally. I guess that's why detailed instructions are actually written down!
I would love to see pictures of Kara's dying and Kristen's weaving.
Love, Jill
p.s.--we've still got an opening at St. Stephen's for a 6th grade teacher if Kara would consider moving away from IN
Jill said…
Oh, dear, I think that should be dyeing!
(and I'm not too sure about abysmally, either).
Anne said…
Hi Jill!

No, I have never tried to make yogurt in the crockpot. I did a google search and found some instrcutions, though. It seems the difficult part is that crockpots get too hot. (I just experimented with mine and found that "low" was nearing 150 degrees and even "warm" was 122.) The instructions I read online said you need to keep turning the crockpot on and off to maintain a temp of about 110.

If I can, I will get some pictures of Kara's dyeing and spinning and Kristen's weaving. We have a hard time uploading pictures from home since our connection speeds are very slow (rural phone lines - worse than even usual dial up.)I've really enjoyed seeing the pictures on your blog!

Kara would LOVE to teach at St. Stephen's, if only it were not quite so far from home. :) She's committed to being at CGS for the present. She took a job as a cook at Bloomingfoods in their new place which was formerly the Encore Restaurant. It is not what she expected to be doing, but she is enjoying the work and coworkers greatly, and learning to cook wonderful "granola food" as she describes it.


P.S. We can't remember - when is Matt's wedding?
Jill said…
I don't blame Kara for wanting to stay close to home and at CGS--notice how many of my sons feel the same!
St. Stephen's has hired a part-time 6th grade teacher. I don't yet know what effect that will have on my schedule. I have only 6 students enrolled in my 5th grade class, so I suspect I may be asked to teach some combined classes.
Matt and Emily are being married on March 8, so we'll be back in Bloomington for a long weekend then.
Love, Jill
Housewife in Training said…
Neat post all around! FYI, chlorine-free water can be "made" by letting tap water sit overnight, or by boiling it for 15 minutes. I don't know what difference it would make in the cheese, but there you go.

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