Monday, April 26, 2010

Can you say Cheese?

Can You Say Cheese?
And, no I’m not talking about photography. I’m talking about actual cheese.
I’m not sure what gets into my head sometimes, but every now and then I get the bright idea that I want to do something and can do something and will do something no matter what. This kind of tenacity can be beneficial, especially if applied to things that will further your career. However, as my career is not that of a chef, one wonders just how beneficial a fixation on cheese making will be to my photography career.
But good sense be damned! I am cheese maker, hear me roar! It all started while fiddling around on the computer one day and stumbling over a recipe for mozzarella cheese. It was so simple – the only ingredients being rennet, citric acid and a gallon of milk. Like with most things I decide to dive into, this really comes down to money. Fresh Mozzarella is expensive. The fact that it only has a gallon of milk in it, doesn’t warrant the cost in my mind. You would think I would have learned by now that this thinking is always, ALWAYS highly ignorant. It was this line of thinking that led me to lay down my own tile in the house (all of which are now cracked. Yes, all of them) and it was also this line of thinking that I could do my own high end website, which resulted in a thousand dollars worth of software, another thousand dollars worth of wine and numerous weeks (not days, mind you, weeks) of clinging to my computer, bawling my eyes out (I did win that battle in the end, but I nearly lost every friend I had in the process). But having never been famous for learning from past experience, here we go again.
After procuring the Rennet and the milk, I attempted to get myself some citric acid. Good luck with that, by the way. The recipe suggests asking a pharmacist of all things, but apparently no one in the Pharmacy industry was informed that they would one day be required to have this information so all that happens is that you are sent to the vitamin C collection, which will not work. (Unless you deal with the guy at Rite Aid who will also berate you as a blithering idiot and redefine rude for you and THEN send you to the vitamin C aisle). So, having failed in the quest for Citric Acid I went to the web for substitutions. Lemon juice was suggested.
Ok, now take a gallon of milk and add lemon juice to it. Go ahead, I dare you. That would be the first gallon of milk that wound up glopping down my kitchen sink. OK – no problem, I can overcome this, lesson learned, blah blah blah… can’t substitute lemon juice, got it. Another week of searching for Citric Acid goes by when it occurs to me that they use it in wine making which led me to my wine maker buddy who provided me with a lifetime supply of the stuff. Surely we will have success this time! I get gallon two. That evening I go to attempt the cheese again only to discover that my son, who fancies himself a baby cow, has consumed a third of the milk. No problem, I substitute skim milk. And gallon two glops down the kitchen sink.
Gallon three spend a day in the fridge with a threatening note attached to it but still wound up in the sink. I guess I should explain the process. Again, like the ingredients, it is relatively simple in theory. You dump the stuff in the milk, heat it to 90 degrees, let it sit for an hour or two and at this point you are supposed to achieve what is called a “clean break”. This is where the thick stuff separates from the runny stuff. Or not as the case may be.
Gallon four was no different than gallon three, nor was gallon five. Obviously I needed help. So I called the guy who owns the local dairy (I figured as I am personally subsidizing their milk business now, a little free advice might be in order) He suggested that I may be losing temperature which is causing the rennet not to do its rennet thing. Made perfect sense to me.
Have you ever tried to maintain something at 90 degrees on your stove? You can’t. You also can’t pull it off in the oven even with the door open and the rack out. Bye bye gallons seven and eight.
When working with gallon nine, I realized that should I succeed, my fresh mozzarella cheese was going to have cost me approximately 30 bucks. And that is with free citric acid. What a great idea this was! When I failed, yet again, to achieve the ever-elusive clean break, I decided to employ the “ignore it and it will fix itself’ approach I usually reserve for automobile issues. So I proceeded to follow the rest of the steps which resulted in a pile of curds which wasn’t exactly cottage cheese and wasn’t exactly not cottage cheese. When asked to taste test, the Baby Cow simply pointed to the sink, but I wasn’t about to give up. A firm believer in the power of garlic and herbs to save anything, I roasted some and mashed, squished, stirred, microwaved the glop of whatever until I had developed what I now call the “Failed Mozzarella Cheese Spread” which we will be selling for $70 a tub.
Am I done? Almost. My next line of attack is to beg The grocery store to have a sale on fresh Mozzarella. Mind you, I no longer consider the regular price to be anything but reasonable, it’s just that I’m officially out of milk money.