Bocconcini cheese? Never a favorite of mine. The cheese is often used in caprese salad (tomato, basil, bocconcini and seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil) and I have always found it dry and completely tasteless – until one afternoon lunching at a friends house in Seattle. He placed a caprese salad in front of me, saying that the cheese was out of this world. Well… it was. Smooth and creamy, a delicate milky flavour with a hint of saltiness. I’d never look at bocconcini the same way again knowing that it could actually taste amazing.
I have a little bit of a problem (some might call it a personality flaw, some might call me crazy) but I love to choose something kind of out there and master making it. Personally I just love having knowledge about a large variety of things, and when I get a bee in my bonnet about something I want to learn, I become obsessive till I have conquered it. Making cheese was the perfect avenue for this obsessiveness as you can start out soft and mild and work your way into the hard and stinky – cheese that is… After a recent invite to a wine and cheese party I decided that I would actually MAKE cheese. It took me two goes of it to get it to work and with further research I think I have figured out why. For the beginner, this is not something you can guess at while making. It is very VERY important to follow the directions or you’ll end up with a yucky pot of turned milk. After scouring the Internets for good instructions I have decided to combine a few of them here for anyone that is interested. If you make this and it works – TRUST me, you’ll have a hard time eating the store bought stuff ever again.
Glass measuring cup
5 liter pot, VERY clean, stainless or enamel with a lid
Thermometer, -20 to 110C (buy a cheap digital one!)
Sterile fine-weave dish cloth or doubled up fine-weave cheese cloth
8 inch strainer (pasta strainer)
1000 watt microwave oven
1 gallon milk* (I used ROOM TEMPERATURE cow’s milk, homogenized, pasteurized, 3.5% butter fat)
1¼ teaspoon citric acid powder (from local pharmacy – Sweet Cherubim in Vancouver) dissolved in ½ cup cool water
½ tablet Junket rennet (from local supermarket – Bosa Foods in Vancouver) dissolved in ¼ cup cool water
1 teaspoon salt
* Ask the grocery guy to go in the back and get you the freshest milk they have. If using organic milk, be sure that it is NOT ‘ultra-pasteurized’ as too much of the good stuff has been cooked out.
Dissolve 1¼ tsp. citric acid powder into ½ cup cool water. Add to ROOM TEMPERATURE milk and stir well, up to 5 minutes.
Heat milk to 31C (88F).
Dissolve ½ tablet Junket Rennet into ¼ cup cool water. Stir thoroughly into warmed milk mixture. Let set UNDISTURBED for 2-3 hours, until a clean break is achieved. That means NO moving it AT ALL! Very important. Now here is where I have had a problem – getting this ‘clean break’. It is due to the fact that pasteurized milk doesn’t have the calcium content that raw milk has. Though I did not get this ‘clean break’ it all still worked for me, so don’t be too discouraged if it doesn’t look like the linked picture. As long as the milk isn’t sticking to your finger like yogurt would it should be OK.
Cut curd into ½ inches cubes.
Over low heat, very softly stir the curds and whey (whey – the yellowy green water that has separated from the curds) to keep the curds separated and temperature uniform until temperature reaches 42C (108F). Hold at 42C (108F) for 35 minutes, softly stirring every five minutes to keep curds separated and off the hot bottom. This is the hard part… keeping your temperature around 108F takes a lot of upping and downing the heat. I kept mine at the lowest setting my electric stove had. I would remove the pot from the element if I saw the temperature getting too high.
After 35 minutes, remove from heat and collect the curds with a slotted spoon into a fine cloth held in an pasta drainer over a large bowl and let drain for 15 minutes. You can lightly press down on them with clean hands.
Break up the curd and thoroughly mix in 1 teaspoon salt with your hands.
Place salted curd into a glass bowl. Microwave on high (1000 watts) for 45 seconds (adjust the time so that you get the desired elasticity). Separate hot curd from container with the back of a fork or hands and then knead to distribute heat evenly. It’s HOT, so be careful!
Stretch, pull and fold to make it smooth and elastic, much like salt water taffy is made. Heat it up 2 more times (30 seconds worked for me) continuing to pour off the watery whey (if there is any) each time and then continue stretching and pulling.
Shape into a soft ball or balls and place into refrigerator to solidify. I split mine into two and rounded them into balls and placed them into two bowls.
And that’s it! Let them cool down and firm up and then they are ready to eat!