By Danielle Marullo
International Culinary Center Student
Professional Culinary Arts
Cheese making began sometime around the domestication of milk-producing animals, roughly around 10,000 years ago. Can you stomach this one? Researchers believe that cheese was made by accident! Before plastic tupperware, take out containers and milk jugs, people had to get pretty creative when storing liquids, so they would actually store milk inside animal stomachs. As we all know, the stomach is a very acidic place, considering it has the ability to break down our solid foods with ease. Along with acid, there is an enzyme called Rennin (also called Rennet) that is often used in cheese making, that is found right in the lining of the stomach. This enzyme caused the milk to virtually “spoil,” separating the curds and whey leaving our lucky ancient friends with a cheese product. Although this is just a theory, it seems like a justifiable claim to me! At the end of the day, cheese is one of the most prized foods on the planet and I personally could not live without it.
Now that I am done with my history lesson, lets move on to my science lesson.
The three ways to create cheese out of milk are as follows:
– You can sour the milk in a process called Acid Coagulation
– You can coagulate the milk and create the cheese “curds” with the lovely enzyme we discussed earlier, Rennet.
– A combination of 1 & 2!
There are a whopping 900 varieties of cheeses available to us worldwide, and therefore the coagulation process is just the beginning. After the initial cheese product is created, the cheese can be pressed, cut, heated or even allowed to ripen or mold for extra flavor and texture.
3 very important words used in cheese making that you must know are as follows:
– Casein- The main protein found in milk that give cheese its delicious flavor and form the curds.
– Curds- Are what you get when the milk coagulates with an acid (lemon juice, vinegar), Rennet or just on its own when it is kept at a warm temperature and it spoils.
– Whey- After the cheese curds form, the watery liquid that is left behind is the whey.
Now onto our cooking lesson! At the International Culinary Center we designate a whole class to cheese making. Cheese is found in just about all cuisines, making it a crucial skill to obtain when training to be a chef. Due to time constraints and labor, most restaurants do not produce their own cheese, but as a chef it is important to understand the flavors, textures and origins of different kinds of cheeses. During our cheese lecture we tasted roughly 15 varieties of cheese ranging from sheep’s milk to goat, both hard and soft. We made both homemade Mozzarella and Ricotta cheese which we then utilized in an incredible homemade Ravioli recipe on Pasta Day! Ricotta is a very versatile cheese that can be eaten by itself, in savory dishes and even in sweet desserts like Cheesecake and Cassata Cake! Below is a recipe for simple Ricotta, that will leave your friends and family saying “No Whey! You can make cheese!?”
– 2 Kg Milk
– 3 g Citric Acid (You can usually buy it at the regular grocery store)
– 3 g Salt
– Place the milk, acid and salt in a small saucepan and heat until the mixture reaches about 195F. Be sure to store often to keep the milk from burning!
– Once the curds start to form turn off the hear and let the mixture sit about 10 minutes without stirring it.
Place a piece of cheesecloth in a fine chinois (strainer) and place the strainer over a pot or bowl.
Pour the Ricotta mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer and allow the mixture the strain for a few minutes. Tie a knot at the top of the cheesecloth and hang it over a shallow pan for an hour or longer. Once a lot of the liquid has been removed, you are ready to eat! You can add some more salt or some fresh herbs for flavor, especially if you are using the ricotta in a pasta dish!