More than 7,000 years ago, humankind made one of its greatest discoveries to date: cheese.
Without it there would be no pizza, no mac, no shmear for our bagels, no cheddar for our burgers. A dark age indeed.
Early cheese production is believed to have emerged as a way of preserving milk products. “You did what you could to get calories. Milk is highly nutritious, but it’s also highly perishable,” explains Don McMahon, Ph.D. ’83, director of the Western Dairy Center (WDC). Without refrigeration, milk that spoiled was calories lost. And 7,000 years ago, those calories might translate to health and fertility advantages. Fermenting milk into cheese preserved valuable sources of calcium and nutrients, McMahon says.
Today, more than 500 varieties of cheese exist. And civilization is tastier for it.
Launching an artisanal cheese operation costs about $500,000 in startup costs. USU has taught cheese making some capacity for a century. The WDC’s basic cheese making course teaches people the technical skills they will need to produce cheese you can sell. This a recipe you can make from home, courtesy of Becky Low, Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada.
Fresh Mozzarella Recipe
stainless steel pan (6-8 quart) – do not use aluminum pan
thermometer (easy to read between 40 F to 120 F)
stainless steel or plastic colander
microwave safe bowl
1/4-1 rennet tablet*
1/4 cup cold non-chlorinated water (bottled water works)
1 gallon whole milk (or 14 cups reconstituted dry milk and 2 cups whipping cream)
2 teaspoons citric acid
1-2 teaspoons salt
Crush rennet tablet and dissolve in cold water.
Pour milk in stainless steel pan; sprinkle milk with citric acid and stir gently to blend; heat milk over medium-medium/low heat to 88-90 degrees (milk will begin to curdle or clump). Add prepared rennet and stir in an up /down motion for 30-60 seconds to blend; stop stirring and continue to heat to 105 degrees or until curd and whey begin to separate (test curd by gently pressing the back of a spoon against the curd (whey will appear as a greenish liquid.
Line colander with cheesecloth; gently pour curds and whey into colander or scoop curds from pan; place curds in microwave safe bowl. Microwave 30-60 seconds on high; remove from microwave and gently press whey from curds with hands (draining off additional whey). Repeat process 2-3 more times microwaving in 20-30 seconds intervals.
As curds press together and cheese is warm (almost too warm to handle**) knead cheese like bread dough until it is smooth and pliable (like pulling taffy). If needed, microwave cheese in 10 seconds intervals to keep cheese warm and pliable. Knead salt in during final stages. Cheese is done with it is smooth. Form cheese into a ball and place in cold water to cool. When cheese is cold, remove from water and place in plastic wrap. Use within a week. Fresh mozzarella is delicious with marinated tomatoes, olives and basil.
Recipe takes between 30-60 minutes to make. Homemade cheese is fun to make delicious to eat. Professional cheese makers use precise acidity and commercial rennet (with consistent results) this recipe is for the average cook using supplies and ingredients readily available in the supermarket. For more detailed cheese making instructions and sources for cheese making supplies refer to a cheese making book, such as “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll. Recipe makes approximately 12-14 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese.
* Rennet may be liquid or tablet form. Purchase rennet in Jello section of the grocery store (Junket is a common brand); purchased in health food and food storage supply stores; or may be purchased on line (google cheese making supplies).
**Wearing food grade rubber gloves will protect hands.