It rained most of the weekend, so I wasn’t able to do much garden work like I wanted. I’ve got peas in the ground, but there should already be lettuces and a few others there as well. The current forecast for the rest of the week, including next weekend, calls for rain too. I should be glad, since we really need it, but I hate sitting in an office while it’s nice out (sunny and in the 70’s yesterday and today) and have it rain during the only chance I have to be outside.
But I digress. Instead of gardening, I finished the chicken coop. Thanks to my experience designing and building theater sets, I was able to take pictures from my head, translate them into pictures on paper, and translate that into a real physical object. And all with a minimum of fuss. I’ve decided that’s a very handy skill to have, and I’ll work on refining it further. I also made another half-gallon of yoghurt, replacing what I ate last week. Last week it was mixed with various berries. So far this week, I’ve been enjoying it with a bit of pure maple syrup mixed in. Mighty tasty. I also made a few pounds of cottage cheese, and it was by far my best ever.
Let me explain how to make cottage cheese. It’s very easy, and if you like store-bought, you’ll go crazy for your own. I started with two gallons of milk, store-bought, one whole and the other two percent. I heated it up to 85 degrees F in a stainless steel pan submerged in a larger pan filled with water. This double-boiler prevents the milk from scorching on the stove. When it reached temp, I added a mesophillic bacteria culture. The bacteria, obtainable from a cheesemaking supply company, eats away at the lactose in the milk, turning it to lactic acid. This, along with a few other minor chemical processes, “ripens” the milk, changing its taste and thickens it a bit. I let it ripen for about an hour, which was longer than I had before. I kept the temperature constant by wrapping both pans with towels and turning the heat on when necessary. Then, I added rennet. Rennet was originally an enzyme found in the stomach of a young calf, but today vegetable rennet is readily available. You can certainly get it from the same place you get your bacteria, but I got mine at a local natural foods store. Let the rennet work for about an hour, again keeping the temperature steady. This will solidify the milk into a single curd. It will look like the milk has gelled. I like large curd cottage cheese, so I sliced the curd into half-inch cubes with a long knife. You could make smaller cubes if you want to. The cubes will be very soft, but they’ll hold their shape. As you cut, the curd will start to release whey, a greenish-yellow liquid. At this step, we could really be making just about any hard cheese — cheddar, swiss, colby, etc. — but to make cottage cheese we’ll slowly cook the curds in their own whey. Raise the temperature to 115 degrees very slowly, taking at least an hour to go from 85 to 115. Then, keep the temperature more or less steady until the curd gets to the texture you desire, about a half hour. These higher temperatures will draw the proteins in the curd closer together, expelling more whey and toughening the curd. They will shrink as they do this. When done, ladle out, drain (cheesecloth, naturally, is perfect for this), and refrigerate. And enjoy. I got into cheesemaking for the fresh mozzarella, but I’m staying for the cottage cheese. It is incredible.
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