Crave: The grater good

photo by: Fotolia/Sea Wave via Mother Earth News Photo

Americans have a love affair with cheese. On average, we consume more than one-half pound per person per week, enjoying it in or on everything from pizza to sandwiches to fondues. In fact, this culinary obsession has been going on since America’s earliest history.

Benjamin Franklin so loved Parmesan cheese that he went to considerable effort to obtain a recipe for his cook.

Andrew Jackson, in his last reception as president, invited the public to the White House to devour a massive 3-by-4-foot chunk of cheese that had been aging in the basement for more than a year. Some 10,000 people stormed the White House for their share, leaving such a smelly mess that it took approximately a month for the carpet, drapes and furniture in the East Room to air out.

Resourceful American pioneer women found making cheese an effective way to preserve their precious milk, developing favorite recipes they passed on to succeeding generations. By the 1880s, cheese had developed into a whole industry of its own. By 1922, more than 2,800 active cheese factories were located in the state of Wisconsin alone. Many of these operations were associated with small family-run dairy farms.

Twenty years later, fewer, larger factories produced cheese by the hundreds of millions of pounds in the United States. By 1968, the first television commercials were broadcast for what had become a staple of American cuisine. As the 20th century progressed, cheese-making arts were rarely practiced on a small scale or at home – but that is now changing.

30-Minute Mozzarella

This recipe is adapted from Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricki Carrol (Storey, 2002). Yields about 1 pound.


1 gallon whole, 2% or skim milk

1 1⁄2 teaspoons powdered citric acid, dissolved in 1⁄4 cup cool water

1⁄4 teaspoon liquid rennet, diluted in 1⁄4 cup cool water (if using rennet tablets, follow conversion instructions on the package)

1 to 2 teaspoons cheese salt


1. In a stainless steel pot, slowly heat milk to 55 F. While stirring, slowly add citric acid solution, and mix thoroughly but gently. Heat mixture to 88 F over medium-low heat until it begins to thicken like yogurt. Gently stir in diluted rennet for 30 seconds.

2. Allow mixture to heat to between 100 and 105 F while not disturbing it. In about 5 to 8 minutes, curds should begin to break up and pull away from the sides of the pot. When that happens, turn off the heat. The curds will look like thick yogurt and become a bit shiny, and the whey will be clear. If the whey is still milky white, wait a few more minutes before turning off the heat.

3. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds and place them in a bowl. Reserve the whey. Press the curds gently with your hands, squeezing out as much whey as possible.

4. In another pot, heat reserved whey to 175 F.

5. While the whey heats, shape the curds into several small balls, rolling them between your palms. One at a time, put them into a ladle and dip them in the hot whey for several seconds. Remove them from the whey, and then gently fold the cheese over and over, as if you were kneading bread, with either a spoon or your hand. (You’ll want to wear rubber gloves at this point, as the cheese will be extremely hot.) This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is too hot to touch (145 F inside the curd).

6. Repeat this process several times, until the curd is smooth and pliable. Mix in the salt after the second time. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it’s done. If the curds break instead of stretch, they’re too cool and need to be reheated.

7. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into balls. Eat the cheese while it’s warm, or wrap it in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Cream Cheese

Yields 3 cups.


1 gallon milk or cream

1⁄2 cup cultured buttermilk

1⁄2 rennet tablet, dissolved in 1⁄4 cup cold water


1. Place milk in a large bowl. Add buttermilk and rennet mixture, and mix well, stirring for about 10 minutes, or until milk begins to clabber. Cover and keep at 70 to 80 F until the whey separates from the curd, up to 15 hours. Do not jiggle the mixture during this process.

2. Line a colander with several layers of wet cheesecloth, and then set the colander inside a large bowl. Slice the clabbered milk into 1-inch cubes, and pour into the colander. Let drip for several minutes.

3. Lift the cheesecloth at all four corners, and tie the corners together to form a bag. Hang the bag over a bowl to drip until a solid but gelatinous mass remains, 8 to 10 hours or overnight. If the weather is warm, put the bag in a colander set inside a bowl, and place it in the refrigerator. Squeeze the bag occasionally. If necessary, change out the cheesecloth when it gets plugged.

4. As soon as the cheese reaches the desired consistency, pour it from the cheesecloth into a bowl. Salt, to taste, if desired, starting with 1⁄4 teaspoon. Some prefer no salt, though adding it will increase the cheese’s storage time.

5. Pack the cream cheese into small bowls or wrap in greased paper, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.


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