When the directions tell you to do something,
Or to be more specific...
...when the directions tell you not to use a certain type of product, don't use it if you want to finish with the desired end-result.
I was initially hoping for a nice little block of feta cheese when I started on this project 3 days ago. What I ended up with was a style of farmers cheese that I can't place. Something akin to the feel and texture of a dry chevre, but tasting more like a bland, plain spreadable cow's cheese.
The pic above is where I first thought...
"this is not going to end well."
The recipe stated- "Heat milk to 85 degrees F and pull off the burner."
I pulled the pot off the burner at a few degrees above 85. Not so many above that I was particularly worried...at the time. But as soon as I moved the pot to the back burner (off the hot iron of the burner I cooked it on) the heat shot up to 95 degrees F.
Apparently the center of the pot was hotter...
-way hotter than the sides where my thermometer was.
I gave the mixture a stir and the whole of it registered 95. I thought that waiting until the milk cooled to 85 wouldn't make a difference, since I had already altered it by cooking it too hot, so I stirred in the rennet and hoped for the best.
I set it back on the back burner to rest and went about my day.
I checked on it periodically and...it was beginning to set :).
I let it set overnight and jumped out of bed the next morning to check on it.
Well..."jumped' is a bit strong in describing my actions in the morning. Lets say, meandered instead.
I, meandered, out of bed the next morning and pulled a knife through the mixture on the stove.
What was in the pot felt more like thick yogurt than feta curds.
It hadn't solidified past where I had left it when I went to bed the night before.
What do I do now?
I left it on the stove in frustration, made my morning beverage (see previous post) and thought about it.
Then I hatched a plan.
Because I don't tend to follow directions well, I was left with a thick, slick mess of coagulated milk. So I just followed the next set of directions and set it in some butter muslin, raised above a bowl, to allow the whey drip out. I figured I'd be left with a quart of whey and maybe a few ounces of "cheese" in the end but at least there would be some sort of food at the end of all of this.
So...why did the cheese not set?
I think because, one, or both of the two things I didn't do right.
First; I used ultra pasteurized milk and second; I over-heated the milk prior to mixing the rennet in.
Everyone said (that is, all the articles I read online AND the cheese-making booklet that came with the cheese-making supplies) said to NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk.
But I thought that, since my milk was from grass-fed cows and organic, it would still work.
I was wrong...
So I was on to plan B.
I'm used to having to move to plan B because I am not good at following directions. I tend to skip ahead and think I know better than the rules in front of me.
Plan B is usually a way to salvage what I've f*cked up from not following directions.
I rolled forward with my salvage mission (fueled by lot's of wine) and poured the "cheese" into a butter-muslin lined colander set over a big bowl to catch the whey escaping its milky prison.
I left it in the recently cleaned slop sink in the laundry room, overnight, wrapped in the butter-muslin, weighted down with a cast iron pan, and started the dough for some whole wheat pita bread (sadly pictured above.)
This morning I actually jumped out of bed to check on the cheese's progress.
I was right...I did have over a quart of creamy yellow whey and only a few ounces of thick, malleable "cheese".
Feeling a little defeated, I mixed in some cheese salt and set it aside to make some fresh pitas.
I went back to the cheese after baking the pita's and after tasting it, decided it needed something to make the flavor "pop."
Something fresh and light to keep the milky flavor at the forefront, but deep enough to compliment its richness... and I had easy access to just what I needed.
A few days prior, I made this year's first pilgrimage to the local Lowes home improvement store for a few potted flowers.
What I came back home with was a car too full to add anything else to it.
The trunk was filled with topsoil and a few plants.
The front seat was full of flowering plants and the back seat, covered in a massive fern plant and potted herbs.
I should not be allowed in places like this unattended with a credit card.
But in my manic plant-buying spree, I picked up some cilantro and Mexican Tarragon (as well as basil, lavender and chives.)
I picked some cilantro, tarragon and chives, chopped them up, added them to the cheese with some S&P and massaged them into the blob of cheese via the butter muslin still encasing it.
When I was done, I put it all in a small bowl, covered it and let the flavors meld in the fridge for a few hours. I cleaned the kitchen up, filled and started the dishwasher and started working on my orchid factory (stay tuned.)
OMG- let me tell you...
This sh*t's good!
I really thought I'd be writing a post on what not to do in beginner cheese-making, but I think I've learned that, if you educate yourself enough on a topic (in this case, the basics of cheese-making) you can go with your gut and eventually come out with something tasty while learning a little about what to or not to do in the future. As long as you're OK with continuing to try to make it work.
No defeatist thoughts here...
I may not have feta, but that's OK.
What I do have is so nice. And in the end, if you're happy with what you made, isn't that enough?
I think so...