One foot off the grid

July 5, 2009


We often joke that sometime in our future (a precise date is never mentioned) we will have taken enough tiny little steps to finally be on the far side of the great divide that exists between those who live on and off the proverbial grid. That image for us usually includes goats, chickens, composting toilets, a straw-bail house (I’m not convinced on this one), and a very, very large garden. For some reason, too, when I picture this life, I somehow turn into a long-skirt-wearing, hemp-donning, dread-locked, middle-aged hippie-woman. That’s about the time I snap out of it, and realize it’s never going to go that far.

But some of it might happen (anyone care to place bets on details?). I’m not opposed to goats and chickens, but I’m also not sure about the legality of those animals within the city limits of Indianapolis, our soon-to-be homestead. We do know that it’s illegal here in Athens (although there’s a movement afloat to change those laws). So while our future as livestock-owners is uncertain, I am currently feeling very resourceful after my first attempt at cheesemaking. Not only was it successful, I would refer to it as a raging success. Which is pretty rare, in the world of maiden-voyage-made-from-scratch.

As I read the chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that includes the recipe for 30-minute Mozzarella, I believe I paused mid-page and immediately went to search online for a source for rennet (necessary in most cheese-making). Turned out the best source was from the recipe’s author’s website — so I ordered animal rennet and cheese salt (I have no idea how different this is from regular table salt, but it was cheap, and I was cheese-crazed). My goods were delivered while I was visiting a friend in Durham, so the following week I set out to experiment. The plan was to get it perfected by our next book club meeting in order to wow my book-reading colleagues with dairy prowess.

But it was — pleasant surprise — perfect the first time. Not only did everything happen just like the instructions said (I did check an alternate online source for accuracy), but it really did only take about 30 minutes. And then the cheese was done. I could’ve topped a pizza with it right then and there. No hanging in cheesecloth, no curing. Just delicious mozzarella. The only surprise was that I was expecting a cheese more in texture to “fresh” mozzarella, the kind you purchase in a tub of brine. But this was definitely a cheese closer to whole-milk, dry-packed mozzarella. Still delicious, just different than my expectations.

Which is why the picture above, a caprese salad, was put together in spite of the fact that it’s usually made with fresh mozzarella. I had that in mind, and darnit if I wasn’t going to show off those farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes (they were actually a bit low on flavor — I’ll blame the early-season timing). We also made grilled veggie paninis one night, topping them with broiler-melted mozz, and another day I added cubes of chopped mozzarella to a green salad. I don’t know exactly how much cheese the recipe produced, since I failed to weigh it. But I’m guessing it was around 1 1/2 pounds.

For the first batch, I used organic, pasteurized, whole milk from Earth Fare. But this week I’m making it again with the local milk I get from Athens Locally Grown. Still pasteurized, but minimally processed and non-homogenized. And it just tastes better; so I can’t wait to see how it changes the cheese. You’ll also need a large (at least 5 1/2 quarts) stockpot or dutch oven, an instant-read thermometer, a slotted spoon, rennet (available here), and citric acid (I bought mine in the bulk spice section at Earth Fare, but you can also order it with the rennet). I used cheese salt, but I think table salt would work just fine (the recipe doesn’t specify an amount, but I used about 1 1/2 tsp).

Since I pretty much used the recipe word-for-word, I won’t reprint it, but send you to the link here (scroll down to 30-minute Mozzarella). This is seriously so easy, and so rewarding. If you’ve ever made yogurt, this is even easier (you don’t have to boil everything in sight before you get started). And if you venture into the cheese-making world, keep your leftover whey (I didn’t, unfortunately) and make ricotta. Milk, to cheese, to more cheese. What could possibly be wrong with that.

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