Barbara Kingsolver is a fabulous writer AND she has remarkable food skills. Quite the combo. On any given day I either want to celebrate Barbara by throwing a party in her favour or I want to push her down the stairs. I guess it all depends on how I’m feeling about my own competencies.
Barbara is perhaps best known for her works of fiction which include The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, and a long list of other highly acclaimed bestsellers. But in my estimation, none of Barbara’s books top her 2007 masterpiece “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”
In the book Barbara and her family relocate from Tucson Arizona to a rural 20-acre property in the Southern Appalachians. Barbara explains in the opening chapter that she had lived half of her life and her two children had lived their whole lives in Tucson. Clearly this move was no small undertaking. However, Arizona was in it’s third consecutive year of drought and had only had one inch of rain between November and May. The family couldn’t take it any longer, so they were fleeing “like rats leaping off the burning ship.” I guess you could call them environmental refugees (get used to that term, you are going to hear it more often in the future).
The book chronicles the family’s adventures and misadventures over their first year of living a mostly self-sufficient life in rural Appalachia. It is so rich in wisdom about the environment, culture, agriculture and eating locally that I intend to read it again this winter. To be honest, I mostly just want a second helping of Barbara’s wonderful sense of humour. Read the book, you will be glad that you did (and NO I am not being paid for this endorsement!).
In this blog post I am going to share Barbara’s recipe for homemade mozzarella. I have made a few minor adjustments to suit myself. You can access the original recipe directly from the Animal Vegetable Miracle Website if you prefer to get it straight from Barbara (www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/recipes)
Measure out the additives before you start, in clean glass or ceramic cups and then put them aside until you are ready to use them:
1 ½ teaspoon of citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup of cool unchlorinated (i.e. bottled) water
¼ teaspoon liquid rennet or ½ tablet solid rennet dissolved in ¼ cup unchlorinated water (it doesn’t matter if you choose liquid or solid, both options need to be dissolved in water)
Note: I purchase these ingredients from Nature’s Fare in the Orchard Plaza Shopping Centre on Cooper Road in Kelowna. There are two types of rennet – one is “animal” and one is “vegetable.” Both produce good mozzarella, but I prefer the taste of the cheese made with animal rennet as it is a bit “sharper.” Vegetable rennet is a lot less expensive than animal rennet. Suit yourself. If you cannot find animal rennet in Nature’s Fare, then check with Westside U-Brew on Ross Road in West Kelowna. Don’t go on Mondays because they are closed (I found this out the hard way). Keep your rennet tablets in the freezer between uses.
Equipment (see picture):
Stainless steel pot, thermometer that goes as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) and as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), fine mesh metal strainer, 2-quart microwaveable bowl, rubber gloves, bowl to collect whey in (optional..you can dump the whey down the sink if you want)
Heat 1 gallon of whole milk gently in the stainless pot and once it has reached 55 degrees Fahrenheit add the diluted citric acid and stir thoroughly. At 88 degrees Fahrenheit the mixture will begin to curdle. Stir in the dissolved rennet with an UP AND DOWN motion. At 100 degrees Fahrenheit the curds (solid bits) should be pulling away from the sides of the pot. The whey (liquid part) should be clear. If the whey is still cloudy continue to heat for another few minutes.
Pour the mixture through the fine mesh strainer. I collect the whey in a big bowl and store it in mason jars in the fridge to use it in baking bread or making pancakes, scones etc. It is rich in vitamins and minerals. Supposedly it keeps bread fresh longer but I don’t know about that (honestly, I just keep the whey because it seems like a waste to pour it down the drain).
Move the curds to the 2-quart microwaveable bowl. Press the curds gently to remove as much whey as possible. Pour off the whey. Microwave the curds on high for one minute. Put on your rubber gloves (I use a pair of dollar-store cotton gloves underneath the rubber gloves to provide additional protection from the heat). Knead the curds and pour off the whey. Microwave two more times for about 35 seconds each and knead/pour off the whey between heatings.
At this point the cheese is ready for the addition of salt. I have found through trial-and-error that 1 ½ teaspoons of salt suits my taste. I prefer “coarse salt” although any salt should do.
Knead and pull the curds like taffy. When you can stretch the curds into ropes you are done. You can roll the mozzarella into small balls or do like I do and press the whole thing into a cereal bowl and put it into the refrigerator. Once the cheese is cool I use a spoon to pry it out of the bowl and put it in plastic wrap before returning it to the fridge.
There you have it. Your own homemade mozzarella.
Note to Barbara Kingsolver: You have knocked John Steinbeck off the top of my “All Time Favorite American Writers” list. May the writing force be with you (forever).