It’s been a few weeks since my last visit to the BCAE but on Tuesday night I was there to make cheese. Who doesn’t love cheese?! Cheddar, goat, Gouda, burrata, Brie, mozzarella! Oh my, oh my, I love me some cheese. But I never knew how all these delicious cheeses come to be, so I landed in a cheese making class with Luca Mignogna, a cheesemaker from Italy. He currently works at a café, bakery, and wine bar on the North Shore.
Luca had us signed up to make two cheeses on Tuesday night: primo sale, which is a farmer’s cheese native to Italy, and a basic ricotta. He started the class with a general description of what goes into making cheese, but I quickly learned nothing is too general when it comes to cheese. A few people in class said they were interested in making cheese because they’re chemists. There truly is a science behind making cheese, and no question or discussion has a simple answer.
The first step in making the primo sale was the coagulation of the milk, which Luca had already started for us given the time limit of the class. This is done by adding rennet – an enzyme that causes the milk to separate into solid and liquid – to a few gallons of milk. Within a few minutes you can see the coagulation occur, but typically you wait 20 minutes or up to an hour for the full coagulation to complete. As Luca says, “it takes its own time,” and you never know quite how long it will take.
Once that is done, you have the fun task of ‘cutting the curds’ where you take a whisk and cut through the new mixture, breaking up the solid into tiny curds. From there, you wait some more, then drain extra liquid – which we saved to use for the ricotta – and eventually got all the liquid out, and left only curds. During all these steps, Luca encouraged us to smell and taste the curds to see how it evolves as time goes by. Once it was curds, it mostly tasted like a very milky cheese.
To the curds, we added salted water that had been boiled and slightly cooled. The heated water allowed the curds to adhere to each other and made our primo sale, which we squeezed the air out of completely and placed into molds to cool.
For the ricotta, we heated up the liquid from the primo sale to 175 degrees and then added cream. This mixture needed to get to 195 degrees. Once it’s there, you stir the mixture quickly and add vinegar, which acts as the coagulant here. As soon as it was added, the liquids and solids separated. We scooped the solids out of the huge pot, and it looked just like the ricotta from the store!
At first, this process overwhelmed me. It seemed very delicate, and it is, but Luca made a good point: write everything down – the time, the temperature, each step you take. That way, if something goes wrong, you can see easily where that happened.
So now I have a pound of primo sale and a pound of ricotta in my fridge… who wants to make some stuffed manicotti?
The BCAE's next Cheese Making Workshop with Luca is running on December 4.