Little Miss Muffet might have sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey, but I took a bowlful of curds and turned them into cheese. Somehow the thought of munching on mozzarella is far superior to the nursery rhyme treat.
I found myself in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to outstanding local organic food, in fact, some of the best in the nation. Zingerman’s Deli draws foodies from far and near and their entrepreneurial team gets credit for pushing the locavare movement. Zingerman’s became legendary for their high standards,expertise and business success, as should a place that sells about a ton of corned beef per week.
The Zingerman group also runs a few subsidiary operations in a nearby industrial park: a bakery, specialty cake shop and a creamery. Each of these enterprises is known for their dedication to hand crafting from the best ingredients available. Therefore, I was thrilled with my chance to sink my hands deep into curds at a cheesemaking class at Zingerman’s Creamery.
I donned an apron and washed up before entering a warm and humid industrial-sized workspace. Talk about spotlessly clean, why stainless steel gleamed everywhere: appliances, tables, sinks, racks and large cylinders. The concrete floor had just been hosed down and the air smelled spic and span.
My station included a white plastic bucket with curds, rubber spatula and a rectangular container filled with salty water.
We were instructed to pour a pitcher of very hot 170-180 degree water over the curds to soften them. After a few minutes we tested to see if they were pliable and a bit stretchy. We then poured off the water and repeated the process.
Next we picked up the curds and stretched them, just enough so they became smooth, shiny and supple. Cheesemaker and instructor, Aubrey Thompson, cautioned not to over pull. Each student then formed three balls and placed them in the brine (the salt water container) for about ten minutes. Wow- a mozzarella cheese ball. How simple and easy is that?
Next we made a braided or string cheese.The first few steps were identical to the above, except this time we stretched the softened curds into a snake-like roll. The roll was then folded over and put it back in the warm water for a few seconds. The snaking step was repeated and the product stretched until it had a rubbery consistency. Finally, we twisted the cheese into a braid and secured aromatic myrtle leaves around it with a string.
This infused cheese is designed to be cooked because most of the fat has been stretched out. You simply place the wrapped mozzarella in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Unwrap and discard the leaves, drizzle on olive oil and sea salt. Scoop up with crusty bread. Yummy is an understatement.
The last cheese we concocted was a burrata- a special gourmet cheese ball.
We started with a very small ball of mozzarella and pressed it out with the palm of our hand. This thin layer was then fitted it into a small round cup with the edges flopping over. Next, we filled the center with unsoftened curds and carefully poured in heavy cream. We tied the top with string and gingerly placed the delicate cheese ball in the brine for 5 minutes.
A burrata can be eaten after resting a few hours. The consistency will be runny but delicious. Otherwise, refrigerate for up to five days. Each day the cheese will become slightly firmer as the cream blends in. To serve, cut into pieces and douse with olive oil, cracked pepper and salt to taste. Then, let your cheese stand alone– as the centerpiece of your appetizers. Tasters will sing!
In my opinion, the burrata was the best, but I’d rather not think about the fat grams and calories.
The Creamery sells cheesemaking kits which become great gifts. Kids would love the hands-on project. Consider buying one for yourself and preparing homemade cheese for others. The process is easy and very gratifying.
Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.
If You Go
The Cheese Shop at Zingerman’s Southside
3723 Plaza Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108
Mon-Fri: 10am -7pm Sat: 9am – 7pm Sun: 10am – 6pm
Zingerman’s Mail Order at: www.zingermans.com