I have been making the simplest of all cheeses for some time now. That is where you take kefir (or yogurt), pour it into some cheesecloth and leave it hang over a bowl for one or several days until it reaches the consistency and tartness you prefer. But after forgoing granola cereal served with kefir two days in a row, I suddenly found myself swimming in kefir.
So I decided it was time to up my cheesemaking experiment and try to make some congetella, a mozzarella-like cheese made using kefir rather than rennet. Unfortunately, my directions were rather sketchy. Since I used a little of what was written and filled in the blanks with my own imagination, I am guessing this is not the fussiest of cheeses and is therefore suitable for a beginner.
After all, I didn’t even understand the instructions and I was quite happy with the results. All you need are:
- Whole milk
- Kefir (more about making kefir)
- Kefir whey
I started with ten cups of whole milk and one and a half cups kefir in a stainless steel pot. My original instructions said something about kefir (pH 5.5) which made no sense. Since milk is approximately pH 6.5 and kefir is approximately pH 4.5, I’m guessing I was supposed to add enough kefir to bring the pH of the mixture down to pH 5.5. But I have no way of measuring pH, so I just started with that.
I then stirred it slowly while heating it to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Or rather, my apprentices did.
180 degrees is like a magic temperature. When you hit it, all of a sudden the whole thing turns to curds and whey. Or at least I was pretty sure that was what was supposed to happen because that’s what happens when I heat just the kefir. But nothing happened. I had a couple of little lumps, but I suspected that was just the original kefir I had added.
Since the curdling is really a factor of acidity, I decided I needed more acid. A shot of vinegar? Or some more kefir? I opted for some kefir whey and added about a cup. The curdling started, but I still had curds floating in milk, so I added more. Next time I’ll measure, but I finally got what I thought I was looking for.
I poured that through a colander and got a little cheese and a lot of whey. There are lots of things you can do with whey, but I already had more than I really knew what to do with so I fed it to the dogs.
Next came the spinning. Basically, you just knead it and it begins to hold together. Plus you sample it. At this stage, it doesn’t have much flavor, but I could taste something vaguely reminiscent of mozzarella.
I think we didn’t spin it long enough based on what happened in the last step. I am hoping it will be somewhat like learning to make bread was and at some point you can just feel when you’ve added enough flour and don’t measure anymore. Some day I hope to feel when the cheese is ready.
But for now we spun until the children started to get a little silly and then rolled it into balls. The balls were then covered in cold water to let them set for half an hour.
The last step was to set them in a brine solution made of 1 part kefir whey and 1 part salt water. I left them in that for another half an hour before I realized our cheese balls were starting to disintegrate. I took them out, packed them a little and set them on a plate in the refrigerator.
I was planning on using it for pizza that night anyway, so I didn’t really need to store them for long.
The texture was a little grainy, but the taste was about perfect. While making our pizza, everyone took generous samples and after the pizza was done we all agreed that the cheese was the best part.
Well worth the experiment and the parts that didn’t work quite as expected. We will definitely be trying this again and if I get more of an actual recipe together as we gain experience, I will share that as well.
Have you ever made cheese before? I want to try some hard cheeses, but there is so much time involved, I’m a little nervous!