Beatrice Ojakangas

Recipes from the Scandinavian Chef

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Location: Duluth, Minnesota, United States


Mozzarella! Mozzarella!

You'll want to shout it from the kitchen window when you discover how ridiculously easy it is to make fresh mozzarella cheese at home

Fresh mozzarella made by hand. Sounds complicated and expensive, doesn't it?

Surprise: Nothing could be further from the truth. You CAN make fresh mozzarella at home in less time than it takes to make a box cake mix. It isn't rocket science, and you don't need the computer skills of a 6-year-old to understand what you're doing.

We're talking firm, fresh cheese here, with a mild flavor, that can be sliced. Not at all like aged or ripened cheese.

Actually, though, ripened cheese starts its life the same way as fresh cheese, only it goes through a brining process and controlled temperature aging -- while fresh cheese goes right onto a bruschetta topped with fresh tomato or a pizza or into a salad, or onto a piece of buttered toast. And what a delicious way to eat your four glasses of milk a day!

What do you need to make fresh cheese? A non-aluminum pot that will hold a gallon of milk, a custard cup to dissolve the rennet, a spoon, a candy thermometer (or an instant reading thermometer -- I love my digital one) and a large slotted spoon or a small sieve. A glass bowl and a microwave oven are handy to further speed up the cheesemaking process.

Ingredients? One gallon of skim, 1 percent or 2 percent milk, citric acid, rennet tablets and regular table salt. One gallon of milk will produce about 12 ounces of cheese.

Citric acid and rennet are available by mail order -- or you might check your local pharmacy. Or you can order the supplies through the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co., 85 Main Street, Ashfield, MA 01330, phone: (413) 628-3808, or see the Web site at I ordered their cheesemaking kit for $19.95, which comes with enough supplies to make 20 batches of mozzarella cheese or eight batches of ricotta (you'll love the fresh taste of homemade ricotta). One batch and I was hooked!

First encounter with fresh mozzarella

``Mozzarella! Mozzarella!'' is a moment etched in our memories.

Recently married, my husband, Dick, and I were driving through southern Italy and the cheesemakers were hawking their fresh mozzarella to passersby on a narrow country road. Excited to try it, we bought a bucketful of the soft fresh cheese scooped out of a tank of brine.

We were on a monthlong drive in our little VW and it would be three weeks before we'd cross the English Channel to our apartment in Oxford, England.

But in just a few days, the stench began. The car reeked of sour (rotten) cheese, and we had to throw our precious mozzarella away.

The lesson here: Fresh mozzarella is meant to be eaten fresh. Even packed in a brine, it keeps no more than a few days.

The cheesemaking tradition

This is the time of year I think of making cheese. It goes back to my farm heritage. Cows freshen in the springtime and milk was abundant on our little farm in Floodwood. As a teen-ager, I made an aged yellow cheese following the instructions in a St. Louis County Extension service pamphlet on cheesemaking.

I grew up idolizing Heidi in Switzerland, who spent her summers in the mountains drinking ``bowls'' of milk and helping to make Swiss cheese. I also heard colorful stories of Norwegian dairy maids in their mountain settings making kilos and kilos of cheese throughout the spring and summer. It was a way to preserve milk. (It takes approximately 10 pounds of milk to produce 1 pound of cheese.)

It wasn't until recently that the idea of making cheese in small batches gained interest across the country. So-called ``artisan'' cheesemakers, like my friend Paula Lambert, who founded The Mozzarella Company in Dallas, make high-quality fresh cheeses in small amounts that are sold mostly to restaurants and specialty shops.

However, if you make family-sized batches of cheese, like you would bake bread, you can add a whole new dimension to life in the kitchen. Or you might discover a rewarding activity to share with your children or grandchildren. I found that I can start the dough for either simple French bread or one of my fruit, nut or whole-grain breads (in ``Whole Grain Breads By Machine or By Hand''), and when the dough is done, I shape and set it to rise. By the time the bread is baked, I can have fresh cheese made, too!

I often get questions about special kinds of baked cheese, the kind that are traditional in the Scandinavian countries. I describe several in ``The Finnish Cookbook.'' One that those of Finnish and Swedish heritage remember is called 3ostkaka,1 or ``cheesecake.'' Unlike the cheesecake Americans are familiar with, ostkaka is made of baked ``colostrum'' milk -- the first milk after freshening.

Colostrum milk, which has the consistency of firm custard, was always a delicacy. To make it, we simply poured the colostrum milk into a heavy casserole dish with nothing more added to it. We used milk from about the third milking after the cow had freshened. This ``first milk'' is high in protein, so that when it is baked, it sets as if there's egg in it.

We'd set the casserole into a larger pan with hot water and bake until firm. If it was overbaked, it would get watery, much the same way a custard might. The custardy result was scooped into a bowl, and we'd sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top and eat it for breakfast or dessert.

When colostrum milk was no longer available, we would make ostkaka or ``uunijuusto'' by adding rennet to fresh milk and then straining off the curds from the whey. The recipe I'm including here is from my friend Marj Bergeland, who grew up on a farm in west-central Minnesota. Marj says her Grandma Swanson always started out with several quarts of milk plus rennet tablets to make firm curds. She then strained the whey through cheesecloth. Marj has simplified the recipe by starting with small-curd cottage cheese.


Anonymous Jana said...

You said you included a recipe for Mozzarella - I didn't see it - where can I get a copy?

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm gonna order a cheese making kit too! Thanks!
But any reason why you didn't use whole milk?

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Tammy said...

Where is the recipe for mozzarella? I wasn't able to find it.........very dissapointing. How would I get a copy?

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Linda from Ohio.....

Where is the recipe for mozzarella? I would like a copy.
Thank You

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did you waste my time? There is no Mozzarlla recipe as promised. Mary

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Kristin said...

I have a number of Beatrice's cookbooks. I'm writing about colostrum on my blog right now. Was looking for details on how to make Swedish Cheesecake with colostrum. The cow just freshened and I do have quite a bit! So it is still some anyway.

If you're looking for a mozzarella recipe, google for goodness sake! There are TONS of recipes out there. I like the one from Fiasco Farm. It's a bit more complicated but much tastier than the "30 minute" recipe.

2:25 PM  

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