With Labor Day weekend behind us, we’re officially going back to school. Yes, I’m talking to you too! Back to school isn’t just for kindergartners and college students. Why not take this time to learn something new just for fun? Need a place to start? Look no further than a cheesemaking class!
I decided to venture over to The Cheese School of San Francisco to try my hand at making my own cheese. From a basic session on cheese + beer 101 to more advanced classes like starting your own cheese shop, The Cheese School has something for everyone. As someone who loves cheese but never tried making it, I signed up for this hands-on class to learn how to make some of my favorites: mozzarella, burrata and ricotta.
The real lesson learned? I’ll probably never, yes never, make my own mozzarella or burrata cheese again. But there’s definitely one worth making at home. More on that later…
Tucked behind a cafe in SF’s Mission District, The Cheese School of San Francisco is a hidden culinary gem. While checking in, my friend and I were greeted with sparkling wine and nibbles from a delicious cheese and fruit plate. Outside the classroom was a Pinterest-worthy display of gifts for any cheese lover including the book Kitchen Creamery, which included the recipes we used in class.
The class was taught by Kirstin Jackson, a SF-based cheesemaker extraordinaire and author of the book It’s Not You, It’s Brie (best title ever). The school’s owner, Kiri Fisher, helped answer our questions and address our oh-shit-did-we-mess-up concerns.
We worked in small teams of 6 people per station, and while we shared burners, pots and pans, we each left with our own batches of cheese to take home. Germophobe warning: hand-washing is strictly enforced, but just know that other people’s hands are gonna be in your cheese situation. One way to solve for this is to book this with a group with friends you can hygienically trust. :)
I was so excited to finally make those fresh mozzarella balls I so often buy from the store! (My favorite go-to is by Berkeley’s own Belfiore Cheese Company sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.) They’re delicious sliced in a salad with tomatoes and balsamic, but I’m also guilty of eating them right out of the tub.
So how are they made? Well there are lots of detailed steps in the process, but here’s the gist:
- Make the curds by heating milk, citric acid, and rennet. Eventually, it’ll resemble the texture of tofu.
- Carefully cut the curds into smaller pieces.
- Separate curds from the whey and let drain.
- Cut the curds again into strips.
- One at a time, dunk a strip in warm salted water until pliable, then form into a small ball by stretching and tucking. Repeat. Eat one. Repeat.
Forming a perfectly round mozzarella ball takes quite some practice but it’s pretty fun. Overwork them and the cheese gets too tough, underwork them and it falls apart. You can actually skip the whole curd making step and just buy pre-made curds from a cheese shop such as Belfiore. Then you can practice forming cheese balls but at that point you really can’t consider them homemade. Maybe just home-formed?
Ah, dear burrata. I’ve met you on the menus of perhaps every New American or Italian restaurant in SF. I love you, but frankly I have no idea why…
Well, that is, until taking this class. First off, burrata means “butter” in Italian, so that’s one good reason. And secondly, it’s basically a mozzarella ball filled with a mixture of cream and mozzarella strands. So *that’s* what it is…mind. blown.
We made our own burrata by tearing up our homemade mozzarella into fine, thin threads, then mixing it with heavy cream and salt. Using the hot mozzarella out of the salted water, we formed a flat round, spooned some of the creamy filling inside, then quickly wrapped the cheese around the filling to make a ball. Sadly, the burrata went straight from my hand into my mouth, so you’ll have to forgive the lack of photos for this one!
Now THIS is a cheese I’ll be making at home. Ricotta, which means “recooked” in Italian, uses simple ingredients and basic techniques. You start out by heating whole milk, then add citric acid, which helps create the curds that give the cheese it’s tiny pebble-like texture. You can also substitute cream for milk (up to 25%), if you want a richer flavor. You should probably do that.
I’ve shared the recipe below if you want to try making your own ricotta at home. Serve it on a piece of toast, toss it with pasta, or enjoy it with stone fruit and honey.
I believe that there’s two types of cooking classes in this world:
- Classes that teach you how to make something that you’ll actually make again.
- Classes that teach you how to make something that you’ll appreciate buying instead. For me, that list includes Pad Thai, baguettes, and anything sushi.
With the exception of the easy breezy ricotta, this class falls in the second camp for me. I’ll probably never make my own mozzarella or burrata again, and that’s ok. Making the curds takes hours and I’d rather bake a cake or make homemade pasta in that amount of time. That being said, knowing how to make some of my favorite cheeses brings me even more joy when I bite into a fresh Caprese salad or spoon a creamy dollop of burrata on toast.
Editor’s note: I attended this class courtesy of The Cheese School of San Francisco. As always, I review all products and services with an unbiased and honest perspective.
Whole Milk Ricotta
Recipe adapted from Kitchen Creamery by Louella Hill
- 1 gallon whole milk (or up to 25% cream)*
- 1 1/4 teaspoon citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Pour milk into a very thick-bottomed stainless steel pot. Add salt. Place candy thermometer in pot.
- Stirring continuously (especially when it reaches 150 degrees F), heat the milk to 190 degrees F. Quickly add citric acid.
- Turn off heat and stop the milk’s motion. Cover pot and let sit for 20 minutes.
- Gently ladle curds into a thin mesh colander and let drain for at least 10 minutes.
- *We used Straus Organic Cream Top – Grade A pasteurized milk (non-homogenized)
- You can save the remaining whey (liquid that drains from colander) and reuse it to make ricotta again. Just add it to the pot and repeat steps 2-4, using only 1 teaspoon citric acid and no salt.