Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Learning from flopping

I had a friend come over the other day and we were supposed to make 2 batches of mozzarella cheese. Needless to say, we didn't make cheese. We did however, give it a valiant effort.
(Quick side note: We used a 1/2 gallon of low-temp pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk that was delivered to the market on Friday for both attempts. This is Sunday so it's approximately 3-5 days old. The flopping was not from the milk, I assure you.)

Flop number 1 was 100% my fault. I added cheese salt instead of citric acid at the beginning. However, it curdled beautifully and was picture-perfect cheese until the very last step - the stretching. It refused to stretch and that's when I realized my mistake.
Flop number 2 was 100% by the book and we got 0 curd. It was the prettiest milk, rennet, citric acid soup, but it had not a curd in sight. I have no idea what could have gone wrong with batch number 2. It could be that our milk needed a different temperature or maybe we should have washed all of our dishes, utensils, etc. between batches. Perhaps I was so determined not to let the setback of flop 1 get us down that I somehow inadvertently caused flop number 2. Who knows? That's not the story I really want to tell.

When the cheese didn't form after 2 attempts, I was disappointed that I had nothing to show for my time and money. I was upset with myself for wasting milk in this heat, knowing how the heat affects the animals and the farmers.  I was embarrassed that my friend had come to make cheese and went home empty handed. I had planned for her to leave with a big hunk of mozzarella and 3 or 4 jars of whey for baking or cooking.
However, I was also proud of myself for trying something new. We had a grand old time making cheese (especially when we thought it was actually was cheese). My friend and I ate some delicious pizza and chatted about all things summer and Nashville. I loved watching E stir the curds and talking with her about what we were doing. I have great pictures of us doing all the steps - some with a cheese-like substance that could fool any viewer.

Learning the ins and outs of something that's not coming easily to me forces me to think about and appreciate the professionals that dedicate their time to making complex cheeses that take months and even years to form.  My 2 flops cost me an hour of time and $7 dollars - not nothing but not a great something either. Yet today I thought for the first time about how much our farmers invest in their crops and the products that they sell at market. How in the world do they respond to a flop or a flood (or a drought) when it could mean the loss of a year's income?  Most importantly, how do they get the courage to keep going? I don't have answers to these questions; I'm just so very grateful that they do.

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