Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Cheese... Maybe.

This week, I took my first stab at making real cheese.   But... it didn't go too great.  I broke out a gallon of milk, added the acid and set to heating it up.  Like with my rennet making experience, the heating took way longer than I anticipated, so I was getting a bit panicky by the time it reached the mandatory 88oF.  Once there, I started the real test, adding the rennet.  I measured out a few tablespoons of the mixture, stirred it in for the required time, then covered it and furiously hoped for ten minutes that when I opened the pot, I would see any kind of separation.  Unfortunately, when I whipped off the lid, it looked exactly the same as when I covered it.  I repeated the process several more times, each time adding a little more rennet, until I was pouring in half cups, and the milk itself was turning a weird brownish color.   No matter how much I added, nothing was happening.  The only conclusion I could come to was that something was up with the rennet.  That was the key thing for the coagulation to occur, and based on my less than precise rennet making process, it seemed likely that it did not work properly.  The most likely cause of this, in my opinion, is the fact that the nettle leaves that we used had been processed and made into an herbal supplement, instead of being the hand picked leaves that the recipe called for.  Going from here, I would like to order the fresh leaves, and try my hand again at making rennet.  Unfortunately, there is not a huge amount of time left in this year, so I am just ordering rennet premade.  Hopefully, this will ensure the success of my second attempt at making cheese.

Raunchy Rennet (a little late, oops)

This biggest thing that happened this week on my journey through cheese making was making the rennet.  We finally were able to get a hold of nettle leaves, so I was a go on the rennet process.  Reading through the procedure made making rennet seem like a breeze, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated when actually in practice.  For one thing, the amount of dried nettle that we got, one pound as the recipe states, was way too much for the amount of water they suggested using, and too much for the pot I brought.  Because of this, the amount of water and nettle I used was in a much different ratio than the recipe stated.  Nonetheless I pushed on, and went to boil the mushy goop.  Boiling a goop is harder than it sounds, because the water is not distinctly separated from the solids in it.  This caused a bit of fear when the mixture appeared to be alive and breathing as bubbles moved the leaves up and down.  After a really long time, I decided it was boiling, added the salt and drained it, releasing a very strong hay smell, and revealing a very very dark liquid that was basically super steeped herbal tea.  Next week I will begin the real test of this process, the making of the actual cheese! Stay tuned for how that turns out!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Getting It Going With Genius Hour

This week we began to explore our ideas for Genius Hour.  On Wednesday, my first class day of the week, I was very convinced that I wanted to somehow genetically engineer something.  I really like genetics, it is definitely my favorite unit, but as I was researching the different materials I would need, and the amount of work that would need to go into it, I started doubting whether or not I would actually be able to do the type of thing I wanted to.  Once I had this realization, I very drastically shifted focus.  I knew I wanted to explore, not so much an experiment, as making something.  I started researching bacterial byproducts, to see if there was anything I could make using bacteria because that would involve life.  Somehow on this escapade through google I landed on cheese.  As I was researching how cheese is made, and how I could directly tie it into life, I started looking into the ingredient rennet in cheese.  Rennet is an essential part of the cheese-making process that contains an enzyme responsible for the coagulation of the milk into curds.  While it is most often obtained from the stomach of lambs, I found several methods to get it from different plants, something that is very doable, and also ties perfectly into life and the study of biology.  So this has become my plan.  Right now, I am working on obtaining the nettle leaves that I will be using to make rennet, as well as figuring out what type of milk I will be using to make the cheese later on.  Overall, I am actually glad that the genetic thing didn't work out, because I am so stoked to make cheese!!