I love it when I find multiple uses for plants that I grow. Permaculture refers to that as Stacking Functions. My fig trees, once again, are making a show of it. Not only are they delicious to eat fresh, cooked, dried, and preserved numerous ways, medicinal tea can be brewed from their leaves, and now I have discovered that you can use them to make cheese. Not that it is a new discovery by me, in fact, Homer wrote of it in the Illiad nearly 3000 years ago. He writes, “even as the juice of the fig speedily maketh to grow the white milk that is liquid but is quickly curdled as a man stirreth it, even so swiftly healed the furious Ares.” How cool is that? Fig sap actually contains the enzyme, ficin, which is used as a rennet for coagulating milk. If you have a fig tree available, join me in making mozzarella with fig sap.
This is my first time too, so don’t be intimidated. As usual, I read everything I could find on making mozzarella and followed a few different recipes, mainly these from the Pioneerwoman.com, who used the instructions by Ricki Carrol from Mozzarella in 30 Minutes plus various videos. It took me 5 tries, which I hear is pretty bad, but I eventually got it! Yes! I made Mozzarella cheese using fig sap as the rennet, and I’m dang proud of it!
Here is what you’ll need
- 1 gallon of milk (not ultra pasteurized)
- 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
- 1/4 tsp fig sap
- 1-2 tsp kosher or other non-idolized salt
- large pan for heating 1 gal milk
- thermometer that easily reads temps at 90 -200
- colander or mesh straine
- slotted spoon
- measering cups
- measuring spoons
- large microwave save bowl
- latex or nitrile gloves (optional)
How to make it
Collect enough fig sap to equal just over 1/4 tsp. This is a bit like milking a fig. The green ones work best. Just twist the fig to remove it from the branch, and quickly squeeze the sap into a cup (I used a shot glass). This will take a few figs. I believe if there are no figs on your tree, you can simply break off a branch or make a slit in it to get the sap.
Prep your 1 1/2 tsp. citric acid by mixing it with 1/2 cup of cool water, and your 1/4 tsp. fig rennet (sap) with 1/4 c of cool water.
Pour the citric acid solution into a large pan, add the milk and stir occasionally while heating it over med-low heat until it reaches 90 degrees. Remove it from the burner and pour in the fig rennet solution. Stir gently in a circular, up and down motion for just 30 seconds, then use the spoon to stop the motion of the milk as much as possible. Leave it for 5 min.
After 5 minutes the milk should start to begin to look like very soft custard, even pulling away from the side of the pan a bit. You can use your finger to pull it away gently to check. You can leave it longer if needed. Some recipes say they leave it up to 25 min. I left it for 10. Once it is ready, use a long knife to cut a grid of 1 inch squares in the curd. You will see the white curd separate from the clear, yellowish whey.
Once the curd is cut, set the pan on the stove and heat it to 105 degrees over med-low heat while very gently and occasionally stirring to ensure the whey is heated throughout.
Using a slotted spoon, lift out the curd and place in a bowl or colander, trying to remove as much liquid whey as possible. There will still be a pool of it in your bowl.
I placed the curd into the mesh strainer to finish the draining process. It is a bit like cottage cheese at this point. Now you can add salt if you like.
Place the curds in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 1 min. Pour off as much whey as you can, squeezing it with the back of a spoon. Microwave it again for 35 seconds, and then squeezing the whey out. It is preferable to use your hands, which is where the gloves come in, but it is still to hot for me. I let it cool enough to handle, while still hot, and then proceeded to squeeze and stretch it in on itself. Microwave it again for 35 seconds and stretch and squeeze.
At first it is very rough and not stretchy, but as you knead it in on itself (I can’t really explain this, but there are videos to see it done, check out my list below.) Once it is formed, place it in a bowl of salty room temperature water for 30 minutes to rest. The recipe says to use ice water, but another website said that it makes the cheese rubbery.
What you end up with is a fist-sized ball of mozzarella cheese. This isn’t perfect, but it’s my first time, so I fully expect to get better at it. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work the first or second time you try. Use $1.98 milk so you don’t feel like you wasted your money if it doesn’t work out when you practice. It was so fun!
If your curd turns out to look like this, just try to strain it anyway and microwave it, you may get it to work. This batch actually turned out fine. I even refrigerated it overnight and then microwaved it. I was trying to workout the method, so some of my batches simply turned into ricotta, which is still useable and delicious.
Another great by-product of cheesemaking is whey. Just strain the curds out and use it. I found this helpful link for ways of using whey: farmcurious.com
Here are some links you may find helpful for making cheese
These are useful links about using fig sap for cheesemaking