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Johns Hopkins students learn the science behind party foods

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Posted at 1:13 PM, Jan 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-25 18:04:59-05

Drawing on a black board in a classroom of a dozen or so silent Johns Hopkins students, Graduate Student Ben Crane taught his scholars the science behind party foods.

"I really enjoy teaching as a concept, and I also enjoy fermented foods and making them. So I like to put something I'm interested in, with a skill I like to practice," Crane said this is his second time teaching the course.

At Johns Hopkins students are able to pitch class ideas, and his was approved, teaching the chemistry behind making things like beer, wine and cheese.

The class isn't your stereotypical lecture.

"Today we're going to do cheese so that'll be interesting," Sophomore Celine Arpornsuksant said.

Her father went to French Pastry School and opened up a French patisserie. "I basically grew up with my dad cooking, my mom doesn't cook, she's like, she works at the front, so my dad cooks and I gew up with like different foods. Whenever he tries new foods, I try it also,"  Arpornsuksant said.

In the class, students will get hands on experience making these foods. Tuesday, was mozzarella day.

Crane took a standard store brand gallon of milk, poured it into a pot on a burner and cranked up the heat. After adding water, citric acid and rennet, the mixture was set to work.

The legend behind making cheese is that an Arab nomad was on a long journey on horseback and in his saddlebag made of sheep's stomach was milk. After hours of traveling in the hot sun, he noticed the milk separated into a watery substance and harder squishy substance. That is what we know now as whey and cheese curds.

The way it works, is the acid and enzymes (rennet) in the stomach, break chemical bonds in the milk causing fat to glob together and water to be pushed out.

Students were encouraged to come closer to watch the process. After heating for about 7 minutes, the students put on gloves and poked the substance, saying it was like putty. 

Crane handed them a knife and they cut the cheese, allowing the whey to ooze out 

As part of an experiment, they microwaved half of the curds, and heated the other half to a different temperature.

The students then took the curds and kneaded them into balls to strengthen the cheese.

Then! Came the taste test!

"Tastes like mozzarella!" One student said, "like chunky string cheese," another said.

Students agreed one of the test cheeses tasted like milk, and smelled like sour milk. The lesson was something Freshman Ronan Perry says he'll bring home to his folks and he wasn't worried about trying the homemade cheese.

"When you make fermented items, you can't be scared of what's going to turn out, so I wasn't too scared, I was actually really excited because it's cool, I've never made cheese before, I didn't really know you could make it, and I thought it turned out pretty well for what we did in a half an hour," Perry said.

His father's hobby is wine making, and the family has made home-made sourdough bread for events and to give away to family and their church. That's what made him interested in this class.

"It revealed the underlying causes, the science and kind of shares these fun facts and little anecdotes, and you also learn how to like make cheese so now you can go home and make cheese and maybe it's not the best cheese but it's fun to make it," Perry said.

Crane said this will probably be the last year for the two week course, as he will be graduating from the university, that is unless another grad student or professor picks it up.