Thursday, February 14, 2013
This past Sunday, The Scientist and I decided to tackle a kitchen experiment we've been wanting to do for awhile - make our own cheese! We knew that making a fresh cheese (ricotta, farmer's cheese, etc) was relatively easy, but we didn't realize how easy. All you need is two key ingredients, a large pot, a thermometer, and some cheesecloth or something similar.
The two ingredients to use are milk (obviously) and citric or acetic acid (citrus juice or vinegar, respectively). Simply put, the acid is added to the milk as it's heated to separate the curds (the fat, basically) from the whey (almost pure protein, plus all the water that milk contains).
1 Gallon whole milk - You could use 2% or even 1%, but as with any food, fat adds flavor! Go with the whole milk! We bought pasteurized milk, which is fine for this kind of cheese. But for aged cheese, raw, unpasteurized milk is best because of all that wonderful bacteria.
~1/8 Cup white wine vinegar - Any vinegar is fine. We have a wide variety of vinegars in our kitchen and just went with the first one we saw. If you want to use citric acid, most recipes I've seen call for lemon juice. Interestingly enough, though, many paneer recipes I've seen call for lime juice. For the most part I don't think it makes a difference which type of acid you use, but there may be some subtleties that someone with a more refined cheese palate could detect when different acids are used.
Before you start making the cheese, you'll want to prepare a straining apparatus. We placed a large bowl in the kitchen sink and set a colander lined with a few layers of cheesecloth inside the large bowl (basically resting on the rim of the bowl).
Now, to make the cheese:
STEP ONE (you can have lots of fun...)
Pour full gallon of milk into large pot and turn stove onto medium.
STEP TWO (there's so much we can do!)
As the milk begins to heat up, slowly add the acid. You can add it all at once, or add a bit here and there as the milk gets warmer. It really doesn't matter! We added most of it right away and the milk began separating almost immediately.
STEP THREE (It's just you and me)
Continue to heat, stirring regularly, until thermometer reads between 180-185 F. We just used our basic meat thermometer (see photo above). The curds and whey* will continue to separate and you'll get something that looks like this:
*Sidebar - Can someone please explain to me why Little Miss Muffet was eating her curds *and* whey? I mean, I get that the whey is some good protein but man, that's some nasty looking stuff. Also, what the fuck is a tuffet?
STEP FOUR (I can give you more...)
Once you've reached the proper temperature, remove from heat and slowly pour the mixture into your straining set-up. This should be a two person process. It could probably be done alone, but it's hot and stinky and messy (TWSS) so having two people will make this process a bit easier.
The cheesecloth will catch the curds and the whey will drain into the large bowl. I'm sure there are many uses for the whey, but I'm here to tell you about the curds. The beautiful, glorious curds! If you want to know about whey, you can ask Miss Muffet.
Once you've poured all the contents from the pot, you can wrap up all the curds in the cheesecloth and make what basically looks like a giant ball sack. You're welcome.
Our final product looked like this (I say "looked" because the final product is gone. Consumed. Down the hatch. EATEN) :
It was more dry than we wanted, but still supremely delicious! The texture was soft, but crumbly (think of a Feta or Cotija) and the flavor was mild.We ate some of it on Sunday with crackers and dried fruit. On Monday, The Scientist used the rest of it to make filling for blintzes. Yummy!
To be clear, there is a huge difference between fresh cheese and aged cheese. Even your most basic cheddar requires much more time (a sharp cheddar has to age for at least one year) and work than a fresh cheese like we made. We basically made a ricotta. It could be used in lasagna, cheesecake, or even as a cream cheese type spread. Now that we know how easy it is, we hope to make it at least once a month or often enough to have a regular supply in the fridge.
What's your favorite kind of cheese? Have you ever made cheese at home?
I am terrible at writing out recipes. If you want to try this yourself but are totally confused by my instructions, please let me know in the comments or via email seattlestevie at gmail dot com
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