Photo: litlenemo (flickr)
From a creamy Camembert to a tangy, homemade goat’s milk cheddar, there is nothing like a favorite homemade cheese to make any meal special. If you find that your favorite dishes always seem to include this special ingredient anyway, homemade cheese making will be just for you.
You need not be a world traveler in order to experience some of the finest cheese dining possible. Homemade cheese is a little science and some milk with a hint of daredevil attitude.
An Exact Science
The science behind cheesemaking is exact. There are simple but important steps to making any cheese and even a small mistake can turn a fine food product into am inedible bacterial playground. There are, however, many cheeses that are, in effect, culinary mistakes, but still turn out tasty!
The more comfortable you become making a basic cheese, the better your later efforts and experiments will become. Cheesemaking is well worth it! and the willingness to experiment is the reason you’ll need that daredevil attitude.
One of the first types of cheese I recommend making requires only a gallon of milk, some acid (i.e. vinegar or lemon juice) and something to strain it in. From there, you can create endless tastes, textures and varieties by adding the flavoring of your choosing.
Start With The Basics
Let’s start with the basic cheese.
Queso Blanco, or White Cheese, is a basic recipe that can become either a dessert or a main course, depending on how you continue the recipe once you create the plain cheese. To make your first batch of queso blanco:
- Place one gallon of your preferred milk (I use goat’s milk but cow’s milk is fine too) into a stainless steel pot.
- Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until the milk reaches 183-185 degrees. No thermometer? Heat until milk is very steamy and slightly foamy.
- Pour your acid of choice (vinegar for savory, lemon or lime juice for dessert) into the steaming milk. It should separate immediately into curds and whey. For a gallon of milk, I recommend starting with 1/2 a cup of acid. It will probably not take that much, the warmer the milk, the faster it will separate.
- If you find that you have used the entire 1/2 cup and there is no separation, try heating the milk even more and see if it lets go then.
- Remove from heat, cover and let settle until all whey is at bottom of pot and there is a deep layer of yellowish green whey on top.
- Scoop the whey into a linen towel or cheesecloth lined colander
- Tie corners of cheesecloth or towel together and hang until it stops dripping
- Your cheese will now be a solid mass and is ready to use!
Once you make this easy cheese, you have a world of choices for using it. Some of my favorite ideas are:
- Lemon or Lime juice cheeses are perfect for making dips. Puree cheese in a food processor until thick and creamy. Stir in the zest from your lemon or lime, a hint of honey and you have an elegant dip for fruit. Spread on a quick-bread for a lovely breakfast treat. It also works with your morning bagel!
- Vinegar based cheese can also be pureed in a food processor with garlic/herbs. This is a fantastic filler for stuffed shells, a savory dip for vegetable crackers and a tasty topping for toasted tortillas.
- If you press the strained ball of cheese overnight (I use a clean brick and small saucer to weigh mine down), the next morning you have a much firmer cheese that can be cubed and salted to be used like Feta. It is also delicious crumbled and added to any meat dish. I have stored mine in olive oil and seasonings in the fridge for a delectable addition to an Antipasto platter.
Once you get the cheesemaking bug, you will want to expand your talents and try other simple cheeses.
Buying Cheesemaking Supplies
There are many places that sell cheese making supplies to home cheesemakers, but when buying your cheese supplies, read the listings carefully.
Many times, cheese equipment is designed for dairies and you will never use the perishable items up fast enough to make ordering in large quantities worth your while. By making sure that your order comes from a HOME cheesemaking supplier, you can find any of the big dairy items cut down to quantities that are manageable for home cheesemakers.
You’re not saving any money to have to store huge quantities of cheesemaking cultures in your freezer, just to save a few dollars!