So last time, I mused on what to do if life gave you lemons. Basically, you make lemonade.
This week, however, life handed me two half-gallons of about-to-expire organic whole milk for $1.29/each.
So naturally, I made cheese.
For the record, this isn’t an aged cheese. This is a simple soft cheese. You can make it in a matter of minutes, from ingredients most people probably have in their kitchens anyway. And people have been making cheese this way since at least Roman times.
Naturally, you start with milk. Whole milk. Because you want the solids and the fats. Yes, you can make cheese from skim milk. You’ll just get less of it, and it won’t be very creamy. So just make it easy on yourself and start with whole milk. (If you’re feeling really decadent, add some cream to it.)
Now, put the milk in a pot. Wait, not just any pot. It needs to be a non-metallic pot. So something with a ceramic coating, for instance.
Why, you ask? Because we’re going to turn our milk into cheese by adding something acidic to it. And that acid’s going to react with a metal pot, leaching metal into your cheese. Which will make it taste funny. So use a ceramic (or non-stick) lined pot, please.
While you’re at it, throw in a teaspoon or so of salt. You’ll thank me later.
Turn the burner on about medium, and wait. Oh, while you’re waiting, you could get out a thermometer. (I use the infrared thermometer Beloved Husband got me.) You need to be able to measure the temperature of your milk as it heats.
Don’t have a thermometer? That’s okay. You can fake it. See, you’re looking for a temperature of about 105F. Which is about the same temperature as a nice hot tub. Once it gets there, remove it from the heat.
Now that your milk is hot enough, you need to add a coagulating agent. Which, as I mentioned above, is going to be some kind of acid. I generally use either vinegar or lemon juice, in a ratio of about 1/4 cup per each quart of milk. Keep in mind that whatever you use will add at least a little flavor to the finished cheese, so don’t go for a strongly-flavored vinegar. White wine vinegar is a good choice.
Stir this into your milk. Almost instantly, you should see curds start to form. They’ll look like, well, thick, lumpy clots of milk. At the same time, your milk will start to look funny. It’ll look thinner and slightly yellowish. That’s because, with the milk solids separating out, all that’s left is the whey. Yep, you’ve just made curds and whey. If you want to try it, get a spoon and dip a little out. The curds will be very soft at this point. I rather like them that way.
At this point, you have options. If you let your proto-cheese sit for a while, you’ll get firmer curds. If not, your curds will be a little softer. (Romans used to let their cheese sit overnight.)
Now comes the trickiest part: You need some cheesecloth. Why yes, there is a reason it’s called that. But if you can avoid it, don’t buy the really loosely woven stuff you find at the grocery store. Go to one of those fancy kitchen stores, like Williams-Sonoma. The cheesecloth will be well worth the $10 or so you’ll spend. Because the cheap grocery-store stuff is pretty much use-it-once-and-throw-it-away. But the good stuff can be washed and re-used.
(In a pinch, use a clean cotton or linen–NOT terrycloth–towel.)
Okay, now that you’ve got your cheesecloth, use it to line a colander. A big one, just to be on the safe side. Put the colander in the sink. Now carefully — CAREFULLY — pour your curds and whey into the cheesecloth.
The whey will drain away, which is okay (unless you wanted it for something, in which case, put a bowl or pot under your colander). After the majority of the whey is gone, take your cheesecloth by the corners, tie them together, and hang this improvised bag up to drip. (Best if you can hang it over a sink or bowl. Otherwise, things get messy.)
Now leave it there. For at least four hours. The longer you leave it, the firmer your cheese will be. (I like to leave it overnight.)
And that’s it. You’ve just made cheese. It’s excellent served with crackers, or spread on bagels. I like to season mine. In this case, I divided the batch into thirds. One third I left plain, one I seasoned with garlic and black pepper, and one got a liberal helping of dried herbs. I’m looking forward to having some on my morning bagel tomorrow!
By the way, one gallon of milk makes about a pound and a half of cheese.
That was pretty easy, wasn’t it?
What are some other recipes you’ve tried that sounded hard, but ended up being easier than you expected?