Cheese as You Please
Learn how to whip up simple cheeses at home.
I love everything about cheese: Carving delicious mild cheddar and enjoying it with crackers. Eating hard, tangy Parmesan in thin, block-devouring shavings. Melting an assortment of cheeses on top of my favorite savory dishes. Incorporating my own flavor twists with herbs and spices in my homemade cheeses.
I imagine there are kindred spirits out there, but to the majority of people, making your own cheese sounds complicated. Most cheeses, including nearly all of the classic varieties, are produced with circumstances or tools that are tricky to replicate in a typical kitchen. For instance, cheddar requires a cave-style curing area that maintains a constant temperature, while mozzarella needs hand-stretching to come out smooth. Many living cultures also aid in development and flavor in more complex cheeses.
Though making cheese can be incredibly complicated, you’ll find that the cheeses in this article are exceptionally simple, with minimal hands-on time and simple tools and ingredients. The only specialty equipment you’ll need is a kitchen thermometer.
So, if you’re ready to discover simple cheese making in the comfort of your own home, you’re in the right place. You’ll love these cheeses, even though they won’t be the melty, stringy types. Remember that this is just the first step on your cheese-making journey. Once you’re acquainted with the process of transforming milk into cheese, the sky’s the limit!
Starting with the Basics
We’ll be focusing on two great starter cheeses in this article — ricotta and queso blanco — and recipes to use them in. They’re both fresh cheeses, rather than aged. They’re also classified as acid cheeses, meaning that some type of acid — most often vinegar — is used to curdle the milk, separating the milk solids from the whey. When the acid has done its work, you drain the whey from the small curds and you’re left with cheese. This process is called coagulating. You’ll only need to assemble basic items that are likely already in your kitchen.
- Milk. Farm-fresh milk is ideal, but these cheeses can also be produced satisfactorily with commercial whole milk. If you’re using local milk, be sure to give it a taste test before making cheese; if it isn’t quite fresh or has any disagreeable flavor, it generally won’t improve with heat.
- Acid. I prefer to use apple cider vinegar to do the coagulating. Lemon juice or a different type of vinegar will also work. The flavor will only vary slightly.
- Salt. Sea salt or coarsely ground salt is best.
- Dried herbs. If desired, you can also include dried herbs for added flavor, according to your personal palate and creativity level.
The equipment you’ll need to make cheese is straightforward and available in most well-equipped home kitchens:
- Large stainless steel stockpot
- Long-handled stainless steel or wooden spoon
- Cheesecloth or a large, open-weave towel
- Kitchen thermometer (one with a clip is ideal)
- Large bowl for the finished cheese
Whole Goat’s Milk Ricotta Cheese
This versatile cheese can also easily be made with cow’s milk, but you can’t beat the creamy flavor of fresh, whole goat’s milk ricotta. This is an ideal recipe to have on hand if you have a dairy animal and are inundated with milk. You can make a big batch, parcel it out into 1- or 2-cup portions in sandwich bags, and store them in the freezer. The thawed cheese will cook just as well as fresh cheese.
Yields about 2-1/4 pounds of cheese, plus 3/4 gallon of whey.
- 1 gallon fresh goat’s milk
- 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1.Pour the milk into a stainless steel stockpot and begin heating it on the stove over medium-low to medium heat, stirring occasionally with a long-handled stainless steel or wooden spoon. It should gradually reach 206 degrees Fahrenheit, which could take more than an hour if you begin with cold milk.
2.While the milk is heating, set the colander in the sink and drape the cheesecloth over it. If you want to catch the whey to use in other projects, place a big bowl under the colander.
3.Clip a thermometer to the inside of the pot to monitor the milk’s temperature as it heats. Be patient; don’t crank up the heat to hurry things along. Stir often, and wait for the right temperature.
4. a-b. When the milk has reached 206 degrees and looks frothy on top, briskly stir in the vinegar. Soon, small curds that look like little clumps of cheese will form. This is coagulation.
5. a-b. Dump the contents of the stockpot into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth together and gently pull it up to let the whey drain from the curds. Drain for about 60 seconds, or until the majority of the whey is separated, then dump the curds into a clean bowl. Some whey should remain in the curds; this is essential for a nice, moist ricotta.
6. a-c. Add the butter and baking soda, and stir until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy. Use immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Queso blanco is a great cheese to make once you’ve conquered ricotta because it’s made in a similar fashion, but is formed and will hold its shape.
This fun, sliceable soft cheese can be cut into cubes and mixed into dishes, or sliced and enjoyed on top of crackers. Stir in your favorite herbs and seasonings with the salt to create a completely different look and taste.
Yields about 1-1⁄3 pounds.
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Pour the milk into a stainless steel stockpot and begin heating it on the stove over medium-low to medium heat, stirring occasionally with a long-handled stainless steel or wooden spoon. It should gradually reach 206 degrees Fahrenheit, which could take more than an hour if you begin with cold milk.
- While the milk is heating, set the colander in the sink and drape the cheesecloth over it. If you want to catch the whey to use in other projects, place a large bowl under the colander.
- Clip a thermometer to the inside of the pot to monitor the milk’s temperature as it heats. Be patient; don’t crank up the heat to hurry things along. Stir often, and wait for the right temperature.
- When the milk has reached 206 degrees and looks frothy on top, add the vinegar and stir briskly. Soon, small curds that look like little clumps of cheese will form. This is coagulation.
- Dump the contents of the stockpot into the cheesecloth-lined colander, and then stir in the salt. Gather up the four corners of the cheesecloth and tie them into a sturdy knot. Gently press the bagged cheese with your hand to release some of the excess whey. This will result in a firmer cheese.
- Let the cheese drain for several hours in the refrigerator, until whey no longer drips from it. To drain, slip the handle of a wooden spoon under the knot on the cheesecloth, and then suspend the cheese by setting the spoon over the mouth of a large bowl or pitcher.
- After the cheese has finished draining, untie the knot and release the solid ball of cheese. Use immediately, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
While technically not a cheese, yogurt cheese is similar to cream cheese, and it’s easy to make. This can be made with homemade or store-bought yogurt. The tangy flavor is tasty when mixed into desserts.
Yields about 1 cup, depending on type of yogurt used.
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- Salt, to taste
- Set a clean coffee filter inside a mesh strainer. Pour the yogurt into the coffee filter and stir in salt, if using. Place strainer atop a bowl to catch liquid, and move to a refrigerator for overnight, or until whey stops draining. Enjoy it fresh, or use it in recipes as you would cream cheese.
Now you have three easy cheeses under your belt! Of course, you could eat them just as they are, but why not go a step further and incorporate them into some specialty dishes? Use your fresh cheeses in a few of my favorite recipes.
More Simple Cheese Recipes:
Maggie Bullington lives in rural Alabama with her family of homesteaders. She gardens, assists with several home businesses, and tries new recipes with farm-fresh ingredients. Follow Maggie at TinyRanch.
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