An omelet with homemade cheese and chives for breakfast, spinach salad with tomatoes and homemade cheese for lunch, in a pasta sauce, with fruit – homemade cheese is so versatile. It’s also incredibly easy to make with tools and ingredients you already have around the kitchen.
The process of making homemade cheese is fairly consistent no matter the precise recipe.
- Heat the milk. During this step, the milk just looks like milk in a pot.
- Add the acid. At this point the curds begin to form. They are visible in the pot. Don’t progress to the next step unless you see the curds. If the curds don’t form, reheat the milk and add more acid.
- Drain the whey. Pour the curds and whey through a cheesecloth.
You’ll need a pot to heat the milk in, a kitchen thermometer, cheesecloth, and a colander and bowl. Of these, the kitchen thermometer is the only one you might need to buy. You’ll need a thermometer that can distinguish between individual degrees in the 155-190 range. Candy or digital thermometers will do this; most meat thermometers will not.
As for cheesecloth, you’ll need a thin, fine-weave cloth. Most of the cloth sold as cheesecloth is a very loosely woven cloth – good for catching butterflies, but not so good for draining whey from the curds. I use men’s handkerchiefs, since they’re thin and have very little lint. Just hand wash them straight out of the package. They don’t need to be dry before draining the whey, but they shouldn’t be dripping.
Fresh cheese uses only two ingredients: milk and an acid. The milk can be pasteurized or raw, and skim, low-fat, or whole. I find whole milk makes a tastier cheese. I’ve never used ultra-pasteurized milk, but I’ve heard it doesn’t form curds very well. You might want to avoid ultra-pasteurized milk until you have made cheese a few times.
The acid can be just about anything food grade. Regular white vinegar works fine for a plain cheese, but red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and any other vinegar you have in your kitchen will work as well in the same quantities and add some flavor. Citrus fruits are well-known for their acidity.
What to do with the whey?
Whey is the liquid portion of the milk and curds are the solids once they been precipitated out. You will have almost as much whey as the amount of milk you started with. In other words, if you use one quart of milk to make your cheese, you will have very nearly one quart of whey at the end.
Whey is very popular these days as a protein supplement, but the liquid whey you’ll have is not the concentrated form sold in stores. You can drink whey, use it to make other cheeses, or bake bread with it. Pets like it, too, and they always appreciate the treat.
This is a fairly plain cheese and it goes well with wine and crackers. In the photo above, I coated the shaped cheese with sea salt and dried lavender.
1 quart whole milk
2-4 tablespoons white vinegar
Heat the milk over medium heat to 170F (75C), stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot – this takes about five to seven minutes. Take the pot off the heat, stir the milk, and pour in the vinegar one tablespoon at a time. You may not need all the vinegar. The curds form immediately, so if you don’t see more curds forming with the addition of more vinegar, stop. Stir it once more and let the curds set for five minutes.
Put the cheesecloth into a colander and set the colander over a bowl to catch the whey as it drains. Pour everything into the cheesecloth. The whey will still be hot, so just let it drain in the colander until it’s cool enough to touch. Curds and whey smell very inviting to dogs, so if you have a dog with poor impulse control, you might want to stay in the kitchen or put the bowl in the fridge. More than once I’ve caught my lab with his nose in the sink, lapping up my cheese.
After about five minutes of draining the whey, stir in any herbs or salt you might want to include. If this is your first time making the cheese, you might want to try it without flavors. You can coat the cheese with salt and herbs after you’re done setting it. If you do want to add flavors, try ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon of an herb or two.
You can either let the whey continue to drain until the curds are at the consistency you want, or you can squeeze the whey out after it cools a bit. Shape your cheese and coat it with salt or herbs, if you want. Eat. You can also save it for a few days in the refrigerator, but it’s better the fresher it is.
Tangerine Cheese – makes about 8 ounces
Tangerine cheese can be sweet or sour, depending on the sweetness or sourness of the tangerines you juice. Most tangerines in the stores are very sweet, so this makes a nice dessert cheese or afternoon snack. Eat it by itself, add tangerine slices and mix in for more tangerine flavor, or use it as a filling in crepes or a pastry.
1 quart whole milk
1 cup tangerine juice
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Heat the milk over medium heat to 170F (75C), stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot – this takes about five to seven minutes. Take the pot off the heat, stir the milk, and pour in the tangerine juice.
The milk will bubble just a little and curds should start to form almost immediately. Stir once more to make sure the tangerine juice is evenly distributed throughout the milk. Let the curds set for five minutes. Put the cheesecloth into a colander and set the colander over a bowl to catch the whey as it drains. Pour everything into the cheesecloth.
The whey will still be hot, so just let it drain in the colander until it’s cool enough to touch. You can either let the whey continue to drain until the curds are at the consistency you want, or you can squeeze the whey out after it cools a bit. When the curds are about the consistency of cottage cheese, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and stir.
Eat it as is or add some tangerine slices. You can also save it for a few days in the refrigerator. If you do save it, add the sugar before you refrigerate and wait to add the tangerine slices until you are ready to eat.
Once you’ve got these recipes down pat, you might try making homemade mozzarella cheese.