If you visit any country in the world, you’ll probably find cheese on the table! Through history, cheese appeared on the scene only after man domesticated animals. It’s not hard to imagine a biblical David with a bag of dried curds hanging from his belt as he delivered cheese and drink to his brothers in the field when he first encountered the giant Goliath!
If you enjoy raising fresh veggies for your table, baking bread or perhaps wine making, you’ll enjoy creating artisan cheese for family and friends – especially if you’re blessed with a few dairy goats!
In the process of cheese making, time, temperature, live cultures and patience becomes our teacher as we wait for the warm curds to form and set. I consider myself a beginner cheese maker and I’ll share my adventures in this craft to hopefully provide a bit of confidence to YOU! I will tell you that I’ve successfully made several soft cheeses (all from my goat’s milk) with minimal investment in cheese making equipment – chevre, ricotta and feta…and yogurt.
Today we’re making chevre. Chevre is the French word for “goat”. It is a soft, creamy cheese made from fresh whole goat’s milk. It makes an excellent spread and may be used as a substitute for cream cheese or ricotta in cooking (but, you’ll want to make ricotta too because it’s also simple to make!). Chevre is also a versatile cheese since you may add many different herbs and spices to it to create so many different variations! TIP: Naturally occurring lipase enzymes in goat’s milk is what gives goat’s milk cheese it’s unique flavor.
The first thing I noticed about my goat’s milk is that it is very white! Did you know: Goat’s milk contains no carotene, so it produces a whiter cheese. Goat’s milk is also naturally homogenized. Goat’s milk has smaller butterfat globules than cow’s milk – making it more easily digested. It also contains about the same butterfat content as cow’s milk.
A few words you should know: curds, whey, cultures, rennet. When we make cheese, the protein solids produce the curd. Every cheese starts with the same basic ingredients: milk, heat, bacteria/culture and rennet. Generally, pasteurized milk is warmed to a temp where ‘good’ bacteria thrive; rennet is added to help with curdling the milk… that is, to acidify the milk. Over time, the curd forms from protein, fats & solids separating the watery liquid called ‘whey’ from the ‘curd’. TIP: The whey may be used as a substitute for buttermilk in recipes and/or for the ‘liquid’ portion in bread making. You can also make cheese from whey, drink it, feed it to your livestock or enrich your compost pile.
Before your begin your cheesemaking adventure, you’ll need some basic cooking equipment. I prefer stainless steel pots, lids and utensils, a good ‘dairy’ thermometer that’s easy to read (20 – 220 degrees F), a slotted spoon, curd knife, whisk, measuring spoons & cups, colander and cheesecloth.
If you have your own fresh goat’s milk, you’ll need to pasteurize it first. Place 1 gallon goat’s milk in a double boiler (put the milk in a smaller pot and put it inside a larger pot filled with water). TIP: Make sure all your equipment is absolutely clean. Hot simmering water works well, but if you use hot soapy water and a weak bleach solution to clean & rinse your cheese making equipment make sure there’s no soap/bleach residue! We don’t want to kill the ‘good’ bacteria!
How to pasteurize raw milk: Slowly heat the milk in a double boiler until it reaches 145 degrees F. Stir occasionally for even heating and don’t read the temp near the bottom of the pan. Hold the temp at 145 degrees F for exactly 30 minutes. Remove the pot of milk from the pot of hot water and place it in the kitchen sink full of ice water. Stir the milk until the milk temp drops to 40 degrees F and refrigerate for future use.
For chevre cheese, we’ll drop the temp to 86 degrees F. Add & mix in 1 packet direct-set chevre starter (purchased in a freeze-dried powdered form from any cheese making supplier). I’ve listed a couple resources in my fav list. Stir gently in an up-and-down motion. Cover the pot with a lid and wrap it with a towel. I place the pot on top of the refrigerator where it’s nice and warm. Allow the milk to sit undisturbed for 12 hours – for ripening.
After 12 hours, the curd has formed and appears yogurt-like. The liquid portion surrounding the curd is the whey.
Using a slotted spoon, gently ladle the curd into a butter muslin or cheesecloth-lined colander. The whey will run off through the muslin into the container below while the curd remains in the muslin to dry. Gather the four corners of the muslin and hang the cheese to ‘dry’ for 6 – 12 hours until desired consistency. Here you see the ladeling process. TIP: You may also use cheese molds for this purpose.
The pic gives you a ‘primitive’ idea on how I place a wooden utensil through a knot in my butter cloth and suspend it between my kitchen cupboard knobs to drain! But, you get the idea…lol
Finally, you may unwrap or un-mold the cheese, add a little salt if you wish to bring out the flavor, along with fresh-picked (or dried) herbs, garlic, spices, etc. HINT: A bit of flake salt is usually added to soft and hard cheese. Salt’s alkaline base slows down and/or halts the acidification (souring) or fermentation process; it removes excess ‘tang’ and adds a little creaminess. It also acts as a preservative. Cheese salt is a coarse, non-iodized flake salt. Diamond Crystal kosher salt is a good substitute. NOTE: One gallon milk produces about 1 -1/2 pounds of chevre and may be stored for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. YUM…enjoy!