In the beginning, God created goats, they produced milk, and that was good!
If you are blessed with the care of a dairy-producing mammal, then YOU can make cheese at home with very little specialized equipment. In particular, soft cheeses – usually high moisture content, relatively quick and are eaten fresh – are an excellent choice for beginners. By simply adding a variety of fresh herbs, spices and other ingredients for flavoring, one simple soft cheese becomes a ‘playground’ for the palate…and experimentation!
You will need simple kitchen equipment and supplies:
Large stainless steel pots/double boiler – to handle at least 1 gallon milk (Note: 1 gallon milk yields about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of soft cheese).
Cheesecloth or buttercloth for draining the cheese
Measuring spoons & cups
Long-handled slotted spoon and ladle
Dairy thermometer (gauged from 20 to 220 degrees F)
An Overview of Cheesemaking Steps:
1. Warming and souring the milk.
2. Adding rennet (a milk-curdling substance).
3. Separating the curds and whey.
4. Molding and pressing the curds.
5. Drying & aging.
Cheesemaking requires an absolutely CLEAN environment & working conditions. Fresh raw milk will need to be pasteurized. To pasteurize raw milk, SLOWLY heat the raw milk in a double boiler until it reaches a uniform temp of 145 F and hold the temp at 145 F for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the hot water into a sink filled with ice water and stir constantly until the temp drops to the required temp (per soft cheese recipe).
Note: Both fromage blanc and chevre are soft cheese requiring a starter culture and share the same cheesemaking process.
Fromage blanc (French for ‘white cheese’ ) using 1 gallon organic cow’s milk -OR- Chevre (French for ‘goat’) using 1 gallon fresh goat’s milk:
Gently cool or heat 1 gallon pasteurized milk to 86 F. Add 1 packet direct set culture (which includes starter and rennet available from a cheese making supplier) to the surface of the milk and allow to rest for 1-2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, gently stir the starter with an up and down motion to evenly distribute. Cover the pot and maintain at a kitchen temp of 72 F for 12 hours. (Note: I begin to make this cheese at night. During the winter, the top of the fridge is usually a few degrees warmer in my kitchen.)
After 12 hours, line a colander with butter muslin and ladle the curd into the colander. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and hang the bag to drain for 6 – 12 hours, or until it reaches the desired consistency. Add salt, herbs, etc to taste and refrigerate in covered container for up to 2 weeks.
Similarly, LEMON CHEESE may be made with 1/2 gallon pasteurized whole milk and the juice of 2-3 fresh lemons. Place the milk in a double boiler and heat the milk to 185-200 F. Add the juice from two lemons and stir well. Remove from the heat, cover and let the milk set for 15 minutes…looking for a clear separation of the curds and whey. If the milk has not yet set, add more of the remaining lemon juice. Pour into a colander lined with butter muslin and drain for 1-2 hours or to desired consistency. Add salt, herbs, etc to taste & refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
How about WHOLE GOAT’S MILK RICOTTA? You’ll need 1 gallon pasteurized goat’s milk and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. In a double boiler, heat the milk to 185 F and remove from heat. While stirring, add the vinegar. Tiny curds will form very quickly. Pour into a colander lined with butter muslin and drain for about 20 minutes. Salt to taste. For a creamier texture…you may add a little heavy cream or milk. Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks. HINT: When a cheese recipe calls for salt, it’s not necessary to use ‘cheese’ salt. As an alternative, use a coarse salt or a flake salt that has NOT been iodized…iodine inhibits the growth of starter bacteria and slows the aging process. Diamond Crystal sells a crystal kosher salt that’s very good.
…or QUESO BLANCO (Spanish for ‘white cheese’) a Latin American specialty made with 1 gallon whole milk and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Sound familiar? Heat to 185 – 190 F, slowly adding the vinegar until the curds separate from the whey, ladel into a lined colander, drain, add salt & seasoning…
YOGURT Cheese can be made by allowing 1 quart of yogurt to come to room temp, pour into a muslin lined colander and drain for 12 hours or to the desired consistency…
Don’t throw out that WHEY! Whey can be used in almost any recipe as a substitute for sour milk or buttermilk. You may store your whey for a week or more and use it to make pancakes, muffins, breads, scones and salad dressing. It may also be turned into a lemonade of sorts with a little added sugar. I have heard of feeding it to pigs, chickens or added to the compost pile!
Have fun and be willing to experiment a little! A couple of cheese making books that I like are: Home CheeseMaking by Ricki Carroll, Goats Produce Too! by Mary Jane Toth and Making Great Cheese by Barbara Ciletti.