Cheesemaking!

I’ve done a few experiments lately with cheesemaking.  It’s pretty involved, so I’d definitely recommend doing some internet research if you’re inclined to try, but I’ve included some basic info and pictures here – mostly because I’m excited about it.

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Above is my first attempt at making an aged cheese – this is what it looked like after pressing, but before aging and developing a rind.  It still needs a week or two of aging before I cut it open, but I’ll post pictures if it turns out to be edible.

This cheese is based on David Fankhauser’s recipe for basic cheese, which you can find here, along with a ton of other cheesemaking info: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Cheese/Cheese98.htm

The first step was to assemble my ingredients and supplies (pictured here):

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– 1 gallon fresh full fat cow’s milk (I used Organic Valley for this batch)
– 3 tbsp plain yogurt (I used Brown Cow brand)
– 17 drops of vegetable rennet (purchased at a local home-brewing store)

That’s all for ingredients.  Here are the supplies:

– probe thermometer
– large vessel in which to heat milk (I’ve used both a stock pot and slow cooker, and generally prefer the latter)
– long knife (to cut curds)
– strainer
– cheesecloth or cotton handkerchief
– large tin can with both ends removed (to use as McGuiver style homemade cheese press)
– something heavy (I used a cast iron dutch oven)

The process started the night before I made the cheese.  I brought the milk to room temperature, and mixed in the yogurt.  Leaving it overnight gives the yogurt bacteria time to munch up the lactose, and excrete lactic acid.  You can skip this step by just adding something acidic right before you add the rennet (I’ve done that with mozzarella, and it turns out fine), but I wanted to try this method.

The next morning, I warmed the milk up to 88 degrees and added the rennet (mixed with a little cold water).  This was left to sit for 2 hours to let the rennet do its thing.

One thing I’ll note, when I’ve made simpler cheeses in the past, I just heat the milk to a higher temperature, which causes the rennet to work faster.  If the milk gets to 100 degrees or so, it only takes about 10 minutes for the rennet to work.  Again, I chose the slow route to see how it would work.

After 2 hours, the milk had set to the consistency of a custard.  I used the knife to make a bunch of parallel cuts through the custardy milk, cutting at a 45 degree angle so I ended up with cubes about 1/2 inch each.  Then I raised the temperature back up to about 95, and kept it there for 15 minutes, stirring up the curds by hand to keep them from getting pulverized.  The heat caused the curds to contract.  Here’s how it looked part way through:

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You can see that a lot of the curds broke into bits, but some of them were still pretty sizable.

After the curds had cooked down fairly well, I strained out the whey (catching it in another container, so I could use it later for ricotta).  The curds were big enough that I could use a regular strainer without lining it with cheesecloth.

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This is about a pound and a half of curds.  If I wanted to keep it as cottage cheese, I’d mix in some salt and just be done at this point.  The weight of the cheese itself will keep pressing out whey for a little while after you strain it, which you can either pour off or mix in with the curds to make it more like packaged cottage cheese.  You can also soak the curds in a mixture of whey and salt, which will make it into queso fresco (and ultimately feta, though mine hasn’t reached that status yet).

Instead, I went on with my experiment.  I put my metal tube (formerly a can of crushed tomatoes) into a pyrex dish, and lined it with some cheesecloth (I would have used a handkerchief if I’d had one, as I had to use several layers of cheesecloth to make sure the curds wouldn’t squish through the loose mesh).  I poured off as much whey as I could, then scooped the curds into the can, which was just barely big enough.  Then I set the metal lid from the can on top, put a can of fava beans on top of that, and topped it with a cast iron skillet.  It looked a little dangerous:

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As you can see, the whey was pressed out on the bottom, so it’s definitely important to do this in a sink or a container.  I had to keep an eye on my press, as it tended to get wobbly as the cheese sank more slowly on one side than the other.  After about 12 hours of occasional corrections, I pulled it out (the result was the first picture posted above), wrapped it in cheesecloth, and set it in the fridge.  It’s been sitting for 10 days now, and has developed a pale yellow rind.  I actually made two of these, so I can age one longer and compare them.  I’m pretty excited about it.

In the meantime, here’s a cheese project that I was able to enjoy today – roasted beets with balsalmic vinegar and homemade queso fresco (per the instructions above).  Yum.

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