To kick off 2012 I made seven food wishes, remember? Among those was my wish for more chic snacks with fewer ingredients. Think toasts with great bleu cheese and a honey drizzle or tomato basil jam poured over fresh local mozzarella. What could get better than those simple snacks including cheese made in our own kitchens? Amy McCoy makes us giggle with her sometimes stinky, but very satisfying foray into cheese making at home. We’d love to hear about your own adventures with cheese. — Maggie
My husband has long wanted to make a proper, stinky cheese at home. Nearly a decade ago, we would make early Saturday morning treks to a farm a half-hour from our house in order to purchase two gallons of raw milk.
We were so enthusiastic as novice cheese makers that we decided to start with a complicated Gouda-style cheese – a cheese that required aging for months in a small refrigerator I had purchased as a birthday gift for my husband.
After those months of aging, timing the flipping of the cheese, gazing upon it proudly and expectantly, we were finally able to unleash it from its wax jacket, digging in, to sample its innocence (a term gleaned from a cheese class — it makes sense if you’re totally geek-ed out on cheese like me). We tasted, savoring the experience, the aroma, the texture, and…the overwhelming sensation of eating a salt bomb.
We unceremoniously tossed what was supposed to be our prized Gouda into the wastebasket .
From this sad starting point, we decided to try our hands at fresh mozzarella. Oh, mia amica, how we stumbled here too, ending up with a rubbery ball of cheese, rather than the succulent mozzarella we had so hoped to create.
We then scaled back even further on difficulty and found that not only were we good at making cream cheese, we were, in fact, masters of it. Our homemade roasted garlic cream cheese was clamored for at the holidays.
So my cheese making advice is this: start small; start easy. In truth, I’d like to make a Robiola Tre Latte. Like, tomorrow. But I simply don’t have the skills. I am, however, learning.
So how better for you to start than with Queso Blanco, a simple cheese that is similar to farmers’ cheese. The recipe below is adapted from Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin, the book that we now consult for all our cheese making endeavors.
Homemade Queso Blanco
Adapted from Artisan Cheese Making at Home
- 1 gallon of whole pasteurized milk
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- Equipment you will need is also at a minimum: a large non-reactive stockpot, a large square of butter muslin, a digital thermometer (to be uber-accurate), a non-reactive colander, and a pot large enough to catch the whey in. Please be sure to sterilize your gear before proceeding. See notes on sterilization below.
- Pour the milk into the stockpot, and warm it gradually over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk has reached 195 degrees Fahrenheit. This process took 40 minutes at my house.
- Once the milk has reached 195 °F, pour in the vinegar, whisking until it is incorporated into the milk. (The acid in the vinegar causes the milk solids, the curds, to separate from the whey, which is a day-glo yellow-green colored liquid, and is apparently quite appealing to pigs, as Mary Karlin informs us that feeding whey to pigs will make them really love you. This is a prospect I found rather exciting, as our pigs already love me quite a bit, given that I am the one to feed them, so an extra pig treat and extra love only sweetened the cheese making pot.)
- Remove the stockpot from the heat, cover it, and let it stand for 10 minutes.
- Dampen your butter muslin, line your colander with it, and place the colander over a large pot in which to catch the whey.
- Ladle the curds and whey into the butter muslin. When you have about ¼ of the curds in the colander, sprinkle a quarter of the salt over the surface, then continue adding curds until another quarter of the curds have been added, then sprinkle a quarter of the salt over that, and continue until you have no more curds, and no more salt.
- Tie the butter muslin into a hobo pack by taking two opposite corners and tying them in a knot, then take the remaining two opposite corners and tie them in a knot, then secure the pack to a spoon, and suspend over a bowl to catch the remaining whey. (Feed the whey to your pigs, and watch them go nuts lapping it all up. They probably do love you more, if only for the moment.)
- Let the cheese drain for one hour, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate it, or start eating it immediately. Your batch will yield approximately one pound of cheese, which happens to be quite delectable with freshly cracked black pepper and a drizzle of honey.
If you don’t share with a crowd, your fresh queso blanco will last up to one week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
*In order to sterilize your equipment, first be sure that your kitchen is clean, free of clutter, and that your pets are not hanging around waiting for you to make cheese in their presence. Wash your equipment in hot, soapy water and rinse it well. Mary Karlin recommends using a solution of 2 tablespoons household bleach to 1 gallon of water, washing down your work surfaces, and your equipment with it, then allowing your equipment to air dry on a rack set on a sheet pan, rather than your dish drainer so as to avoid contact with bacteria. There is a lot more detail on this in Artisan Cheese Making at Home, which I recommend you read through before attempting to make your own cheese.
All photos styled and photographed by Amy McCoy.
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