Monday, December 8

Cheese making at home

Cheese making is easier than you think!

I spent last weekend learning methods of making fresh and hard cheese. Not that I took some courses or participated in some farm cheese making schools, I finally found rennet in one of the local Eastern European stores. It was natural process to do: To learn how to make cheese at home. 
I was looking for rennet for a long time. For some reason, it vanished from health food stores for years. Hardly anyone could explain me why. Buying it online didn't impress me, as most of the rennet that was selling out there was not the version of rennet I was looking for - produced natural way from cow's stomach.
In the meantime I decided to forget about it and learn to make a cheese once when I find the real stuff. And I found it ! Finally, from Macedonia (FYR), natural rennet - made from cow's stomach appeared on shelves of the local Balkan food stores here in Vancouver. 
It was a happy moment for me, and my family!

Don't expect to make Gruyere or Rockford with the recipes and methods I will show you here, because you would need some extra bacterial cultures for each of those hard cheeses with unique flavor. Still I can guarantee, that if you decide to make cheese with fallowing instructions, you'll still create great cheese for everyone to enjoy and being very impressed.

You'll see, you'll be back for more of your homemade cheese!

So, the tools that you need are not weird ones, and I believe that almost everyone have them in their own kitchen. You'll make your life a lot easier if you invest in an instant-read thermometer, that's the important one that you might not have. If you decide to make some preserves, jams etc, you will need it!
And now a bit of housekeeping. Make sure everything is clean and possibly sterilized by boiling, from the utensils to the pans, bowls, cloths and your hands (which you don't have to boil , but you do need to give them a very good scrub).
Once you've mastered the curd cheese, you can create a paneer-style cheese, make mozzarella, or feta, or even spreadable chevre-goat cheese.

Any way you decide to use your cheese, will give you amazing pleasure and feeling that it is your own little homemade miracle! 

Tools and tips for making cheese at home:
1 pot and lid
1 colander
1 bowl
1 kitchen thermometer
Large cheese cloth or fine muslin tea towel

Milk plays the most important part in texture and flavor of your cheese. If you can get the list processed (raw or non-homogenized), it will significantly reflects the taste. In all ingredients, I suggest to go for organics That's the best you can get in "western sterilized world", since unpasteurized milk and cheese is not considered safe here (contrary to European countries where consumers can find unpasteurized dairy products and still survive!)


Fresh curd cheese

This isn't ricotta, but it has a similar texture and flavour. It's versatile, and you can use it in both sweet and savoury dishes.


2 litres whole organic milk, either raw or unhomogenised
A pinch of salt
2 tsp rennet (depends on type of rennet – read the label)

Pour the milk into a clean non-reactive saucepan and add the salt. Heat the milk gently to 36-37C, and immediately remove it from the heat. Stir in the rennet shortly until it's well combined, then leave for 15 minutes.
Line a colander with a large piece of muslin or cheese cloth if you found quality one. Use a slotted spoon, gently scoop up the curds that separated from milk in as large pieces as possible, and put into the cloth. Tie up the corners of the muslin and hang to drip above a bowl for about three hours.
Unwrap the cloth, place the cheese in a jar or bowl, cover and store in the fridge. The curd cheese will stay fresh and "sweet" for around two to three days, before turning more tangy. Use within a week.


Making  mozzarella is little bit more difficult than previous cheese. But it's an enjoyable way to spend few hours, and the more often you make it, the better you get at it.

This recipe makes four little balls of mozzarella, about 200g.

1 tsp citric acid
2 litres whole organic milk, raw or unhomogenised (if you can find one)
¼ tsp rennet
2 tbsp salt

Dissolve the citric acid in 60ml of warm water. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and heat gently just not to be cold (about 15C). Add the citric acid, and heat to 30C, stirring gently – it will start to curdle.

Dilute the rennet in a tablespoon of boiled, cooled water and add it immediately to the milk. Warm gently to 37C, stirring from time to time – it will begin to separate. Remove from the heat and leave for about 15 minutes, to let the curd set and separate from the whey more.

Scoop the curds out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place them in a sieve – leave the hot whey in the pan. Press the curds gently to remove some of the whey – but not too much, otherwise the mozzarella will be tough. Add the salt to the whey in the pan and heat to 80C.

Put the curds on a chopping board and cut them into four 2cm-thick slices. Prepare bowl of iced water. One at a time, dip the curds into the hot whey for a minute or so, until they begin to soften and stretch. Remove a piece of curd from the whey with a slotted spoon, dip your hands in the iced water (the cheese will be quite hot) and gently stretch out the cheese, folding it back on itself and working it just until it's stretchy, shiny and smooth. Don't overwork.

Mould cheese into a ball about 3cm wide, then drop it into a bowl of chilled water. Repeat with the remaining curds, refrigerate and use within two days.

Halloumi cheese recipe

You'll need more milk in this recipe, and you’ll get a lot of whey left over after making the cheese. This extra liquid can be salted and used as a brine if you want to store your cheese for longer than three or four days (it’ll resemble more the salty, squeaky shop-bought halloumi).

5l full-fat milk
5 tsp rennet
1 tsp salt for poaching the curds
50 g salt if you want  to brine the cheese
Gradually bring the milk up to 36-37C in a wide-bottomed pan
Add the rennet, stirring gently.
Let the mixture settle for one hour. It will set like a jelly.

Cut the curd into roughly 1in cubes – do this by slicing the mixture in a grid pattern knife, let it settle for half an hour.
Heat for ½ hour entire mixture up to about 37C over a very gentle heat.

Scoop the curds into a sieve lined with cheese cloth or tea towel. Have another container underneath to collect the drained whey.

Leave to drain until firm, about 1-2 hour.

To poach the curds: heat the whey to 85C in a big, add 1 tablespoon of salt.

Cut the cheese on to a board and slice into strips.

Ensure your whey is at 85C and gently place the cheese blocks into the hot whey.

When the cheese pieces rise to the top of the liquid, the cheese is ready. This can take up to 30 minutes.

Place the cheese pieces back to your draining container. It will be quite fragile at first

To brine the cheese add half a litre of the whey to half a litre of boiling water with 100g salt. Cool and pour the cooled salty liquid over the cheese pieces and keep them immersed in the liquid in an airtight container.

This method is different than previous ones, as you don’t need rennet to make this spreadable cheese. Usually the best is always made with goat or sheep’s milk, but you can try it with regular cow’s milk.
Below is basic recipe for this cheese and two variations, great for any party and entertaining – goat spread with figs and walnuts and herbs and garlic.


Goat fresh cheese – Chevre

You’ll need again:
1 pot and lid
1 colander
1 bowl
1 kitchen thermometer

Ingredients for about 280 to 300 gr of spread:

1 liter of goat milk
30 ml apple vinegar or lemon juice

Heat goat milk over low heat, in a saucepan until the mixture reaches 82 ° C.  Add lemon juice (vinegar) in the milk. Cook 2 minutes more on low heat.
Remove the saucepan from heat, cover with a clean cloth and leave the mixture until completely cooled. A separation will occur.
In a deep container, place a strainer and cover it completely with gauzes, cheese cloths or tea towel. Choose the biggest, it is more convenient.

Pour the mixture into the strainer. Cover and allow to drain 2-3 hours in refrigerator. After 2 or 3 hours, remove the cheese form from gauze. Press also a bit on it but too much.
Store in the refrigerator again and let drain 24 hours. After this time, the curd will thicken.


For (approximately) 250g fresh goat:

1 liter of goat milk
6tsp lemon juice (or cider vinegar 3tsp)
1tsp clean salt
few dried figs
6 walnuts

Pour water into your pan and drain it without pressure. It will prevent the milk from sticking.
Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat to 82 ° C.
At this point, turn down the heat to low and pour the vinegar or lemon juice. Mix and even heat 2-3 min over medium heat up to the temperature of 90 ° C.

Remove from heat and cover the pan. Leave to cool at room temperature without touching it. Allow a good half day.

When the preparation is cold, you will get transparent liquid on one side (the whey) and a white mass (curd)on the other.

Prepare a colander and cover with gauze squares. Place the colander over a bowl.

Pour the contents of the pan into the colander.  Let drain completely (remove the whey to as to not touch the colander) for at least 15 hours in the refrigerator.
After this time, the curd has thickened.
Fold the gauze over the curd obtained and squeeze a little bit more to drain as much as you can.

Pour the cheese in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, add the roasted crushed walnuts and chopped figs. Mix with a spoon thoroughly.

Pour the cheese in prepared circle mould and press. Cover with plastic wrap and reserve in refrigerator further 12 hours.

With a sharp knife unmold cheese and serve on the plate.

Goat cheese with herbs & garlic

Ingredients for 2 small cheeses: 

1 liter of goat's milk
30 ml apple vinegar *
½ to 1 clove of garlic (to your taste)
4 or 5 sprigs of parsley
4 or 5 sprigs of chives
Some coarse salt
Pepper (4-5 bays)
cider vinegar or lemon juice

Process is the same like the previous one with figs and walnuts.

In a mortar instead of figs and walnuts, mash the garlic with parsley, chives and a few grains of coarse salt. Add it to the cheese and mix well. 


One more interesting and elaborate cheese recipe, and in this case you’ll need, rennet and yogurt.
Wow, I didn’t know until now that you can make your own feta cheese!

Home made Feta cheese

Ingredients: for 200-300 g of cheese

½ gal (2 liters) goat’s milk (cow or sheep’s milk may be used) – ultra-pasteurized goat’s milk cannot be used.
1 tablespoon live culture: plain yogurt mixed in 1 tbsp milk from above (homemade yogurt works great)
2 tsp rennet
1/2 tsp salt

Brining solution: mix 5 1/2 tablespoons of salt for every 2 cups of fluid of whey

Warm the milk in a pot with a lid to 30 C making sure you stir it occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. Remove the pot from heat, add yogurt-milk mixture, stir well, cover with the lid, and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature. Add rennet, stir quickly to ensure even distribution and cover the pot, and leave overnight. The next morning, the cheese should be set into one large block of curd. Check for a clean break by sticking your finger into the curd and slowly bring the finger out. Your finger should come up relatively clean which means that the cheese has set into one block of curd.

Bad sign is when your finger comes out covered in a thickened dairy product, that means that your cheese has not set completely, and you should leave it for 2 hours more and check again. If you still get a bad break give it 2 more hours and check again.

Now that you have achieved a clean break you have to cut the cheese and this step is done to allow as much whey to separate from the cheese as possible.Cut parallel lines horizontally and vertically, through the entire thickness of the curd Then turn the pot and cut horizontal parallel lines through the entire thickness of the curd.
Allow the curd cubes to set for 15 minutes stirring it occasionally to allow more whey to come out. You will notice that the curds will shrink slightly in size.

Strain the cheese, into lined colander with cheesecloth or a clean fabric. Gently pour the curds and whey in and allow it to strain. Do not discard the whey.
Once most of the whey has been strained collect the 4 corners of your cheesecloth and tie them to form a knot that allows you to suspend the cheesecloth and allow it to strain for 2-4 hours in cold room or fridge.
The next day remove the cheese from the cloth, break up the curds add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Line a mold with holes in the bottom with cheese cloth, place the cheese in, fold over the cheesecloth and place a something heavy on top of the mold and leave overnight, again do this in the fridge

Make the brine solution by adding 5½ tablespoons of salt for every 2 cups of whey and mix it, dissolving as much of the salt as you can.
The next day take the cheese out of the mold and cut into cubes, place in the brine solution and allow to brine in the fridge for 5 days.
Store in the refrigerator. Rinse before use to remove excess salt.

Enjoy your feta cheese!

The milk tip: you cannot use ultra-pasteurized milk, alone, to make feta. Your best choice is raw, unpasteurized milk, sheep would be the tastiest. The second best choice is regular pasteurized cow or goat milk. If the only choice you have is ultra-pasteurized cow’s milk, you must add CaCl2 (calcium chloride) to mask the effects of the ultra-pasteurization process. CaCl2, however will not work with ultra-pasteurized goat’s milk.




Rosemary yogurt cheese
Possibly the simplest cheese you can make. You can use a few gratings of lemon zest instead of the rosemary, or the combination. Makes about 300g.

½ tsp black peppercorns
2lb whole milk organic yogurt
1 tsp salt
1 small sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, for preserving

Crack the pepper in a pestle and mortar until slightly more coarse than if you ground it in a pepper mill. Stir it into the yogurt with the salt and rosemary, then spoon the mix into a cheese cloth or double layer of muslin.

If using muslin, tie the top with kitchen string and tie to the middle of the handle of a wooden spoon. Suspend the bag or muslin over a bowl in the fridge (or in a very cool place) and leave for two days.

Discard the whey. Lightly oil your hands and roll the strained yogurt into balls about 2.5cm in diameter. Place in a sterilised jar and pour over enough oil to cover. These cheese balls will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Eat in salads, or mix with the herbs with finely cracked black pepper and/or fine chilli flakes.

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