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Homemade Cheese

Farmer's cheese/Queso blanco.

Farmer’s cheese/Queso blanco.

Okay, I can’t take credit for inventing this recipe. I can’t even pretend that I improved it or added to it. Cheese making is a science and any additions or alterations to the ratios will result in a ruined batch. Your options during the process are limited to lemon juice or vinegar. But, after the cheese is made, the fun of flavoring begins.

This particular type of cheese is made all over the world and has been for many centuries. It is called farmer’s cheese, queso blanco or cottage cheese (not the type you buy in the store). I’ll provide the ingredient ratios here for the smallest batch possible. I recommend doing twice that size due to the low yield though, and all of the photos are from a double batch.

Ingredients for 1 batch

4 cups milk (not UHT)

1/8 cup lemon juice or vinegar

Before we get into the steps of cheese making, lets talk about the science behind it. (Feel free to skip this part if you aren’t interested. I love science and am forever trying to get others to enjoy it as well.) You must use lemon juice or white distilled vinegar to get the correct ph. I have heard a few people talk about trying wine as their acidifier, but the ph of most wines falls between 3 and 4. If you can find a wine that is close to a ph of 2, it might be worth the experiment. Just don’t expect a perfect batch of cheese. A common misconception is that higher fat milks will yield more cheese. But cheese is not made from milk fat. It is made from casein, a protein found in milk. The addition on the acid causes the proteins to coagulate, or stick together. Higher fat contents will give you a creamier texture though. Also, you can use any kind of dairy milk; cow, sheep, goat, camel. The proteins in coconut, soy, and almond are not the same as those found in dairy milk. Although you can use the same process to coagulate proteins in other milks, the result will be different. For instance, you’ll get tofu from acidifying soy milk. Finally, avoid UHT milk because the extremely high temperatures used to destroy bacteria, also break down the proteins.

Now, on to the process. Once again, don’t be intimidated by the idea of making your own cheese. It’s incredibly easy. Put your pot on your cook top and slowly heat the milk. Be careful to stir occasionally to avoid scorching or burning the milk. It is helpful to use a thermometer to accurately check the temperature of the milk as you heat it. However, you can make a very good estimate of the temperature by the bubbles that form in the pan. When you can see bubbles rising regularly around the edge of the pan, but the milk has not begun to boil, it’s hot enough. This occurs around 180F.

Bubbles show that the milk  is almost hot enough.

Bubbles show that the milk is almost hot enough.

Now turn off the heat and add your acid. It will look like nothing is happening at first and you may be tempted to add more acid. Don’t. The ratio of acid to milk is exact. Any more acid will affect the flavor, but won’t change the formation of cheese. Just slowly stir the milk until the curds begin to form.

Cheese curds forming.

Cheese curds forming.

When the curds start forming, be very careful of how you move the spoon. Try to push all of the curds together instead of stirring and cutting through them. Within a minute or so, the cheese will stop clumping up. You will be left with curds and whey. The whey is a greenish yellow color, so it will be very obvious when the process is finished.

Curds and whey.

Curds and whey.

Your cheese won’t look very appetizing at this point. Though apparently Little Miss Muffet thought this was a tasty treat. You can let the cheese cool for a moment while you set up equipment for the next step. You’ll need a bowl with a strainer on top. In the strainer you need a double layer of cheese cloth if you have it, or a similar piece of cloth or nylon that can strain out the whey without losing any curds. Boil the cloth or nylon for 5 minutes before straining your cheese to kill any bacteria that might be hiding in it.

Bowl, strainer and nylon mesh.

Bowl, strainer and nylon mesh.

Pour your cheese into the cloth and let the whey drip through. When most of the dripping has stopped, pick up the cloth or nylon and close it up at the top. I used a food-grade rubber band. Carefully squeeze the excess whey out of the cheese. It should be firm and be able to hold a shape. At this point it may even be a bit dry. Just add a little whey if you want it creamier. It will also have a slightly sticky texture.

Now comes the fun part: flavoring. Farmer’s cheese is basically flavorless on it’s own. I always add a bit of salt to mine. Some other great add ins are herbs, pepper and spices. This batch I only salted because I used it with a curry. Now, wrap it up in plastic and store it in the fridge, or serve it immediately.

You’ll have noticed that there is a significant amount of leftover whey. From the 8 cups of milk I used for this batch, I got 1 1/2 cups of cheese and 6 1/2 cups of whey. (This is why I don’t recommend making the smallest batch.) Don’t throw out all that whey though. It has a lot of potential uses. You can use it in place of stock, drink it as is, add it to smoothies, etc. I have even heard of people using it to water plants, but I would dilute it with water before doing that. I like to pour mine into resealable bags and store it in the freezer until I have a need for it. Whey is loaded with vitamins and I can always find a place for it in my cooking. If you run an internet search for ways to use whey, you might read about making ricotta from it. That only works if the whey is from making cheese with rennet, not from acid. Sadly, you can’t get any more cheese from this whey.

Bags of whey.

Bags of whey.

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