Making Cheese: It All Starts Here

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’ve been so intimidated by making cheese. Doesn’t it seem like a complicated, technical nightmare process that only a top chef or rocket scientist could possibly do? I would read and re-read many blogs about it and it still seemed hard to do. Even when everyone raved about how easy it is. I should have trusted them. I know better. In fact, after trying it the first time, I realized that making soy milk with my machine that does all the hard work for me is still more complicated than this is. Ha!

Okie dokie folks, brace yourselves for the best homemade goodie you’ll ever produce out of your own kitchen.

Basic Cheese

1/2 gallon milk (any kind except ultra-pasteurized)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice (vinegar was used in this recipe)

Supplies: cheesecloth, colander, large bowl, thermometer, large pot (no aluminum, preferably stainless) and a large mixing spoon.

Get all your supplies ready to go.

Add the milk and salt to the pot and turn up the heat to a medium or medium high. You want to get it to 180-190 degrees, but you don’t want it to boil. Stir constantly.

Scrape down the sides from time to time so the milk doesn’t burn. Keep checking the tempurature as the milk begins to change form. When it reaches between 180-190 degrees (F) turn it off but leave it on the burner. Quickly stir in the vinegar to blend it well.

You will see the curds and whey separate immediately. Let this mixture sit for a half hour.

In the mean time, fold over the cheesecloth a few times and lay it in the colander, set it on top of the bowl for draining and set aside.

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth and quickly fold up the sides. Squeeze out the excess liquid (as much as you can). But be careful, this baby is still hot!

A fellow blogger suggested hanging up the cheese so that the last bit of liquid can drip out. So that’s what I did and it worked out well. After about 20 – 25 minutes, the dripping stopped. Refrigerate the ball of cheese until chilled.

Halt! Don’t throw out that whey! This stuff is good for you too. Use this over the next couple of days as a substitute for water or milk in your pastry, pancake or bread mix, or when making a cream sauce and more*. (Try this Banana Spice Cake.)

Again, how is it that I was intimidated by this? This cheese is simply wonderful. The texture is softer, like feta cheese. The flavor is mild, like cottage cheese. This can be crumbled onto a salad, at room temperature you can spread it on crackers, or add herbs** to it for an hors d’oeuvres platter. Yum!

*Tip: Why not add the whey to a protein shake? Or use it to boil pasta? Or cook your oatmeal in it, substitute buttermilk for whey when frying chicken, make a marinade, make biscuits, or slow-cook it with sugar and vanilla to make a syrup/sweetener for coffee? When you use it as a soaking water for legumes and grains, it seriously improves digestion. And you can use it as a beauty aide in a facial mask or in bath water. Cool!

**Tip: Stir one of these into the curds (right after pouring it into the colander) for a delicious flavor twist on your cheese: 1) finely chopped chives and garlic, 2) finely diced jalapenos and chopped cilantro, 3) a drizzle of maple syrup and finely chopped walnuts… actually, why don’t you decide because anything goes as long as you like it!

Info: I learned that using vinegar is a shortcut to making cheese and allows you to eat it right away. Most cheese is made with rennet, enzymes that separate the curds and whey and breaks down protein as it ages. Though you can use vinegar for making other cheeses, they probably won’t turn out as well as a traditional rennet cheese will. The process for making cheddar, Jack, mozzarella and Parmesan is usually (but not always) made with rennet. And the process is similar to above but with a couple extra steps. (When I get really brave to try it I’ll let you know.) The different types of cheese come about when you factor in whether or not you press it, how long you age it, whether it’s sheep or cows milk, and more. Mozzarella is made by stretching the cheese, and the literal translation for the word ricotta is “twice cooked” which is exactly how you make ricotta cheese; you just re-cook the whey. (It’s usually made after making a mozzarella first.) Interesting stuff!