Making Soft Cheese

29 Jul

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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I have a secret to share, don’t tell anyone… making cheese is easy. It’s true. It always impresses people at parties, not to mention co-workers (who already might think you’re a little off due to your list of unique hobbies…) but in reality, making cheese, SOFT cheese to be precise, is easy. I hope people aren’t less impressed with my culinary abilities after reading how easy this is, but I’m willing to take the chance to share how simple the process really is.

Here, I’ll show you!

I’m not going to write a step-by-step tutorial here, because those do exist, but I will take you through my process and give you the tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Find a great cheese making supply store. You might have one nearby, but if not there are a few online. I have to recommend cheesemaking.com as they are a local company and I’ve gotten many of my supplies and cultures there. I’ve also bought a few items at leeners.com, a site that specials in many fermented food craft supplies (beer, cheese, bread, sake, mustard… the list is very extensive and tempts me into expanding my ever growing list of strange food making hobbies).

2. For the fromage blanc (soft) cheese I’m talking about today you need very little in the way of equipment and supplies:

  • A thermometer – I like one that clips to the side of your pot, so you can continuously see the temperature of your milk. I use a stainless steel dairy thermometer – one I borrow from Jon’s beer brewing supplies, I really should get my own. I did buy myself a more fancy digital one, but it was too annoying to use and seems to have broken after just one use anyway.
  • A large pot that will hold a gallon of milk. This should be a stainless steel pot or an enameled pot – not one coated with teflon or other non-stick material.
  • A gallon of milk. A word about milk: you will make the best cheese if you can get your hands on fresh-from-the-farm raw milk. Milk that has been pasteurized, especially ultra-pasteurized, needs a little help when it comes to forming curds… and the curds are important, that’s your cheese! There is a way around this, a method I’ve used with success – use low-fat pasteurized milk and replace about 1 quart of it with cream. I won’t go into detail about why this is needed, except to say that it IS definitely needed and you should do some more detailed research on milk if you really want to get into cheese making! What a fascinating subject. No, really!
  • Culture! Because we’re making an easy, soft cheese, the culture I’ve used comes with everything you need to create the curds and set the cheese: fromage blanc. You can also use a chevre culture and goat’s milk with the same process I’m outlining here.
  • Butter muslin. This is cheese cloth’s more refined cousin and can be found at either of the cheese making supply websites mentioned above. It’s cheap and re-usable, so it’s worth picking up some. Cheese cloth can be used, but if you’re going with the cheap stuff you can find at the grocery store, be sure use a number of sheets, as that cheese cloth has very large holes that will cause your cheese to drain too fast and you won’t get as great a yeild for the finished product.
  • A large spoon and a large strainer. You’ll see why later.

3. Clean all of your equipment thoroughly. The only bacteria you want growing in your cheese it the culture you add! You can safely clean it by hand with dish soap. Do this with your butter muslin too.

4. Not necessary, but I find it’s a good step to keep things clean: fill your pot with water and bring it to a full boil, drop your butter muslin in and let it boil for 4-5 minutes. Strain the butter muslin and let it drape over a clean bowl. Pour out the boiling water. This just helped you get your pot nice and hot AND clean!

5. Pour the milk into your pot, get the thermometer situated and hopefully attached to the pot in a way that lets you keep a constant eye on the temperature. We are only bringing the milk up to 86 degrees – this happens quickly, especially in an already warm pot. The milk will not boil, won’t even steam, so there is really no way to know that it’s reached the correct temperature without keeping an eye on it! Stir the milk every few minutes to ensure it is heating evenly.

6. Once the milk is 86 degrees, remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle your culture across the top. Let it sit, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Then stir it in with a fork briskly but don’t get the milk frothy or anything.

7. Set it and forget it! Seriously. Put a snug lid on your pot and let it sit at about 72 degrees overnight (or for about 12 hours). Putting the pot in a COMPLETELY COOL oven, that hasn’t been used even remotely recently, with the oven light left on, is normally about this temperature . Or, if it’s warm outside you can just leave the pot on top of your stove like I did.

8. The next morning (or 12 hours later), take the lid off the pot and hopefully the milk looks different. With this type of soft cheese you will basically see a pot full of chunky milk. You can see curds, thickened areas, and whey, the watery areas.  The idea is to separate the curds and whey at this point. This is where your strainer and large spoon come in handy!

Put your strainer overtop of a large pot or bowl, this pot or bowl will catch the whey as it drains, so it should be very large. I’ll explain later why you should save the whey. Line the strainer with your butter muslin and start slowly transferring the curds into the strainer, trying to get all the biggest chunks first. Do not simply pour the pot into your strainer – this results in a mess and disaster, trust me on this one folks.

Once you’e got all of your cheese transferred to your strainer, bring the ends up and tie it in a cute little cheese bundle. Then hang it. There are a lot of ways to do this – I particularly enjoyed the various methods this blogger uses to hang cheese! I personally use kitchen twine to tie off the top of the butter muslin, then form a loop and hang it from a kitchen cabinet handle with a bowl placed beneath, to catch the whey as it drains.

9. Here is where your personal preference comes in. I like my cheese to be as dry as possible, even a bit crumbly (this formage blanc probably would NEVER be crumbly, it’s just too creamy), so I leave it to hang for a good 8-10 hours. A good rule of thumb is to give it at least 6 hours to reach a soft-cheese consistency.

When the cheese has hung around your kitchen long enough (and by the smell you’ll be ready to get this hanger on out of your kitchen and into the fridge!), it’s time to open up the cloth and harvest your that cheese you worked so hard to make!

Scoop out the cheese into a container – I prefer glass, only because plastic containers do not last long in my house. Mix in a little bit of salt to taste and when you store it make sure that there isn’t a lot of air in the container. I like to cover the cheese with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down directly onto the cheese. This ensures the cheese stays fresh longer – mold needs air to grow!

This cheese should last about 2 weeks in the fridge and tastes very good mixed with fresh herbs and black pepper!

Why should you keep the whey? Granted, you can just pour the whey down the drain, and I have done this before, but there are a number of uses for it:

  • You can use it to make ricotta cheese. I have not yet done this, so I don’t have much more to add on this. Hopefully someday soon I will!
  • You can use it as the “water” in any yeast bread recipe – this makes great tasting bread. I have done it before and plan to use all the whey left from this batch of fromage blanc to make two loaves of bread tonight.
  • Use it as water to cook rice or pasta.
  • Season it and use as a marinade for meat.
  • Add it to bean soaking water.
  • You can add a bit of sugar and slowly cook it down into a delicious caramel-like sweet syrup that’s great in coffee or on ice cream – I have not done this yet, nor had I ever heard of it until researching for this post. I am trying this ASAP!
  • You can sprinkle some over your dogs food!
  • You can compost it or pour it right on to certain plants (have not tried, have a black thumb and the compost and any plants growing in our house are Jon’s domain!)

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5 Responses to “Making Soft Cheese”

  1. Jenn V. July 31, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Oh man, Heather, I wish wish wish I had a slightly bigger kitchen…I’d love to make cheese. And Matt loved yours so much….I’d love to do a cheese from local milk comparison – did we tell you that we get all our milk from a local dairy? It’s not raw, but it’s not ultra-pasteurized, either. It is really, really, good, and I don’t usually say that about milk.

    Love this blog. 🙂

    • Harvette August 2, 2010 at 6:57 am #

      you guys should come over some time and we can do a cheese making day! maybe even make some hard cheese!

      also, the first cheddar I made I used milk from a local dairy – the second time I used the Organic Valley and funny enough, much preferred the taste of the second milk. Now, there were a few other things done differently during that process, so I can’t really put my finger on the milk as the main reason for taste difference, but it’s a lot cheaper, so I tried it again. 😉

      Normally I use a local goats milk for my goat’s milk cheese – but I’d love to try with raw milk. There is a farm nearby, but I’ve never made it out during their open hours!

      • Jenn V. August 2, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

        ooh, I love the idea of a cheese making day. Sounds like fall fun to me! I’m also digging the beer bread post…I wonder if I can talk myself/Matt into the counter space for that. We’re Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day folks around here. I suspect I’ll have to cook my way through that before I try something totally new.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Cultured Kitchen « - August 2, 2010

    […] Beer Yeast Bread Starter […]

  2. Buttermilk Cheese Fail « - August 18, 2010

    […] After it hit 180, I took it off the heat and started spooning the curds into cheese cloth I had laid out in a colander. The rest of the process, hanging and draining the whey, was the same as the process I described in my blog post all about making soft cheese. […]

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