Saturday, January 8, 2011

So You Want to Be A Cheese Maker: Part One

Cheese making: The Basics (Part One)

So you want to make cheese, do you? Great! I think it is a fine hobby for me. It is a “slow food” endeavor, eliminating additives and preservatives from your diet. Using local dairy resources, you get the advantage of fresh and minimally transported milk. You get to know what you are eating, and have the satisfaction of saying it is home made. Best of all, it tastes good.

A word of warning:  Cheese making can be addictive. A large portion of your kitchen can be over run with pots, colanders, molds, cheese press and a variety of other tools of the trade. Not to mention the cheese “cave”. Your family will have to put up with cheese drying on the kitchen table. The crock pot becomes a wax pot. Oh, and did I mention the smell of fresh cheese permeates the entire house as you spend an entire day making a batch of fresh Feta.

My "Corner" of the Kitchen
I am very thankful that I have a very understanding wife. My “little” hobby has taken up half of one wall of the kitchen and the kitchen table is usually half to three quarters full of my cheese making “mess”. In the past she has put up with my plant hobby, taking over one corner of the living room. She suffered in silence as I pursued the “dangerous” sport of hang gliding. At least with cheese making, my worst mistakes can be sent down the garbage disposal.

So, how do you get started? My quick answer is: It depends. Mostly, it depends on you. What kinds of cheese do you like and want to make? How much patience do you have, both in the preparation time and the aging process? What sources of milk do you have? How much money you have to spend on your new hobby?

There are three basic types of cheeses. The soft cheese, the hard cheese, and the mold ripened cheese. A fourth category would be “other dairy products”. While not cheeses, they are made from milk and have similar techniques to making soft cheeses.

Now, If you are ready to try something fairly quick and easy, get a gallon of whole milk and ¼ cup of white vinegar.

My strainer/stirrer
This is a simple recipe to make Queso Blanco Cheese. Queso Blanco is similar to Indian Panir cheese and makes a great cheese for cooking. Many South American recipes use Queso Blanco. It is fairly crumbly when cold or room temperature but becomes creamy when heated. Some say it is a good substitute for Monterrey Jack.

You will need a pot big enough for a gallon of milk, a colander (not aluminum), some butter muslin or a piece of cloth with a 130 or less thread count, cut to the size of a cloth dinner napkin, a thermometer that will read from 40F to at least 200F. I use a CDN DTQ450x quick read thermometer I got from for $14. It reads from -40 to 450F. You will also need a long spoon or skimmer to stir the milk. Remember that aluminum reacts with the acid in the vinegar and is not a good choice for cheese making utensils.

Curds forming
Heat the milk to 185-190F stirring to keep the milk from scorching. Or use a double boiler although it will take longer to heat it won’t scorch the milk.
Then add the vinegar slowly while stirring constantly
You should notice that the milk has begun to curdle at this time.
Continue stirring for 15 minutes.
Line a colander with either butter muslin or the 100-130 thread count piece of sheet.
Transfer the curds to the colander.
Allow the curds to cool for 20-25 minutes.
Tie the corners of the cloth together and hang the curds over the sink or a pot and let it drain until it stops draining. (2-6 hours)
Take it out of the cloth
You can break the cheese apart and lightly salt to taste. (or don’t salt at all if that is your preference. Taste it before salting.)

1lb 6oz Queso Blanco
Draining the curds
Congratulations, you are now a cheese maker!!!

Next Week “Soft Cheese”

Please read about milk for cheese making for information about "good milk".

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