But great power comes with great responsibility. So it’s my duty to take this knowledge and pass it along to the unlearned, so we can all bask in the glory that is cheese. Yummy, custom-flavored, homemade cheese.
Soft cheeses are deceivingly simple to make. The cheeses I made — fromage blanc (creamy goat cheese) and ricotta — used only three ingredients: milk, citric acid and salt. You’ll also need a thermometer (candy should work fine) and a cheese cloth. If you don’t have all these on hand — and I don’t know many people who keep citric acid in their pantry — don’t worry. You can make ricotta using a different acid, like lemon juice or vinegar. Or you can do what I did and order a DIY goat cheese kit from Belle Chevre in Elkmont.
This Alabama fromagerie has produced a variety of internationally acclaimed chevres (goat cheeses), and its cheeses have won numerous awards. The kit includes everything you need to get started, except the milk: bags of citric acid and cheese salt, a cheese cloth and a thermometer. Goat milk is available in the dairy section at many grocers, including Walmart. The kit costs $27.95 and is available at www.bellechevre.com.
One note: the instructions from Belle Chevre specifically say to use pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, milk. Ultra-pasteurized milk was the only kind available to me, and it still made cheese.
8 cups milk (I used whole, but others will work as well)
1⁄2 teaspoon citric acid (or 1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or 3 tablespoons white vinegar)
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
A note: Technically, this isn’t really ricotta. Ricotta means “re-cooked” and is traditionally made from the leftover whey from making another cheese, such as mozzarella. But it takes a whole lot of whey to make a small batch of ricotta, and this method yields similar results. If left to drain for a long time and pressed, it becomes an Indian cheese known as paneer.
The process is similar to making the goat cheese.
In a non-reactive pot, combine milk, acid (dissolve citric acid in some water first) and salt. Curds will quickly begin to appear.
Heat the mixture to 195 degrees over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom. It does not need to be stirred continuously, like the goat milk does. Once the temperature reaches 195, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
Strain the cheese through a cheese cloth using the same method as with the goat cheese.
Let it drain for about 20 minutes to get a spreadable ricotta, similar to the consistency you’d get at the grocery store. Use in lasagnas, stuffed shells or as a spread, seasoned however you wish.
1 quart goat milk
1⁄2 teaspoon citric acid
1/4 cup water
1⁄2 teaspoon cheese salt (or to taste)
Mix the citric acid in about 1⁄4 cup water. In a non-reactive pot (clay, enamel, glass, plastic or stainless steel), combine the milk and citric acid to 185 degrees over medium heat, stirring continuously (this can take awhile — up to 30 minutes).
Once it reaches 185 degrees, remove from heat and allow to sit undisturbed for 15 minutes.
Lay the cheese cloth over a bowl and pour in the milk mixture. The whey will strain through and the curds will catch in the towel.
Tie the ends of the towel together into a bag and hang somewhere it can strain for at least two hours (the kitchen faucet works well for this).
Letting the cheese hang for a longer time makes a denser cheese, which can be rolled into a log. I left mine for about two hours and got a nice creamy cheese.
Before taking the cheese out of the cloth, squeeze it to extract more liquid.
Transfer the cheese to a bowl and season with the cheese salt to taste.
To shape into a log, simply place on a clean surface and begin to roll it out like a Play-Doh snake.
You can flavor the cheese any way you wish. Try chopped chives, salt and pepper. Spread that on slice of toasted baguette, top it with sauteed spring onions and, yep, you’ve suddenly become a superhero.
Or mix a cup of goat cheese with two tablespoons of honey for a delectable breakfast cheese.
Even more recipes are in the new Belle Chevre cookbook, “Tasia’s Table: Cooking with the Artisan Cheesemaker at Belle Chevre.”
Don’t throw it a-whey!
When you add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to milk, you change the shape of the casein, a protein. In its changed state, casein coagulates to form solid curds. Heat helps separate the curds from the liquid whey.
Curds contain most of the fat, casein protein and vitamin A of the original milk. But whey has important nutrients, too. Whey is 93 percent water, but it also contains whey proteins, some minerals and vitamins, and most of the sugar of the original milk.
Use your leftover whey in soups and stews; as the liquid in any baking recipe that calls for water or milk; or add it to shakes and smoothies.
If you don’t have a use for it now, freeze it in an ice cube tray and keep in a freezer bag for future use.