So you may recall my last cheese experiment, where I discovered the ease of making my own mozzarella and ricotta cheese. I used a handy kit from the good people at the Roaring Brook Dairy that I found at my local fancy cheese shop, but you can find it on Amazon for a decent price … or you can save some cheese (haha!) and buy yourself a pack of rennet tablets, a container of citric acid, a few plastic gloves and a good thermometer. I am glad that I used the kit for my first attempts at cheesemaking — they make it seem very non-threatening.
Really, making your own cheese of various types is incredibly easy … you just need a good thermometer and to keep your eyes on the temperature. Letting the mixture burn or adding the culture(s), rennet, acid or other additives at the wrong time is really the only way you can totally screw it up. For example, when making mozzarella, you have to add a citric acid solution when the milk reaches 85 degrees, then the rennet solution when it hits 100. If you don’t, it won’t work properly.
Essentially, fresh cheeses are milk brought to temperature and then cut with an acid, which makes the curds form, and then the curds are strained and formed into cheese. When making ricotta, you can use the whey left over from making mozzarella (“ricotta” means “re-cooked”) by adding milk, bringing it to 190 degrees, and adding vinegar. Strain it through a cheese cloth and you’re done. You can also eliminate the whey and simply bring the milk to temperature, then add the acid and strain.
Goat’s milk or sheep’s milk makes awesome fresh cheeses. I scored a quart of delicious and incredibly fresh goat’s milk last week at a Queso Diego cheese club meeting, and wanted to make some cheese with it right away. Now, in order to make a creamy chevre, you need cultures, which I did not have on hand. But I still was able to make a big hunk of incredible fresh goat cheese using basic ingredients from my kitchen, plus some fresh herbs I picked up that same day. The whole process took less than 20 minutes, although the cheese admittedly tasted better the next day, after it had hardened a bit in the refrigerator.
Super-Easy Herbed Goat Cheese
(did I mention I love cheese?)
Step One: Procure a quart of the freshest milk possible. Make sure it has not been ultra-pasturized (regular pasturization is OK, no pasturization is best).
Step Two: Pour it in a pot and make sure you have a good thermometer. Bring the milk up to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t burn.
Step Three: Remove the pot from the heat and add 1/4 cup of vinegar. It will curdle pretty much instantly.
Step Four: Remove the curds and place into a bowl covered with a cheese cloth. Add salt to taste and herbs of your choice.
I used ground black pepper and chopped fresh dill. I packed it into a small bowl and ate some right away, but it was pretty crumbly; the next morning it was easier to spread after refrigerating overnight.
If you don’t care for ricotta or goat’s cheese (shame on you!), there are several other delicious fresh cheeses.
For homemade queso fresco (aka queso blanco), bring a gallon of milk to 190 degrees, and as soon as you remove it from the heat, add the juice of 4 limes and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Strain and enjoy.
For homemade mascarpone, bring 2 cups of heavy cream to 190 degrees and add a teaspoon of lemon juice. No salt is needed. Strain and serve with your favorite fruit for an impeccable dessert.