Turophiles Unite Part II – Easy Cheesy

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.

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Turophiles unite! Cheese is so easy ….

I. Love. Cheese.

Soft cheese, hard cheese, grated cheese, sliced cheese, crumbly cheese. American cheese, French cheese, Spanish cheese, Italian cheese, Greek cheese, Swiss cheese. Sharp cheese, sweet cheese, smelly cheese, spreadable cheese, gooey cheese. Cheese with things on top or cheese stuffed inside of other things. Cheese coated in nuts or studded with berries. Brie, provolone, Swiss, cheddar, chevre, blue cheese, cotija cheese, feta cheese, manchego cheese. Goat cheese, sheep cheese, cow cheese. All of it. I make a wicked good cheese plate, and given the choice of a decadent hot fudge sundae or a plate of delicious cheeses and accompaniments, I would probably take the cheese.

And, of course, mozzarella and ricotta are probably two of my favorites. Both are easy to cook with in pretty much any dish, or just by themselves. Is there anything more lovely than a caprese salad/sandwich/snack?

The last time I was perusing my local artisan cheese shop, Venissimo (seriously, check them out if you’re in southern California, they let you take full advantage of their tasting policy!), I noticed this cute little package.

Mozzarella, you say? All I need is one gallon of milk? And in less than an hour I will be shoving cheese into my face? Sounds good to me. And there was enough in this kit for me to make a pound of cheese out of a gallon of milk four times. Heck yeah.

I decided to give it a try. Upon closer inspection, this was simply a convenient kit with all of the little things you need to make cheese. No grand kitchens or fancy equipment needed — however it is handy if you are like me and cannot seem to locate rennet tablets anywhere in your town. (After I made this, I discovered this post from Simple Bites, and it’s exactly the same recipe. Although clearly she has a rennet hookup.)

The kit came with instructions, gloves, a thermometer, citric acid, salt and rennet tablets. I mixed the rennet into water and the citric acid into another cup of water per the instructions, and started the process.

Step 1: Gallon of milk (not ultra-pasturized, as fresh as possible) goes into a great big pot. Turn on  the heat. Not boiling but not too low either.

Keep the thermometer handy. Cheesemaking isn’t complicated, but you need to keep an eye on the temperature.

Step 2: When the milk temperature reaches 85 degrees, add the citric acid solution. Keep stirring.

Step 3: When the temperature reaches 100 degrees, add the rennet solution. Keep stirring, but start moving your spoon in a gentle up-and-down motion.

Step 4: Stop stirring. As the temperature continues to rise you will see curds starting to form, like this:

Step 5: Cover the pot and let the curds rest for 5-10 minutes. Then strain the curds out with a slotted spoon or colander, and place in a microwaveable bowl.

Step 6: Microwave the curds for 30-60 seconds at a time, and each time you remove it, strain more of the liquid out (squeeze it with your gloved hands), and fold and stretch the cheese. Sprinkle the salt over the cheese at this point. Repeat this process two or three times (but don’t add any more salt).

Your cheese should, at this point, look like cheese, and you can shape it into one large ball or several small ones, as well as string cheese strips.

The shaping is where I had some difficulty, as you can see. This was my first try with the ball-shaping, but it was still delicious.

Then, of course, what are we to do with all of that whey left over in the pot?

Well, let’s just say, they don’t call it “recooked” for nothing ….  ricotta, that is.

It’s made from the leftover whey you have after making cheese, plus some extra added milk and a little vinegar. According to SB Canning, you need to make the ricotta less than three hours after the mozzerella, but other than that, it’s incredibly fast and easy. Brilliant!

So … take the whey you have left over, and add a quart of milk. Bring up to 200 degrees, and keep stirring so you don’t burn the whey. Then add about a half-cup of apple cider vinegar and let the curds and whey sit for a few minutes.

Strain over a cheesecloth-lined colander, and once all of the liquid has drained out, you have a big pile of ricotta cheese, ready for stuffing into your favorite pasta!