In Celebration of Cheese Making

It's the fourth anniversary of Blackbird Mountain Farm's adventures in Cheese Making! Four years ago, I made my first simple cheese using hand milked goat's milk from my first rescued goats. I remember being nervous about the process since it was such a different sort of thing at the time to try. This was before my forays into other culinary projects that also rely on the work of beneficial bacteria cultures as a partnership in creating deliciousness like sourdough, fermented foods, and wines.

My first batch of Goat Cheese made with lemon, rosemary, and garlic.

From that first batch on, I was hooked. Like many handcrafted delights, Cheese Making can be as simple or as complex as you decide. The range of possibility to experiment with is nearly endless, and with so many variations it really can become an expression of art.

I still have an awful lot to learn and try in this field, but for today I would love to share with you a simple form of Cheese Making that anyone can try at home with just a few ingredients and items of equipment.

How to make "Farm Cheese"

Also called Paneer, Farm Cheese is unlike most cheeses doesn't require a bacterial starter culture or rennet. All you need is milk, heat, and acid to form the curds.

You will want to use a whole milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized. Look for milk labeled low temp pasteurized, or slow pasteurized in your store, or better yet get fresh milk from your friendly local farm! Why is this distinction important? Ultra-pasteurization uses high temperatures that break down some of the enzymes in milk, and are also typically homogenized which means the fats don't separate which isn't ideal when you want to make cheese. The less processed your milk is to start with, the better results you are likely to have.

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart milk

  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice OR you can use vinegar

  • salt

Equipment:

  • a stainless steel or ceramic pot. (aluminum is reactive and not a good choice)

  • a spoon (again not aluminum- wood, stainless, and silicone are all good choices)

  • cheese cloth or butter muslin

  • a candy or meat thermometer

The Process:

  • Slowly heat the milk on the stove to 185 degrees F.

It's important to keep the heat gentle so you don't over heat and scorch the milk. Use the thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature, and stir frequently.

The milk will begin to look a little frothy at this temperature, but will not be actively bubbling or boiling.

  • Turn off the heat, and gently stir in your lemon juice. (or vinegar)

  • Allow the pot to sit, undisturbed for 15 minutes. The milk will thicken and begin to form curds.

  • Place your cheese cloth in a double layer in a colander to allow drainage. I like to alternate which way the grain of the cloth is angled between layers to form a tighter barrier, or use butter muslin which is a tighter weave. If you don't have a colander handy, just use a large bowl. The liquid can still drain once you tie the bundle and lift it.

  • Gently pour the contents of the pot into the center of your cheese cloth. Then gather the edges around your curds and tie them together, forming a bundle.

  • Next, hang the bundle for two hours to allow the liquid whey to drain from the solid curds. You will want to keep a bowl or the empty pot under the bundle to catch all the whey. (Whey is something you may want to save. It can be used in baking, to add into soups, smoothies, or broths, or even a super nutritious treat for some animals!)

If you don't have a spot to tie the bundle up to, just use a tall pot with a large spoon across the top. Tie the bundle to the middle of the spoon, and let it suspend and drain in the pot.

  • After two hours, your bundle of curds should be drained and firm. Transfer into a bowl. Congratulations! You have made cheese!

  • Stir in a pinch of salt, and have fun adding any herbs or other flavors you want to try in this mild tasting cheese.

If you want, you can use your hands to roll the curds into a log or press them into a shape, or just leave them as is.

  • Place your cheese to rest in the fridge for a few hours or overnight for best flavor and texture, but you can also eat right away. This cheese should be eaten within a week of being made.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy cheese? We love this cheese with crackers, added over salads, or used in recipes in place of ricotta. Farm Cheese has a very mild flavor that can blend well with all sorts of herbs and snacks.

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