Okay, It’s Official, We’re Cheesemakers Too

by Alifair Skebe

Well…not exactly.

Chez Voyageur du Fromage – at the home of The Cheese Traveler – some local Berne Dairy Meadowbrook Jersey cow’s milk va aigre.

Young Master Traveler pulled the glass bottle out of the fridge, unhinged the cap, and sniffed the milk. It was sour. “Mom, the milk is bad,” he exclaimed with disgust and poured a small cupful for her to taste. The Mistress of Cheese lifted the cup to her lips and sipped just a little to get the flavor. She declared upon inspection that, indeed, the milk was not pleasant to drink. Young Master Traveler would just have to open up a new bottle.

The milk, though sour, was not foul. Not the kind of sour that would turn your stomach, nor the chunky acrid bits of milk-refuse that linger in the bottle, but rather the slightly floral hint of turned milk that you just don’t want to drink. The Mistress of Cheese never likes food to go to waste. So she took to the internet to find a solution. There she discovered Gleanorganics.com and the article “Zero Food Waste: Sour Milk.” It offered the perfect solution to soured milk: to make cheese.

We, at The Cheese Traveler often explain to people that we do not make our own cheese. We sell cheese made by other people. And that cheese is high-quality, delicious farmstead and artisan cheese made by craftspersons using traditional cheesemaking methods. We have long been cheesemongers, not cheesemakers. (You can read about it in our blogpost here.) That is, until Mistress Cheese Traveler said, “Honey, would you bring home some cheese cloth tonight?” And The Cheese Traveler scratched his head, thinking, “What’s she up to now?”

In fact, Mistress Cheese was up to a lot. She got to thinking, “You know, when you eat this amazing stuff that other people make so well, the fancy chèvres and gouda and soft bloomy triple creme with truffles, you begin to wonder how that all comes to be.” And with this already-cultured starter milk, now was the perfect time to experiment with cheesemaking in the kitchen. Of course she knew the cheese would be rudimentary at best, that is, if the experiment was at all successful. Here is the photo-narrative of her cheesemaking process:

Heating the milk until the yellow whey separates from the white curd, about 185F

Heating the milk until the yellow whey separates from the white curd, about 185F

The colander lined with cheese cloth

The colander lined with cheese cloth

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the cheesecloth

Pouring the heated mixture of curds and whey into the cheesecloth

Tying up the cheese to let it drain.

Tying up the cheese to let it drain.

Hanging the cheese to drain the excess whey, approx. 20 minutes

Hanging the cheese to drain the excess whey, approx. 20 minutes

The leftover whey

The leftover whey

A hungry (begging) dog waiting to drink the whey

A hungry (begging) dog eagerly waiting to drink the whey

Voila! Homemade Farmer's cheese

Voila! Homemade Farmer’s cheese

After salting it with sea salt, the fresh cheese had the taste and texture of a dry farmer’s cheese. The Mistress of Cheese was happy that her experiment turned out to be successful, and she immediately texted The Cheese Traveler a picture of the final product with the tagline: “I made cheese!” It was a grand day for the whole family. Georgia the dog got to feast on the whey like the dogs of antiquity (for an image see here), and the Young Cheese Travelers enjoyed licking the empty bowl of cheese curds. Next time we’ll save the whey to make dough.

Cooking with Homemade Cheese

She then began to strategize ways of using the homemade cheese in cooking. (Though now officially an amateur cheesemaker, the Mistress of Cheese will not be selling her cheese in the store.) Since she did not add vinegar to curdle the milk, that meant that the curds would melt, perfect for using as a pizza topping with fresh oregano and arugula, olives, and olive oil. Or perhaps she might use it as a garnish for that peppered turkey leg with dandelion and fresh herbs soup on tonight’s menu. Bon appetit!

Homemade pizza with the cheese and a medley of salamis and fresh basil

Homemade pizza with the cheese and a medley of salamis and fresh basil

Christopher’s super simple recipe for making cheese at home (with our additions):

1**. Gently heat the milk until the curd separates from the whey. The curd forms a white puck and the whey is yellow, looks nothing like milk). [Once it reaches approximately 185 degrees in temperature, turn off the heat; you can use a cooking thermometer to check. Do not overheat.]

2. Remove the pan from the heat, let set for 5-10min.  Be careful to remove from the heat. Overcooked sour milk gets bitter.

3. Gently strain thru a napkin, facecloth, or (if you have it) cheese cloth and lightly salt the curd.

4. Tie up the strainer and let the whey continue to drip for another 20min. You can squeeze a bit to remove more whey and make a more pleasant soft cheese (less whey = harder cheese)

5. Refrigerate, then eat it as fresh cheese (recommended); mix with cream, salt and pepper for cottage cheese; brine for a feta-esque cheese…

This makes a cheese similar to cream cheese [farmer’s cheese]. Its best fresh, spreads, and also melts like cheddar (you can make mozzarella with it).

**If your milk isn’t sour enough it won’t develop a curd on its own – you can instead use rennet or add a shot of vinegar. Using vinegar means you won’t have a melty cheese but it’s easier and more forgiving than rennet.

Additional Resources

As it turns out, other local do-it-yourselfers were working at the same project at the same time. Local From Scratch Club member Jennifer Wilkerson has a similar recipe at her article: http://fromscratchclub.com/2013/06/07/diy-project-farmers-cheese/

4 thoughts on “Okay, It’s Official, We’re Cheesemakers Too

  1. Pingback: Sitting On My Tuffet | The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment

  2. Nice work! Cheesemaking isn’t that hard.. I mean.. the steps are easy.. getting a feel for the milk/environement etc and all those factors you can’t control are hard. I think it takes a real skill to overcome the challenges all those variables. Having made at 6 batches of feta, I can tell you they all came out different and I used the same method/ingredients. Happy accidents, every one of them.

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