Say Cheese!

I am super excited about some opportunities for farm shares and goat shares at local farms this summer.  I cannot not wait to get my hands on some fresh goat milk to make some goat cheese.  Sounds fun, right? Funny thing is, I have hated milk since childhood.  Couldn’t and can’t stand it to this day.  I used alternative milk or juice in my cereal instead.  I remember being absolutely disgusted at whole milk with the fat swimming at the top.  I called it “fat milk” LOL.  I think, actually, we all did.

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Anyway, with decades of milk hating (including butter or anything creamed (soup, pasta sauce etc) though I have since began to like them in  moderation),  it may come as a surprise that I actually love yogurt and cheese (the stinkier and more sour, the better).  AND I’ve realized that I love sheep and goat milk cheeses the best.

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I also love fermenting everything.  I haven’t done so much lately, but I have made wine, ginger beer, kombucha, sour dough starter, yogurt, lebneh (yogurt cheese).  I also have made some alternative “cheeses” from cashews and almonds.  Guests at my house never knew what weird thing I would have bubblin’ on the countertop, resting on a heating pad.

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Around this same time I saw a documentary on New Zealand Farmers and one in particular that had her own goats and a small business making goat cheese.  This appealed to me greatly, and I knew I also wanted to do the same some day.

Isn’t is funny how sometimes in life something resonates with you so deeply though you have no prior experience with it and viturally no knowledge of how to actually do it; all you know is, that it is exactly the direction you want it go in your life.

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Well, this weekend, years later,  I finally took the plunge to finally make some cheese.  I wanted to make a feta, and  chevre.  I had it set in my mind, after a couple days of research, that this was the time to actually do it.

The problem is I can’t find any commercial goat milk locally that isn’t ultra-pasteurized.  You cannot use ultra-pasteurized, really, they say you can add Calcium Chloride to make it work, but who wants to do that?   You need fresh or second best, pasteurized milk. Period.  I guess sheep’s milk is the tastiest, followed by the more traditional goat’s milk, then blandest, though doable, cow milk.

Being ever so impatient to ride this cheese train, with my ticket paid in full and leaving the station, I grabbed some Calder pasteurized cow milk from our local Co-op; along with Rennet tablets and 8oz of buttermilk (kismet, since when I bought it, I had no idea I would need it).

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I researched a number of websites for  basic recipes, techniques and trouble-shooting; then was ready to begin,  first by heating the milk to the required 86- 90 F degrees.

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When it reaches the desired temperature, take it off heat and add a  mixture of yogurt and reserved milk to act as a live culture (recipe at bottom of post). Set it aside to rest for an hour. You can also use buttermilk, which I will do from now on, for reasons I will explain further into the post.

When the hour is up it is time to add a 1/4 tablet of Rennet to 1/2 cup of water.  I crushed mine first then dissolved it in the water.  When dissolved add it to the milk.  Then wait.  And here I got different instructions.  Some said wait overnight, some said only until the curd sets for proper moisture retention;  each type of cheese has a certain amount of moisture that makes it unique.  For feta, that is usually an hour after adding the rennet.

But it wasn’t really setting, so I  waited overnight.  The next morning, I was sad to see the curd did not set.  Still as liquid as it was in the beginning with maybe a few teeny curds.  Trouble shooting the problem, I learned that maybe the yogurt was not full of live cultures or maybe I didn’t use enough Rennet. Shoot!

I was trying to figure out what happened when we saw a date on the rennet for April 13th; was it expired?  Maybe. We weren’t sure if it was an expiration or delivery date.  Rennet has a short shelf life and gets weaker and weaker as it ages. Edmond dashed over to the co-op,  and found out it was expired, got a store credit, more milk and then over to Whole Foods to get some liquid rennet.

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Meanwhile, I stayed at home determined to not waste the unset milk.  Everywhere I read on the internet said to throw it out.  If it doesn’t set then there is nothing you can do with it.

I didn’t believe it, and in true Nicki fashion, I said to heck with these people who have more cheese experience- I’m going rogue.

I decided that since my rennet was weak, I really was left with milk and a small bit of yogurt.  What would it hurt to heat the milk back up, this time to 145F  degrees add the juice of a lemon and make the much adored and lovely Paneer cheese of India?  The worse that could happen, is I would have to throw it out :)  But guess what?  IT WORKED!!

When the milk was at 145F  I took it off the heat, added the lemon juice, let it sit for a few minutes to curdle, drained it by hanging over the colander then molded it; which essentially is just weighting it down to form a solid mass.

Half gallon of milk 2 tablespoons or juice from a lemon is all you would need to make your own.

Homemade Palak Paneer

Homemade Palak Paneer

Below shows it under pressure to mold it into a firm round to cut into cubes before cooking. This was after hanging it to drain for and hour or so.  (sorry for the blurriness, ugh)

Molding under Weight

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Haha.  I used whatever I could find to weigh the curd down.  It is in my cous- couser from Morocco.  It is a colander on top and regular pot on the bottom.  Perfect for draining the whey from the curd.   I should probably find a better way to weigh it down, however. :)

With so much whey left from draining the curds (the yellow liquid in the picture above),  I decided to go one step further and make ricotta.  Now for the ricotta I would need to heat the whey up to 186 F degrees.  Well, to just boiling.  Since I only had a half-gallon of whey, I knew there wouldn’t be much ricotta made; Continuing on the rogue theme, I threw in my 8 oz. of real Cultured Buttermilk (very important! Calder makes one).   Eh, what could it hurt.  Take off heat when the temperature is reached and add the juice of a lemon (around 2 tablespoon or so).  Stir gently, but not too much. Drain, then hang, then eat :)

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OH MY GOODNESS……YUM!!  The buttermilk added so much flavor that I decided to only use it instead of yogurt for the live culture in my cheese making future.

Paneer and ricotta are pretty similar.  I guess the main difference, is in Italy they recook the whey left from making cheese, so it is a by-product and used mostly as crumbles, and in India, for paneer they make it straight from milk, in crumbles, spreads, and solid cubes.  Taste wise, they are not really very different.

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Ricotta with Basil and Oregano on Glutino Crackers

In total it made a scant 1/2 cup of ricotta.  It also looked a little dry for a spread, so I added some whey and threw in a pinch of oregano and basil; let it sit for an hour or so in the fridge before enjoying it on my gluten-free crackers.  It was probably drier than it could be ideally, from heating the buttermilk to boiling.  Next time I will try not heating it so high, maybe closer to paneer heat because seriously, that buttermilk added so much flavor to rather bland cow milk.

So what about making feta?  Yep, I did.  I used the vegetable liquid rennet on another half-gallon of milk.  Went through the same techniques as above and this time it worked!

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Feta curd cut to release whey

This time I only waited for an hour for ideal moisture retention.  Then cut the curd, very gently, into cubes.  Make slices across your curd then turn and slice again perpendicular to the first.  This releases the whey, as shown above.  Now you drain it all through cheesecloth or light weave towel or pillowcase over a colander to keep the whey to use for you brine later.  Bring all the sides up and tie together and hang it on your cupboard knob or faucet over the colander.  Give it a few hours.  Then once again weight it all down to form a solid mass.  Let this sit overnight.

Feta in Brine

Feta in Brine

The next morning,  cut your curd into the size of cube you want then prepare your brine.  To do this, measure your whey.  You need enough to cover the curd cubes completely.  Many people use large mouth jars which helps keep the curds properly covered in brine. I say just make it all into a brine to make sure you have enough. For every 2 1/2 cups (20 oz.) use 5 tablespoons of salt.  You need this much salt to make sure your curds develop a brine and firm up on the outside.  If you don’t use enough, your curds will simply melt into the whey and you are out of luck.  I used sea salt, but there is also a cheese salt.  Some use a coarse kosher salt.

Stir until the salt dissolves, pour over your curds and let it all sit in the fridge for 3-5 days before eating.  The longer it sits the crumblier it will be.  If it is too salty, simply rinse before eating.

Though it has only been two days, I tried a small piece without rinsing and it is yummy! I can’t wait to make more, very soon and preferably with fresh goat milk.

Here is a basic recipe to get you started.

FETA CHEESE

Half gallon of milk (not ultra-pasteurized)   (heat to 86 degrees)

1/4 cup of buttermilk or 1 tablespoon of yogurt mixed with 1/4 cup of milk (add with milk off heat and let sit an hour)

1/8 teaspoon of liquid rennet or 1/4 of a tablet (add after hour and let sit another hour, if curd is not set let sit a little longer, if it still isn’t after a few hours, make paneer/ricotta)

If curd is set and you get a clean break, meaning when you stick your finger in the curd and pull it out at a slight angle, your finger remains pretty clean and not covered in yogurt-like material (research Clean Break ), cut the curd, gently, into cubes.

Drain the whey and curd through a lightly woven cloth until it stops dripping (usually 2-4 hours)

Fold the cloth over the curd and weigh it down with something heavy overnight to form a solid mass.

Cut the curd into cubes the size of your choice

Make a brine 12.5% salt to whey.  That is about 5 tablespoons for every 20 oz. or 2 1/2 cups.

Let marinate for 3-5 days; the longer the better.

Here are some fellow bloggers that have detailed tutorials for you to polish your techniques.

Chef in Disguise

From the Bartolini Kitchens

I am not hating milk so much anymore.  Weeellll, not true.  Still, don’t make me drink the stuff, LOL.

~ by Perfect Prospect on April 24, 2013.

7 Responses to “Say Cheese!”

  1. I’m am gob smacked at how well you did this, congratulations. It never occurred to me to do this. I try to stay away from dairy so I’m going to look at soy alternatives as well. Thanks for this, fantastic. cheers

  2. Have fun! I’ve had only a little experience making cheese, but I really liked the results.

  3. Welcome to the Cheese Makers Club! This was an excellent “how to” post, one that’s sure to bring more members into the Club. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and for mentioning my blog. :)

  4. […] Say Cheese! (perfectprospect.wordpress.com) […]

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