I certainly hope there are no spiders scuttling in the corner, but it seemed like the best analogy to describe some of our adventures in cheese making!
We have been experimenting with different aspects of home economics in order to make our house and engine of production rather than a house of simple consumption; this means learning new skills.
While I plan to learn more cheese making techniques, I thought it best to start with the easiest, queso fresco or queso blanco. This is a semi soft cheese that melts slowly and can be fried or used in Mexican dishes when a bright, slightly salty cheese is called for.
The technique is quite simple, warm the milk, sour the milk by way of an acid to separate the curd from the whey, strain the whey, season and cure the final cheese.
For this recipe, you will need ½ gallon of high quality, not ultra-pasteurized milk. I like to use Snowville Creamery milk because it is close to organic and is barely pasturized…it is about as close to raw milk, you can get commercially.
¼ cup of an acid. This can take the form of lemon juice or vinegar. This markes the difference between queso fresco and queso blanco. Fresco uses lemon juice and blanco uses vinegar.
Thermometer (Candy or immersion). You need to heat the milk to temperature 165°F to 185°F so it is important to be accurate.
Strainer and cheese cloth. This will allow you to strain the whey from the curds as well as cure the curds.
Seasoning of choice: salt, pepper, parsley, garlic and other herbs. Depending on what you are going to use the cheese for, select appropriate seasoning as the basic recipe yields a neutral flavor.
Warm the milk in a heavy bottomed pan, using the thermometer to monitor the temperature as it rises. Once the milk reaches the appropriate temperature range, 165°F to 185°F, remove it from the heat and add your acid of choice. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes after stirring in the acid for the protein and fat globules in the milk to separate from the liquid portion of your mixture.
Spread cheesecloth over a strainer or colander, pour the mixture over the strainer to separate the curds from the whey. Collect the whey in a bowl (this can be used to soak beans, marinate meats, etc. adding and amazing flavor and tenderness unmatched with other methods). The curd can then be salted, seasoned and formed into a ball in the cheesecloth and left to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
I like to use this cheese instead of goat cheese on a salad after it is fried in panko bread crumbs.
Making your own cheese is definitely empowering, understanding the science behind the product is also important so you can apply it to other, more complicated recipes. This, for us, is just the beginning. We plan to learn 5 basic cheeses in the next year and then stop purchasing cheese from the store entirely (unless of course it is something we cannot make and cannot live without….we’re not savages).