Over the past few weeks I have been on a dairy adventure. Having never done so, I decided to try my hand at cheese making. I’m a decent baker of bread, maker and canner of jams, I’ve even made my own lox. I get a kick out of making things from scratch that most people do not or cannot. How hard could it be to make my own cheese? I set to work researching various cheese recipes on Pinterest, natch. I pinned about a half-dozen recipes in all. Many needed rennet, an enzyme present in the stomachs of baby animals [calves, kids (baby goats) etc] which helps them break down their mother’s milk. In cheese-making, it is used to aid in the separation of the milk into curds and whey. I did a bit more research and found out that my local beer and wine making supply store also carried rennet tablets and quickly planned a field trip there (about an hour away) with a foodie friend. In the meantime I checked out a couple of the recipes that did not use rennet, but did their milk curdling using acid (lemon juice or vinegar typically) and decided to give them a whirl. A goat cheese recipe made with lemon particularly peaked my interest. I visited my local grocery and picked up some goat’s milk:
Then, I stopped at my local kitchen supply store to grab some cheesecloth and actually ended up settling on a nut milk bag instead– a fine mesh bag used to make your own nut milks. You know, like almond milk or cashew milk… Apparently, you can also use them to make cold brew coffee. What a neat versatile little item! Plus, it’s fun to say nut milk bag. I was ready to Become A Cheese Maker.
Initially, pre-rennet, I was working from these 2 recipes for Lemon Cheese & Goat Cheese. I juiced my lemons (it ended up being about 2) and got my goat’s milk heating on the stove. Both recipes called for the milk to reach 180ºF. The goat’s milk reached the magic number, I added the lemon juice and waited for the curdling to commence…. NOTHING. One recipe said it would take 20 seconds. I was heartbroken to find that I waited 10 minutes…15 minutes and still nothing happened at all. What had gone wrong? I started to poke around on the interwebs for answers and here’s what I came up with: a few cheese makers said they let their milk reach 200ºF, a few said leave the mixture on the heat to wait for the curdle, most said remove it from the heat (neither recipe was very specific about this), and all said YOU CAN’T CURDLE ULTRA-PASTEURIZED MILK. Hold up, the milk I bought was the same as the milk pictured in the recipe…
Literally the exact same. So how come she was getting curds and I was getting lemony milk? Something was afoot. I had one more quart of goat’s milk left so I tried this recipe that curdles the milk using vinegar. Nada. I was feeling very discouraged, and sadly put away my nut milk bag to try anew after the rennet field trip.
In the meantime I continued to pin cheese recipes (and also some nut milk recipes- what the hell, I have a nut milk bag now) when I ran across this little gem– it’s a recipe for cheese made from Greek yogurt. It’s Middle Eastern in origin- they call it Labneh and it’s served with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and olive oil and a bit of black pepper. It takes about 4 days to make and is currently in my fridge successfully dripping whey.
Because i am a glutton for punishment, I needed to try that lemon juice recipe again with milk that was not ultra-pasteurized. The bad news is raw milk is not legal to sell in retail stores in my state. It’s some kind of stupid government milk conspiracy I’m sure. So if I want raw milk I would need to purchase it directly from a dairy farm. Perhaps when I get further into becoming a cheese maker that’s something I will try. I had to really look hard to find normal pasteurized milk in my local grocery- turns out the milk I normally buy for drinking is also ultra pasteurized. So I tried the infamous lemon juice cheese recipe with regular pasteurized milk, let it get to 200ºF (almost starting to boil) and got a small ball of small curds that are dripping whey in my fridge. Winning!
When I picked up my rennet tablets I also picked up this mozzarella and ricotta kit:
The booklet included with the kit says you can also use powdered milk and a little cream to make your mozzarella. And the microwave? So once the labneh and lemon cheese are completed (hopefully successfully) this will be next on my cheese-making agenda.
Stay tuned for Adventures in Cheese Making: Part 2