Food Preparation: How To Make Your Own Cheese At Home

Cheesemaking is a hands-on process; using this step-by-step method, you can make delicious homemade cheese.

Remember little Miss Muffet? Before things went array, she was minding her own business enjoying her curds and whey, which is cottage cheese. Those curds, the solid portion of milk, are what cheese is made of after separation from the whey, or the liquid portion. To do this, a cheese culture is used, which introduces friendly bacteria to allow the milk to achieve the higher acid level required for coagulation (and also helps to develop the individual flavor of the cheese). First the milk is curdled, using buttermilk in this recipe as a starter culture. Then it is coagulated using heat and an enzyme called rennet, and the curd is separated from the whey. The curd continues to cook until it is ready to be pressed into balls or blocks of cheese. Then it can be eaten, or aged as desired in the refrigerator.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with all of the instructions before you begin. The entire cheese making process can take at least eight to ten hours, not including drying or aging, so be prepared, and begin early in the day!

Equipment Needed

4-quart or larger pan or pot large colander or strainer

long thin knife or spatula thermometer

fine mesh cheese cloth, doubled cheese press

wooden spoon wire whisk

Note: Do not attempt to use this recipe without a thermometer. Accurate temperature control is critical to the cheese-making process. Use a double-boiler if available for best temperature control.

Ingredients

1 cup fresh cultured buttermilk

1 gallon milk (reconstituted non-fat dried, regular homogenized, or fresh raw milk)

½ pint whipping cream (only if using reconstituted dry milk, for added butterfat needed)

salt

1 rennet tablet

yellow food coloring (optional)

Note: If non-fat dried milk is being used, it will coagulate faster if mixed and refrigerated several days in advance.



Procedure for Basic Cheesemaking

Starter Culture

It is first necessary to make a starter cheese culture. The day before you plan to make cheese, allow the buttermilk to reach room temperature, and continue to ripen for six to eight hours. The buttermilk will become thicker and quite sour. When it has reached the consistency of fresh yogurt, it is ready to use. Refrigerate or freeze the buttermilk culture for future batches of cheese, saving out ¼ cup. Early the next day, pour the one gallon of milk into the large pan or pot, and stir in the ¼ cup of the buttermilk culture. Blend in thoroughly with the wire whisk, ensuring that is uniform throughout. Cover and leave at room temperature for a minimum of two hours. (Keep out of direct sunlight to avoid elevating the temperature.)

Coagulation Process

Heat the milk mixture slowly over low to medium heat until it reaches 86° F. You may now add food coloring if you desire a yellow cheese, or leave the cheese white. (This does not alter the flavor.) Meanwhile, dissolve the rennet tablet by stirring in 2 tablespoons cold water. (Warning: Hot water will DESTROY the enzymatic action of the rennet.) Increase the temperature of the milk mixture to 88°-90°F. Stir in the dissolved rennet solution and continue to stir up to five minutes using a wire whisk. Cover the pan and remove from heat, unless you are using nonfat dried milk. Allow the pan to stand undisturbed for ½ hour or more until coagulation is completed. (Nonfat dry milk will complete this process while maintained at a temperature of 88°-90°F and may take up to two hours to coagulate.)

Cutting the Curd

When the curd is firm enough to be cut cleanly with a knife, the coagulation process is complete. Cut the curd into ½ inch cubes; then cut again diagonally in both directions. Stir the curds gently using your hand, stirring and sifting; cutting any curds that are too large (do not squeeze the curd). As you continue to stir, the curds will separate from the whey, shrinking in size. Continue stirring periodically for ½ hour (to prevent sticking), allowing the curds to develop.

Cooking the Curds

Slowly, over 20 to 30 minutes, raise the temperature of the developing curds and whey to 102°F. Continue to hold this temperature, cooking the curds for approximately one hour total, stirring gently with a wooden spoon every three to five minutes. The curd will be ready when it holds its shape. Remove from heat and firm the curd mass by allowing it to sit for one hour, stirring gently every so often.

Draining off the Whey

Line a colander or strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth. Slowly pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth, draining off all of the whey. Sprinkle with salt for added flavor if desired. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together forming a ball, and squeeze out as much whey as possible. Allow the cheese to continue to drain for two to three hours.

Pressing and Drying

After draining, place the wrapped cheese ball into cheese press. Press until the curds can be seen through the drain holes. Apply additional pressure every five minutes for the next half hour. After 45 minutes, remove the cheese, flip it, and press again for one hour. The harder the cheese is pressed, the firmer the cheese. When pressing is complete, remove the cheesecloth and allow the cheese to dry at room temperature. This cheese is ready when the surface is dry, usually in about 8 hours. (Other types of cheese can take much longer to dry, up to five days.) This cheese can now be eaten as a "fresh cheese," or aged in the refrigerator for improved flavor. To age, wrap tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying out or mold from forming.

Variations

Once you have become familiar with the basic cheese making process, you can learn to use your creativity to significantly vary cheese flavors, appearance, and texture. Experiment with ingredients including the milk base itself, types of starter cultures, added seasonings, and coloration. Variations in timing and temperature affect curd development, changing consistency and texture. Pressure intensity and timing also make a difference. Some cheeses require the development of a rind, which is accomplished by floating the pressed cheese in salt brine solution for several hours. And, of course, aging or "curing" creates stronger, more enhanced flavor.

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