If you’ve never tried making cheese, you’ll be amazed to learn that it can be as fast and easy as baking a pie. Cheese making recipes are easy, quick and require few ingredients. The only equipment you need is a stainless steel pot, measuring spoons, cheesecloth and a dairy thermometer.
First and foremost, milk. Using fresh, whole milk from grass-fed cows (from a nearby farm) will produce the best results. (Find local suppliers.) Some cheese makers pasteurize even fresh, raw milk, because the native bacteria may compete with the specific molds and bacteria you want to proliferate. If you want to pasteurize raw milk, heat it to 145 degrees Fahrenheit in a stainless steel pot or double boiler. Hold the temperature there for 30 minutes, then chill the pot until the temperature of the milk dips to 40 degrees.
Low-fat milk also can be used to make cheese, but you’ll get less cheese as a result. Store-bought milk will work, too. Just be sure to avoid any brands that say “ultra-pasteurized.” Ultra-high-temperature pasteurization allows milk to be shipped long distances and stored without refrigeration, but its coagulating ability is damaged in the process. Ultra-pasteurized milk can sit around for many weeks without spoiling, but it can’t be made into cheese.
Get some culture. Cheese cultures and starters include bacteria, molds and acids that encourage coagulation and/or help develop unique flavors. They can be found at natural foods stores and specialty suppliers. Try New England Cheesemaking Supply or Leeners.
Rennet comes from what? Rennet, which comes in liquid, tablet or powder form, contains enzymes that cause milk solids to separate from clear whey and form curds. Traditionally, rennet is made from the stomach lining of an infant ruminant — aka grazing — animal. (The enzymes help the animal digest its mother’s milk.)
Although most store-bought cheeses rely on animal-based rennet, vegetable rennet also is widely available. It’s made from plants that have coagulating properties, such as fig and thistle.
Better not forget the salt. Salt enhances flavor, draws out excess moisture and acts as a preservative. Avoid iodized salt, because it can put the brakes on active starter bacteria. Specialty cheese salt is coarser than regular table salt, and is non-iodized.
Clean up the water. It’s best to use filtered water when making cheese, as some water supplies contain compounds that compromise milk’s ability to be made into cheese.
These recipes are adapted from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. She has taught thousands of people to make cheese; her devotees refer to Carroll as “The Cheese Queen.” You can order the special ingredients from her company, New England Cheesemaking Supply or call 413-397-2012. And be sure to check out the site’s step-by-step photographic instructions for making many kinds of cheese.
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