Whenever I mention cottage cheese in one of my classes, Little Miss Muffet inevitably comes up, since her curds and whey were likely to have resembled cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a nostalgic treat for many, but don’t dismiss this cheese as simply old-fashioned, or you’ll miss out on its versatility and satisfying tang. This batch is generous in size, so you can enjoy a scoop with ripe fruit, mix it into pancake batter, and use it in lasagna, all in one week.
• 1-1/4 cups cultured buttermilk, divided
• 1/4 tablet vegetarian rennet
• 1/2 cup cool dechlorinated water
• 16 cups whole cow’s milk, not ultra-pasteurized
• 3 cups ice cubes
• 1 teaspoon flake salt, or to taste
• Large whisk
• Cooking thermometer
• Fine cheesecloth
• Large colander or mesh strainer
• Large heat-resistant bowl for whey collection (optional)
• Large mixing spoon
• Knife (optional)
• Large bowl for ice bath
1. Measure out 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Set aside the rest.
2. Dissolve the rennet in the cool water and set aside.
3. Pour the cow’s milk into the stockpot.
4. Whisk the 1/4 cup of buttermilk into the milk and heat both on medium to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Add the rennet solution to the milk and mix it in with 20 quick strokes to make sure the rennet is incorporated evenly.
6. Turn off the heat. Remove the pot from the stove and cover it. Don’t disturb for 15 minutes.
7. Use this time to prepare a cloth-lined colander and bowl if you want to collect the whey; otherwise, place the lined colander in your clean sink.
8. After 15 minutes, you should have a pot of curd that looks like yogurt. The curd should pull away from the edges when you press it with the back of your spoon, but yogurt-like curd pieces floating in clearish whey will work too.
9. Use the spoon or a knife to chop large pieces of curd into 1-inch chunks, but don’t stir yet.
10. Turn the heat back on to medium and allow the curds to cook for 1 minute, and then gently move the chunks around while heating to 115 degrees. Don’t break up the curds by stirring too vigorously.
11. The curds will shrink as they cook and move in the hot whey. Scoop curds from the bottom of the pot and cut any larger pieces so they cook evenly.
12. When all the curds are about the size of almonds, lower the heat to maintain it at 115 degrees as you move the chunks of curd in the hot whey until they’ve changed from yogurt texture to scrambled egg texture (this can take 5 to 15 minutes).
13. Scoop up a couple of curd pieces in a spoon and pinch them to check their consistency. They should feel a little springy, and not dissolve easily. If they dissolve, continue heating and moving the curds around, and then “pinch check” every minute until they’re springy to the touch.
14. Turn off the heat when all the curds appear to be an even consistency. This step will become faster as you get more experienced in observing changes and regulating heat.
15. Pour the curds and whey into the colander.
16. Allow the curds to drain and cool for 3 to 5 minutes before digging in with clean hands.
17. Mix the curds gently, and break them down to the size you’d like in your cheese. They can be as large as almonds or as small as sunflower seeds, but note that they’ll continue to shrink in the next steps.
18. Prepare an ice bath by adding the ice cubes and cold tap water to a large bowl. (Gather the curd-filled cheesecloth and dunk it into the cold water while holding the ends like a loose bag. The cold shock will form the curds so they don’t fuse back together like ricotta.) Move the bag back and forth in the ice bath to ensure all the curds get the cold treatment. When the curds feel thoroughly cool, twist and squeeze the cloth to wring out excess water.
19. Unwrap the curds and empty them into a clean bowl.
20. Use a spoon or your hands to gently break up the curds that became compressed when you squeezed the cloth. Add salt and the reserved 1 cup of buttermilk, and stir thoroughly. Your homemade cottage cheese is now ready to serve.
Find more tips for beginning your cheese-making journey in Cheese-Making Basics for Beginners.
Claudia Lucero is the entrepreneur behind Urban Cheesecraft and DIY Cheese Kits, and a frequent speaker at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. This recipe is excerpted with permission from her book, One-Hour Cheese (Workman Publishing, 2017), available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.