Learning to create fresh cheeses is an art that is far easier than aging cheeses — and you won’t have to wait months (or years) to taste the results of your alchemy. Three versatile cheeses that you can create in your own kitchen are paneer, mascarpone and fromage blanc (called chèvre when made from goat’s milk). You can save 20 to 70 cents per ounce by producing these cheeses yourself, even if you start with premium milk from grass-fed animals.
The elementary science for turning milk into any of these delightful cheeses is the same, so below are the main steps for concocting fresh cheeses in detail. Look at the next page for the recipe variations required to turn out each specific cheese.
Heat the milk
In a heavy-bottom, nonreactive pot, heat the milk over medium-low to the temperature directed in the recipe. Stir continuously to prevent scorching.
Acidify the milk
Milk separates into curds and whey when it is acidified. The warmer the milk, the less acidic it will need to be to separate. When the milk has reached the proper temperature, remove the milk from the heat and add the recipe’s specified acid — lemon juice, citric acid, vinegar or tartaric acid — or bacterial culture that produces its own acid. Stir the acid into the milk a little at a time, pausing after each addition to check for curd separation. When the curds pull away from the side of the pot and the whey around them is mostly clear, you’ve added enough acid. If the recipe calls for a powdered bacterial culture, sprinkle it over the milk and leave the mixture alone for a minute before beginning to stir gently and continuously for a few minutes. Leave the pot alone for 10 to 20 minutes before draining.
Drain the curds
Line a colander with damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl or in the sink. Ladle curds into the cloaked colander to drain for 30 minutes. After the initial draining, you may salt the cheese by sprinkling salt over the curds and stirring to distribute.
If the directions say to hang the cheese to drain, tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot (or use a rubber band) and hang the cheese over the sink or a bowl to catch the whey. Drain until the cheese reaches the texture you prefer.
Optional: Press the cheese
Pull the cheesecloth ends together at the top, then twist and squeeze the cheese into a disk. Lay the flattened disk down and re-dress the cheese by layering the four corners of the cloth smoothly on top of the disk. (Keep the cheese completely encased in cloth.) Place the wrapped cheese on an upside-down plate that’s atop a rimmed baking sheet (to catch the whey). Cover the cheese with another upside-down plate. Set something heavy, such as a cast-iron pan, on top of the top plate to press the cheese.