You can easily learn how to make soft cheese at home with just a few pieces of equipment and a little bit of time. Best-selling author Ricki Carroll shows you how to make mascarpone, queso blanco and ricotta!
Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making (Storey Publishing, 2002) has become a classic reference for thousands of people who make their own artisanal-style cheese at home. For those who want to make delicious cheese but don’t want to invest in a lot of equipment or spend a lot of time in the kitchen, Carroll suggests learning how to make soft cheese. In this excerpt from Chapter 4, Carroll shows how to make your own mascarpone, queso blanco and ricotta.
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Soft cheeses require little equipment and are excellent choices for beginning cheese makers. Usually high-moisture cheeses that are eaten fresh, soft cheeses are quick, delicious, and easy to make. They are perfect for experimentation because once you have learned how to make soft cheese, you can vary the cheese simply by adding herbs, spices, honey, or other flavorings.
Most of these cheeses have a creamy, spreadable consistency. Many are called “bag cheeses,” because the curds are drained in a bag of butter muslin. They are made by coagulating milk or cream with cheese starter or with an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Some recipes call for a little rennet to help firm the curds.
It’s important to drain the soft cheese in a place where the temperature stays close to 72°F (usually the kitchen). If the temperature and humidity are too high, you will have problems with yeast, which may produce a gassy, off-flavored cheese. If the temperature is too low, the cheese will not drain properly. The yield from 1 gallon of milk is usually 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of soft cheese, depending on the type of milk you use and the desired consistency of the cheese. The greater the butterfat content, the higher the cheese yield.
Soft cheeses will keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Although it is not my first choice, they may also be frozen. If you want to salt your cheese, it’s best to wait until after thawing to add the salt; salt will increase the freezing temperature of the cheese and therefore it will not keep as well. The cheese making techniques used in this section are very straightforward.
Note: When a recipe calls for warming the milk, do not use direct heat (on the stove), unless specified. Heat the milk indirectly, with the cheese pot resting in a bowl or sink full of hot water.
Very similar to cream cheese, mascarpone is an Italian soft coagulated cream used in cooking and desserts such as Italian pastries. This mascarpone recipe produces a rich, velvety texture and sweet flavor. Mix mascarpone with herbs and spices or serve it plain with dried figs and apricots. One of my favorite ways to serve it is to mix it with blue cheese for a delicious dip. If you are going to a party on Saturday and start this cheese Thursday night, you will have a fantastic treat to bring with you.
1 quart pasteurized light cream or half-and-half
1 packet direct-set crème fraîche starter
1. Heat the cream to 86°F. Add the starter and mix thoroughly.
2. Cover and let set, undisturbed, at room temperature for 12 hours, or until coagulated.
3. If a thicker curd is desired, ladle the curd into a colander lined with butter muslin and drain in the refrigerator for 1–4 hours or longer, depending on the desired consistency.
4. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
YIELD: About 1 pound
Traditionally, ricotta is made by reheating the whey after making cheese from ewe’s milk. This simple variation shows how to make soft cheese ricotta using whole milk instead of whey; the resulting ricotta has a good flavor and a high yield.
1 gallon whole milk
1 teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1 teaspoon cheese salt (optional)
1–2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
1. Combine the milk, citric acid, and salt and mix thoroughly.
2. In a large pot, directly heat the milk to 185 to 195°F (do not boil). Stir often to prevent scorching.
3. As soon as the curds and whey separate (make sure there is no milky whey), turn off the heat. Allow to set, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.
4. Line a colander with butter muslin. Carefully ladle the curds into the colander. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and hang the bag to drain for 20–30 minutes, or until the cheese has reached the desired consistency. The cheese is ready to eat immediately. For a creamier consistency, add the cream at the end and mix thoroughly.
5. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1–2 weeks.
YIELD: 1 1/2–2 pounds
Queso blanco, which is Spanish for “white cheese,” is a Latin American specialty with many variations. It is a firm cheese, with a bland, mildly sweet flavor. It is easy to make and an excellent choice if you are in a hurry or if the weather is very hot, a condition that causes problems in the production of many cheeses.
This cheese is excellent for cooking, because it has the unique property of not melting, even when deep-fried. It is often diced into 1/2-inch cubes and added to stir-fries, soups, or sauces (such as spaghetti) or used in Chinese cooking as a substitute for bean curd. It browns nicely and takes on the flavor of the food and spices in a recipe.
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
1. In a large pot, directly heat the milk to between 185° and 190°F, stirring often to prevent scorching.
2. Slowly add the vinegar, a little at a time, until the curds separate from the whey. Usually 1/4 cup of vinegar will precipitate 1 gallon of milk. You may increase the temperature to 200°F in order to use less vinegar and avoid an acidic or sour taste in your cheese. (Do not boil, as boiling will impart a “cooked” flavor.)
3. Pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and hang the bag to drain for several hours, or until the cheese has reached the desired consistency.
4. Remove the cheese from the muslin. Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
YIELD: 1 1/2–2 pounds
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll, published by Storey Publishing, 2002. Buy this book from our store: Home Cheese Making.