Finished cottage cheese. Photo by Renee Benoit.
Over the years I’ve written a lot about my wonderful Gramma E and how she inspired me in the kitchen and beyond. She could sew, bake, cook, can and everything in between. After all she came from a self- sufficient farm family. They were from a time when going to the store for every little thing was simply not in the cards.
She made corn relish, bread, sewed without patterns, canned everything including meat and vegetables, baked the lightest angel food cakes on the planet and quilted up a storm.
One thing she made that I wish she had shared with me was how to make cottage cheese. When we had lunch or dinner at her house oftentimes there was a bowl of homemade cottage cheese on the table. I was too young to appreciate it but now that I am older I think back on those days with fondness and wish I had learned how she did it.
Recently, I discovered a local dairy with excellent milk so I did a little internet research on how to make cottage cheese. I came away confused because there are so many ways to make it! The only thing the recipes had in common was that they all started with the best milk you can get, never ultra-pasteurized and hopefully certified raw. But where they diverged was sometimes you heat the milk, sometimes not. Then to make the milk curdle sometimes you use rennet, sometimes you use lemon juice, or sometimes you use white vinegar. One recipe said to set milk out on the counter and let it curdle by adding buttermilk. I decided to try the buttermilk route because I guessed that might be the way my Gramma made it. My aunt said she remembered that it had a slight “bite” to it which I would think resulted from a fermentation process.
Author’s Note: What follows is a description of what happened to me so you’ll know what to do if the same thing happens to you.
So, as I said before I went with the fermentation route using buttermilk. Because the milk needed to set out at room temperature for 12 to 14 hours I started it just before I went to bed. I poured a gallon of room temperature milk into a large heavy bottom pot and then stirred in the buttermilk. Then I covered it and set it on the counter. I expected that by next morning it would “clabber,” aka curdle.
But the next morning it was still milk! No curdling had taken place! What was I supposed to do now? I definitely was not going to throw away all that milk! I decided to try a different recipe that said to heat the milk and add distilled white vinegar. So, I turned the flame under my pot to very low and attached a cheese thermometer to the side that would tell me when the milk reached 180 degrees. At that point I would add the vinegar. While it heated, I gently stirred the milk with my spoon to make sure the bottom did not burn. Along about 140 degrees the milk started to curdle! Should I still add the vinegar? I decided to do a test. I spooned out some heated milk into a small bowl and added a quarter teaspoon vinegar to see what would happen. It didn’t really do anything and it didn’t taste bad so I just kept heating and when it reached 180 degrees I added ¾ cup of distilled white vinegar.
Then I proceeded with the instructions as if it had all gone according to plan in the first place.
I placed a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth on top of a slightly bigger bowl. I knew there would be a lot of whey draining out so I made sure it was a bowl that was big enough. Then I kept an eye on it so it didn’t overflow onto the countertop.
After the whey dripped out I set it aside for other uses and gathered the curds in the muslin and washed it underneath running water from the tap squishing and kneading the curd until it was cool.
Rinsing the curds. Photo by Renee Benoit.
Then I crumbled the curd into a bowl and mixed in a little salt and cream to taste.
Photo by Renee Benoit
If you want to add chopped fresh chives or pineapple this is the time to do it. It’s ready to eat now or you can refrigerate it and eat it later. My cottage cheese hardened up in the fridge but setting it out at room temperature brought it back to the crumbly texture.
Homemade Cottage Cheese Ingredients and Utensils
Makes about a pound.
- 1 gallon skim milk (preferably raw but pasteurized may be used. Never use ultra-pasteurized. Whole milk may be used but the fat in it will be discarded with the whey)
- ½ cup buttermilk (again pasteurized may be used. Never ultra-pasteurized)
- 1 cup more or less of heavy cream
- A little salt to taste
- Herbs (such as fresh chives to taste)
Tools (cleaned and sanitized)
- Large heavy bottom stainless steel pot
- Cheesecloth and colander
- Stainless steel slotted spoon
- Stainless steel knife (a bread knife will do)
My take-away from this is that making cottage cheese is not a precise process and that any method probably works. The result is more delicious that store-bought, in my opinion, and you can control how much salt intake you have.
Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.
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