Cheese, the oh-so-beloved dairy-licious decadence that with the exception of the vegans and lactose intolerant among us, tops the charts as one of our favorite foodstuffs. Baked mac’n’cheese with farmhouse cheddar, made-from-scratch blueberry cheesecake, PIZZA! And then there is the sweet simplicity of a fresh chunk of mozzarella and homegrown tomato wrapped in a leaf of just-plucked windowsill basil. Mouth watering, yeah? You betcha!
For most of us modern-day mamas (or papas), a truly delectable cheese is as close as the nearest grocery store gourmet counter, depending of course, on the size of your bank account. But for the adventurous among us, I offer up an alternative. Grab a gallon of whole milk and a good cooking pot, and let’s make some cheese!
The first time I felt the smooth stretch of warm mozzarella between my hands, I was awestruck. Seriously? I am doing this? I made homemade pizza that day. Everything from scratch or grown from the garden. I felt like the most awesome person ever. And I was rewarded with happy tummies and complements at my table. Take out? Take that! Eat your heart out Digiorno! There is a deep satisfaction from homemade. Try it and let me know what you think.
We’re going to make Queso Blanco, by far the easiest cheese in my opinion, as the only ingredients are whole milk and white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar if you like).
1 gallon Whole milk
1/4 cup vinegar
A dairy thermometer
A large stainless steel cooking pot
A strainer. A wooden spoon
Optional: Salt and/or fresh or dried herbs
The entire process takes about 4 hours and will yield approximately 1 pound of cheese. Alright! Let’s do it!
1. Gather your supplies.
2. Pour your milk into your pot and place over medium low heat. You want your milk to heat slowly and gradually to reach a desired temperature of 180 degrees. It takes about an hour when given the patience to be done right. Stir every so often with a wooden spoon to distribute heat evenly and to prevent scalding.
3. When your milk reaches 180 degrees, turn off the heat. * If you do not have a dairy thermometer, turn off the pot when the milk starts to foam a little, just before you think it’s going to boil. You DO NOT want it to boil.
4. Slowly add your vinegar and gently stir with your wooden spoon. You should see the curds start to separate from the whey.
5. Let sit a few minutes.
6. Very carefully (as it is HOT) pour your curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. If you want to save your whey (which I recommend because it is the cat’s meow as a substitute for milk in baked goods) place another large pot under the colander. If you do not have cheesecloth you can use a cotton t-shirt. Clean obviously. Just cut it at the seams and use the same way. Come on, you must have an old cotton shirt lying around.
7. Pull up the edges and ring out to expel the main part of the whey.
8. Transfer back to your cooking pot and hang from any surface that can comfortably fit the pot and bag of cheese. I use a magnet on the hood of my stove. Easy and convenient, but use your imagination. Let strain for about 3 hours. Less time will give you a wetter cheese, more will give you a firmer cheese.
9. Yum! Unwrap from the cheese cloth and place in a resealable container to refrigerate. It will keep up to a week cold. Not that it lasts that long.
Mix it with jam. Strawberry is my favorite. Just chop up the cheese and swirl it together with your desired amount of jam for sweetness. Use it on crackers or as a dip for apples or celery.
Grill it. Yep, you heard me right. This cheese has a very high melting point, so you can actually place it directly on your skillet or grill with a little oil or butter. Makes a great snack with a bit of salt or seasoning, and an excellent Indian Paneer.
Form it into balls and roll into fresh or dried herbs. My favorites are fresh dill and garlic, or chives, parsley and dill. But I’m always open to suggestions so if you find a favorite way to enjoy this cheese, please share! If you find a combo that you love and know that’s how you want to season the whole thing, add your salt and herbs after you pour it into your cheesecloth, while the whey is still nice and liquidy. Then give it a good stir with your spoon before it strains all the way.FYI:I used fresh, raw goat’s milk. I have never used store-bought or cow’s milk to make this cheese. I would love to know how yours turns out! If you try it, please let me know in the comments section below.