I’ve long had a dream that someday I would run away, buy a picturesque stone cottage outside of some lovely French village, raise goats and make cheese. No, really. Somewhere in this magical dream I’ve obviously won the lottery or found a generous patron because tedious details like mortgages, taxes and health insurance don’t make appearances in dreams and for good reason. It pretty much bursts the bubble and what kind of dream is that? In the meantime, in the realm of my current reality, I’ll have to make due with making cheese in my city kitchen with goat milk I’ve purchased – gasp! – at The Jewel.
Making basic cheeses in your kitchen is easy. Ridiculously easy. Three simple steps: heat the milk, add an acid, strain. Really, it’s that straightforward. Anyone can do it. You need a few key pieces of equipment but all are easily found – a big pot (the heavier and more substantial the better), a colander, some cheesecloth (the tighter the weave the better), a ladle. A chopstick and a deep bowl helps too. Oh, and a thermometer (I like digital because they’re easier to read.)
There’s something fascinating that happens during this process. Once you add the acid, lemon juice in this case, to the heated milk there’s movement. Honest to god movement as the curds begin to form and the whey swirls slightly to and frou. You can watch it happening right before your very eyes. Strain those curds to separate out the liquid, or whey, and there’s your cheese. True story.
Now I should point out that the better your milk, the better the results. If you have a farmers market that sells dairy, by all means take advantage of it and count yourself lucky, especially if you can get (sssshhhhh) raw goat milk. Ideally we’d all have goats in our backyards but for most of us, the local grocery store will just have to do. And you know what? It works out just fine. Start out with the store bought stuff first, to get your feet wet, then start searching for the good stuff.
Let’s talk the types of milk out there because this is important in cheesemaking and it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. I am certainly no expert but can provide an overview for a basic understanding of all the terms you’ll come across. Raw milk is just that – right out of the cow or goat. There’s a TON of controversy about this and it’s extremely difficult to find but raw milk tastes like nothing you’ll ever buy in a store – I’d describe it as sort of barnyardy with the flavor of the hay/grass/feed subtly present in the background. Since it hasn’t been heat treated, there is concern that microbial pathogens that could make a person sick might still be present. If you want to learn more, google “raw milk” and read up but here’s what I think: if you know your dairyman/woman and they keep nice, clean, happy, healthy animals then it’s your decision. I know plenty of dairy farmers I would gladly buy raw milk from if only they sold it.
So anyway, since raw milk is nearly impossible for most of us it looks like pasteurized dairy it is. Pasteurization is a process used mainly to prolong shelf life and reduce microbial pathogens. (Now, if our food systems had better controls, pathogens in our dairy might not be such an issue but that’s a whole other story.) So in the US, we primarily encounter two types of pasteurization when it comes to dairy – high temperature short time (HTST) and ultra-pasteurization (UHT). In the HTST process, milk is heated to 161°F for 15–20 seconds. UHT processing holds the milk at a temperature of 275°F for a minimum of 1 second. There’s some debate out there that the extra high temperatures of UHT, even for a short time, destroy many of the flavor and texture components unique to dairy and I’ve found that I greatly prefer pasteurized to ultra pasteurized based on strictly personal observations. Several places where I’ve worked, including an esteemed chocolate company avoided ultra pasteurized dairy at all costs as the owner simply did not like the texture nor flavor of UHT cream in our ganaches. And don’t think you’ll avoid the issue by using organic – I’ve found that for whatever reason, much of the organic cream in my area is UHT.
Now having said all that, I’ve probably confused you to no end so prioritize it like this: #1 goat in your backyard, #2 milk from a farmer, #3 store bought pasteurized dairy (organic preferred), #4 store bought ultra-pasteurized dairy (organic preferred.) Got it? If the grocery store is your option, go the dairy cooler and you’ll be surprised to see goat milk there. I’ve seen it everywhere as most people with lactose problems can drink goat milk. Usually, I see this brand – it’s ultra-pasteurized but we’ve covered that and it works just fine if that’s what’s available.
So once you’ve got your choice of dairy sorted out, it’s a simple process as I mentioned: heat, acid, strain. Then you have cheese. It’s wonderful as is but will greatly improve if you snazz it up a bit, at least with a little salt but other flavors are great too. Kiss My Spatula has pretty much the same recipe on her blog – it’s a pretty basic formula – and I really like the herb combination she uses so that’s along the lines of what I’ve listed below but feel free to add anything you like. I’ve done versions with just sea salt and a lot of pepper, I’ve added lemon zest, mixed up the herbs and fiddled around with the level of garlic. Be careful with the garlic as it can become extremely overpowering, regardless of how much you love the stuff.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY GREAT. This has all the makings of a perfect stress relief project. It takes time and attention. It has a very impressive cool factor – you made cheese??!? It’s one of those things your ancestors did out of necessity that we’ve lost touch with. Bring it back. Most importantly, it’s tasty as hell and deceptively easy. Any time you can pass off a pretty easy project as something incredibly complex there’s bonus points involved. I think kids would love this and it would make the greatest science project ever. Think of all the conversations you could have about bacteria, enzymes and acids. Fun stuff!
if you’re into cheese, check this post out: Bleu Mont Dairy (amazing stuff)
if you want to learn more about cheese, this is a great book: Artisan Cheesemaking at Home
where to buy cheesemaking supplies for when you really go off on a tear: New England Cheesemaking Supplies
HERBED FRESH GOAT CHEESE
Makes about ¾ cup
1 quart goat’s milk
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon herbs de provence
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 baguette sliced into ½” slices
olive oil to garnish
- For the cheese: Line a colander with several layers of damp cheesecloth and place over a large deep bowl or stockpot. Set aside until needed.
- In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat the milk over medium to 180°F on a digital thermometer.
- Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
- Let stand undisturbed to let the curds form, about 10 minutes. If milk does not curdle, add a little more lemon juice.
- Carefully ladle the milk into the prepared colander.
- Carefully gather up the corners of the cheesecloth, taking care not to spill any of the curds and whey.
- Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together in a knot or tie tightly with kitchen string.
- Allow to drain until the consistency of slightly dry cottage cheese is reached, about 1-1 ½ hours. Now the way I like to do this is to poke a chopstick through the knot or kitchen string and hang it over a tall container or pot to drain.
- Once drained, carefully unwrap the cheesecloth and gently transfer the cheese to a bowl.
- Gently fold in the garlic, salt, herbs de provence, pepper and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Can be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to 1 week.
- For the croutons: meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and brush the sliced bread lightly with olive oil.
- Toast the bread until lightly golden, turning halfway through for about 10-15 minutes total.
- Serve the herbed goat cheese on the toasted croutons, topped with a drizzle of olive oil if you like.