Jun 03, 2010, 09:10AM

Make your own cheese

Plus leftover possibilities...

A couple of Christmases ago I gave Clare a cheese making kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. At the time we were both really into making everything from scratch—bread, tortillas, pizza crusts, yogurt, ice cream, preserves, sausage and tahini. I experimented with grinding my own flour with a food processor but that wasn’t very successful. Clare really took to fiddly projects; for instance, she loved brewing beer, a process I find tedious with all the exact measurements, temperature taking and delayed gratification. In the kitchen I’m an inveterate eye-baller. I have little patience for recipes. But Clare spent years as a professional baker and likes to weigh and measure things. I thought she would really take to cheesemaking.  

"How was it?" I asked a few weeks later. "How was making cheese?"  

"Actually," she said, "it was a real pain." 

"Oh no!" 

"Yeah, it was just that you had to be so on top of it, and the directions were so specific, and the timing so crucial, and everything in the kitchen had to be so clean through the whole process that it wasn't that much fun." 

A daydream of Clare and me running away to start a small, artisan dairy farm and live happily ever after, elbow deep in curds died a little death. So maybe cheddar is too much trouble if you aren't a serious hobbyist, but yogurt cheese practically makes itself, and it's barely any trouble at all. There are lots of fancy yogurt makers on the market, and I've used a few, but they're about as useful as an electric can opener, and just as hard to clean. There are lots of commercial starters on the market. This site has a good selection, but you can just start with a cup or so of plain yogurt, store-bought or left over from a previous batch. Here are good instructions. I would add that another option is set the warm milk aside in a large thermos to set. 

Cottage cheese is almost easier to make at home than it is to buy. Here's a good step-by-step guide. With the leftover whey you can whip up ricotta, which is traditionally made by cooking down whey until it forms curds again. Lots of people make ricotta from whole milk instead of whey, which is really more of a cottage cheese. I knew a chef who used to make "ricotta" with whole milk, and lemon juice instead of vinegar. It was delicious, so creamy and rich and tangy. 

The next time you make Indian food at home, consider making paneer, which is just cottage cheese by another name. I have tried this recipe and love it; the lime juice is a nice touch. Cottage cheese, ricotta, paneer and yogurt cheese are all easy to make, don't require special enzymes or equipment, and are really so much better fresh than bought. When you have a free afternoon and a gallon of milk, give it a try.


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