The summer milking routine is in full swing here and my first time goat mommy is providing an over-abundance of milk. Giving us nearly a gallon a day, she has successfully added a new chore to my list: cheese making.
Home cheese making is a combination of rewarding and tiresome, at least at this point in the process. The basic problem I face is the size of the batches. I am forced to make cheese one gallon at a time, primarily because I lack a pot large enough to hold more than one gallon of milk. And while I would love to invest in a huge pot reserved solely for making cheese, I have yet to do so.
In fact, generally speaking cheese-making is instrument heavy. There are all sorts of things you need – the right cheesecloth (especially for ricotta), slotted spoons, large pots, thermometers, multiple bowls and strainers for catching whey, somewhere to hang your cheese while they dry, cultures, rennet…the list could go on but I don’t want to alarm you.
In truth cheese making is not difficult, it is simply procedure intensive. It is like chemistry…if you skip a step or get sloppy, your cheese could potentially explode. (Okay not REALLY, but it could get moldy and smell funny…which is nearly as bad).
There are a variety of recipes out there on the internet for making your own cheese. One of my favorite sites is Fias Co Farm, a web site dedicated to all things goat, including cheese making. Some of the recipes are very simply and it is a great introduction to making your own cheese at home, regardless of whether you are using fresh goat milk from your own animals or not.
In general, cheese making follows some basic steps, with modifications to temperature, time and cultures making up the bulk of the differences in the end result. Basically you bring the milk to temperature, add a culture if necessary (for things like cheddar and feta cultures or even yogurt are added to allow the ripening to occur properly) then left to ripen for about an hour. At this point the rennet is added and the curd is allowed to form – again, the time allowed for this depends on the cheese. The curd is then cut, rested and brought up to the appropriate temperature during the “cooking” phase. The temperature affects the firmness of the curd and thus the firmness of the final cheese.
The curds are then strained, salted, hung, pulled, or pressed and you end up with your final result.
So, like many things culinary, cheese making isn’t necessarily difficult, however it is time consuming and it does require basic direction following. Cheese making is not an area where experimentation is an asset – at least not at the beginning.
All this being said I have successfully made mozzarella, farmers cheese, fromage blanc, cheddar (I think…I won’t know for about 3 months how successful it was…), and feta. All in all, I enjoy the process and really enjoy eating the results.
So here is a very basic recipe for a paneer like cheese (for those of you not familiar with Saag Paneer, a favorite Indian dish of mine, paneer is a firm cheese with a consistency similar to tofu. It does not melt and can be used in pretty much any way tofu can).
Paneer or Farmer’s Cheese
1 gallon milk – I use raw goat’s milk but any will do
1/4 c white vinegar
Bring one gallon of milk up to 160 degrees over direct heat, stirring regularly to ensure the milk is heated evenly. Once at temperature, remove from heat and add 1/4 white vinegar, stirring until well mixed.
You will notice that the milk will start to separate right away. Let cool for a few minutes so as to allow for the curds to separate fully as well as to avoid burning yourself during straining.
Strain the curds through a colander lined with cheesecloth that you have resting over a large bowl or another pot. Catch and keep your whey so you can make ricotta.
Let the curds drain overnight. The end result should be a firm cheese that resembles tofu in texture.
One of my favorite ways to serve this cheese is to cut it into cubes, dredge it in flour and fry until it is golden brown. Then I sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper and voila! A perfect snack!