Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Home Made Cheese

NAME: _Home Made Cheese

Milk (3 litres = about 200g cheese!)
citric acid (or lemon juice)
OPTIONS (See Notes)
plain yoghurt
turmeric or anatto powder (If you want some yellow colour in your cheese.)
flavouring, optional

Read Notes first - there are so many things you can do or try or leave out.

Warm milk to body temperature slowly (over low heat) and add a tablespoon or two of yoghurt (if using) and a merest pinch of the turmeric or anatto if you want to colour the cheese. (It will concentrate in the curd so really - use only 1/4 of a teaspoonful in this much milk.)  Keep at skin temperature for an hour or so, up to four is the longest I've tried.  (See Notes)

Now add lemon juice or citric acid liquid a teaspoonful at a time, stirring constantly.  As soon as milk develops little flecks, stop.  If after five minutes it still hasn't formed a curd (lumps) then add another teaspoonful, stir it in.  (I realise this is rough but this is only a really basic homemade soft style cheese and is still damn nice despite the rough handling.)

Once milk starts, don't touch it again for about ten minutes.  It should have separated quite well into a lot of curd and some clearish whey.  Place a clean handkerchief in a strainer or colander and slowly pour your stock into it.  I save the whey for use in the bread, used instead of water.  You can save it or drain it, but if you do use it, make sure you use it the same day.  I don't know what it would do if it spoiled, but I assume it wouldn't be a pretty sight...

Lift the corners of the handkerchief and let the whey keep draining out.  You can help it along by closing it into a bag and twisting a bit.  Once the curd is like solid custard, put it in a glass or plastic bowl, sprinkle on about half a teaspoon of fine cooking salt (not iodised salt) and fold it in, then microwave on high for several one minute bursts, with a two minute rest in between bursts.  It should become hot to touch, but not boiling.

Put the handkerchief back in the strainer and pour the heated curd (and puddle of whey) back, let it cool to skin temperature again, and once again lift the corners, form a bag, and squeeze a few turns.

You can now continue twisting until no more whey seems to come out, then press the cheese (still wrapped in the handkerchief) under a few kilos of weight. (See Notes)  After a few hours (overnight is ideal) there should be no more whey coming out.  To be sure, lift the cheese out of the press, turn upside down, and press for another hour or two.

Take the cheese back out of the press, unwrap the handkerchief from the cheese, and rub it with more plain fine salt.  You can now eat it pretty much right away, or wrap it back up in a clean handkerchief, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for a week to develop a little bit. This is a very simple cheese and aging it more than a week doesn't do much for it.  You can also marinate it in a brine of salt, water, and white wine or white wine vinegar for the week instead, but it'll still be a pretty simple cheese. (Marinated like this it becomes very like a ziegerkaese, which is a ricotta style cheese marinated in a similar brine mixture.)

It's a soft crumbly cheese, serve with water crackers or crumbled on salads or dishes, etc.  It will keep a few weeks if salted enough, and will stay moist enough to eat if you keep it wrapped.

Milk: I used 3litre jugs of milk I buy at the store - maybe a bit expensive, but short of making friends with a dairy farmer that's what you'll have to work with too.  It does work, although I've never tried skim or enriched milks.  Stick to plain old milk I think.  I also imagine that if you get fresh milk you may get a bit more cheese out of it, as commercial milk has permeate in it, which is basically the whey the dairy creamery had left over after making cheese...

Yoghurt: This just adds a bit of flavour.  Letting it sit in the milk begins to form more yoghurt in the milk, and the flavour carries through into the cheese.  You can leave this out and save the one to four hours's sitting time before curdling the milk - flavour is only slightly affected.

Citric acid/lemon juice:  I make up citric acid of about two teaspoonfuls of citric acid powder to a cup or two of warm water, stir well, then let it cool before using it.  I dilute lemon juice 75/25 with water so I can add a teaspoonful at a time until the milk begins to turn, if it's too strong then the risk is that the curd will form in a snap, and be all tiny crumbs, which makes for a very powdery textured cheese.  Ideal curd lumps in this recipe form at about "teaspoonful" size.  If your curd forms one solid mass, pat yourself on the back and slice it roughly into 1/2" cubes with a skewer or knife.

Press: I made a press out of a 500ml tin with one end removed with one of those sideways can openers and a few holes pushed outward through the bottom end, and a jar that was a sliding fit into the tin.  I put the press into a large saucepan, resting on an upside-down saucer, and laced rubber bands from one handle of the saucepan to the other, going over the jar and pressing it down onto the cheese.  I pulled up on the jar and "guesstimated" the number of rubber bands to apply a few kilos of pressure, you can of course just put weights on top of the press.  The saucer just lifts the press and the cheese out of the way of any more whey that will squeeze out of the cheese and pool in the saucepan.

You can also just hang the curd in the cloth for a day or two, put something under it to catch the whey drips, and that will form a softer smoother cheese I believe.

Cloths: I go to the discount clothing store and buy a pack of large cotton handkerchiefs for a few dollars, and keep them just for cooking and cheese experiments.  Don't use a used hanky because it will have all sorts of nasty bugs that will thrive in the cheese.  And wash the cheese handkerchiefs well, rinse in mild bleach, and then rinse well and dry well.  You can also use cotton cloth, cotton tea towels, or butter cloth, as long as it's fairly fine weave so the curds don't squeeze out, has no dye to leach out, and is clean.

Salt: is king - it adds flavour, and prevents rapid deterioration due to bacterial or fungal action.  Too much salt will destroy the experience of eating, but too little could leave you with a nasty food poisoning.  And it never hurts to store the cheese in a cooler place like the refrigerator rather than on the sideboard.  Salt on the outside of the cheese will encourage a harder outside.

Anatto: is used commercially to colour cheeses golden yellow, while turmeric imparts a greener golden tinge.  Either should be added in tiny quantities as they concentrate in the curds.

Other flavourings:  Should be added after the curd is salted and cooked and before the pressing/hanging stage.  Ground / cracked black pepper, mustard seed, paprika powder come to mind - experiment, it's bound to be fun.

Real cheesemakers will shudder - curds should be smooth and undamaged, like medium custard.  My method makes crumbly stringy curd lumps, and I use turmeric to colour what should be a white cheese.

To make it more like a haloumi cheese, don't use colouring agent or yoghurt, and use lemon juice to start the curd. Once curds have had whey squeezed out, salt with a whole teaspoon of salt, mix that in.Tie the handkerchief off with string, flatten out into a rectangle about 1/2" thick, place on an upside-down plate, put another upside-down plate on top of that, and weigh that down to press it for about six to twelve hours, then unwrap, salt the outside, lay some mint leaves on one half and fold over, re-wrap and leave to set for a day in a cool place, pressure optional.

It's all experimental.  I read a book on simple cheese making, read a few sites online that have instructions, asked a friend of mine who'd made haloumi, and then worked off an idealised set of instructions.  (these instructions...)  It's worked for me three times now, producing a nicely-flavoured cheese with reasonable texture and firmness.  That doesn't mean any of it is gospel - feel free to experiment a bit.

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