Cheese making class

For my birthday, I took a cheese making class at PCC, the local organic food chain.  While I’m a little frustrated at eco-snobbery vibe, it’s close and the classroom facilities are nice. If it were as fun to shop in as Whole Foods is on an empty stomach, I’d be in a far worse financial situation…

They publish a quarterly-ish catalog of their classes.  Lebanese cuisine filled up before I could decide, but cheese making was experimental cooking enough that I thought I’d give it a try.

Chef Jackie and the silent assistant

Chef Jackie was a lot of fun and a natural instructor.  We’d be undertaking five cheeses.  It didn’t sound like much.

The first and most laborious recipe was Goat Milk Mozzarella.  Jackie warned us that fresh free-range organic asbestos-free goat milk was in short supply as the goats were just finishing up nursing their kids.  Its pH would likely be “off.”  Through some shrewd negotiating skills, she procured a gallon of the liquid gold.

Goat Milk Mozzarella

1t citric acid dissolved in 1/4 C cool water
1 gallon goat milk
1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 C cool, unchlorinated, homogenized water (rennet is very effective at curdling, and must be diluted enough to let it distribute around the pot)
1/4 C salt

1. Add the citric acid into the milk and mix thoroughly.
2. Heat the milk to 88F.
3. Add the disolved rennet into the milk and stir 15-20 seconds.  Cover the pot with a lid and let the milk remain still 15 minutes while it coagulates.
4. Cut the curd into cubes around 1/2″ in size.  Let the curds chat amongst themselves for 5 minutes.  Apply low heat and stir gently to keep the curds separated.  Heat them to 110F.  The curds will shrink and stop talking.
5. Turn off the heat and allow the curds to rest for 10-15 minutes.
6. Drain the curds in a colander lined with cheesecloth.  While they’re draining, heat a 1/2 gallon of water mixed with 1/4C salt to 170F.
7. Remove the curds from the cheesecloth and place them in the slotted spoon.  Immerse in the hot water for 10 seconds.  Remove them, and fold and knead the curd until it becomes smooth and elastic and stretches.  If the curd doesn’t stretch like taffy, repeat.  Shape the mozzarella into a ball and place it in ice water to cool.
8. When the cheese comes out really rubbery, buy some mozzarella goat cheese from the deli section.

We paused at step 3 to work on the Dry Buttermilk cheese.  Came back and did step 5.  Paused again for the Queso Blanco, then resumed again. It was pretty obvious from step 7 that things weren’t going well.  She repeated it five times before producing something with the textured of cheese stick that had been sitting outdoors for a week.  It was vaguely cheese-like in flavor, but the consistency of  … not very good.  To be fair, she warned us ahead of time.

Tools used. Not shown: rennet tablets. May cause spontaneous explosion or severe apathy towards Seattle sports teams. Use only as directed.

 

The next cheese was a dry buttermilk.  Were it not for timing, this would have been a great one to start off with because, dang, it’s hard to screw up.

Dry Buttermilk (Makes half a pound)

1 quart fresh buttermilk
Cheesecloth

1. In a medium-sized pot, heat the milk to 160F.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching
2. If the curds don’t separate, gradually increase the temperature to 180F.
3. Pour the curds into a colander with cheesecloth.  Tie the corners into a knot and hang the bag to drain for 2-3 hours.
4. Add salt and herbs to taste.

Well, wow, like anyone can do that.  Cheese victory dance!

Curds, ahoy!

The next cheese was a queso blanco.  This is a drier cheese that’s sprinkled on top of Mexican food.  It, too, was pretty darn easy.

Queso Blanco (Makes a fiesta)

1 gallon whole milk
1/4C cider vinegar
4T kosher salt

1. In a large pot, combine milk and salt.  Heat the milk to 185F.  Stir often to prevent scorching

2. Slowly add the vinegar until the curds separate from the whey.  Sometimes vinegar loses its mojo, and you might need to add a little more.
3. Ladle the curds into a colander with cheesecloth.  Drain for 2-3 hours.

The penultimate cheese was a paneer.  I’m told this is used in Indian cooking.

While were making this, there was a sidebar on type of milk and their suitability for home cheese making.  If obtained from a reliable, trustable source, raw milk is supposed to be the easiest to work with.  There were hushed tones as some of the classmates were discussing where to score some fine hemp seedlings raw milk.

Next on the dairy pecking order is vat-pasteurized.  This is milk cooked to slowly at 145F to kill off the potential bovine tuberculosis, Q-fever, brucellosis, listeria, salmonella and botulism, but it’s cool enough that the milk bits are left mostly intact.

Most milk in grocery stores is flash-pasteurized at 165F (but for a shorter period).  The heat does damage the casein.  (As we saw with the Dry Buttermilk recipe, heating it for a prolonged period is sufficient to cause curds to form.)
Finally, ultra high-temperature pasteurization, the kind of milk that comes in a high-tech box, needs no refrigeration, and has an expiration date in the year 3000, is considered useless for cheesemaking.  I have noticed, but not confirmed, that most of it is flavored, possibly to mask the aftertaste.

Paneer (Makes two pounds)

1 gallon whole milk
8T lemon or lime juice (more may be required)

1. In a large-sized pot, heat the milk to 200F.  Stir often to prevent scorching
2. Reduce heat to low and stir in juice.  Cook 15 seconds.  If you don’t have clear separation of curds from whey, add a few more teaspoons of juice while gently increasing the heat.  (This is where I just said “pffft” and put a lot in.  Blammo, curds!)
3. Remove from the heat let rest for 5 minutes.
5. Ladle the curds into a cheesecloth.  Hold the bag under a stream of water to rinse off excess juice.  Tie the corners into a knot and gently twist to squeeze out additional liquid.
6. Hang the bag to drain for 2-3 hours.   (You can optionally put a bowl of water on top of it to help squeeze out water.)

Three for four, our last cheese was a ricotta.  It’s also very easy, and was my favorite.

Whole Milk Ricotta (Makes 1 1/2 – 2 pounds)

1 t citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cool, unchlorinated water
1 t kosher salt
1 gallon whole milk
Cheesecloth

1. Add the citric acid and solt into the milk and mix thoroughly.
2. In a large epot, heat the milk to 185F.  Stir often to prevent scorching
3. As soon as the curds and whey separate, turn off the heat.  Allow to set, undisturbed for 10 minutes.
4. Line a colander with cheesecloth.  Carefully ladle the curds into the cheesecloth.  Tie the corners into a knot and hang the bag to drain for 20-30 minutes.  The cheese is ready to eat immediately.
You can store it in a covered container in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.

At the end of the class, the cheeses were served plain and mixed with stuff.  In all, ten combinations (5 cheeses * served with|without herbs-n-spices) is much more cheese than a person should consume at 9:30 in the evening.  My favorite was the ricotta.

Plate o' cheeses.

3 thoughts on “Cheese making class”

  1. What a fun experience and an awesome class! I’ve never made cheese, but you may just have inspired some experimentation. Your recipes make it sound relatively easy (goat cheese aside).

    On the milk suitability/pasteurization issue, what about irradiated milk? It doesn’t use heat so might not be as damaging, but has the nice long shelf life. If only it were sold in my grocery store… 🙂

  2. Except for the Mozzarella, it was surprisingly easy and requiring very little I don’t already have in the kitchen.

    Regarding irradiated milk – that’s an interesting question. I don’t see an obvious reason it wouldn’t work as it doesn’t affect the proteins.

    I will say that the grass-fed cow’s milk (vat pasteurized by a company called “Fresh Eire”) tasted really good. If it weren’t so expensive, I’d love to try a cheddar with it.

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