“You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.”
- Anthony Bourdain.
I confess, I do hold romantic notions of owning goats and making my own cheese someday. Alas, my 'farm' at the moment consists of 2 chickens and a garden badly in need of weeding. With full time work and kids - the goat thing ain't gonna happen.
But I have found something to fill the gap. I'm having a ton of fun with my new Lékué cheese maker - this Spanish company's tupperware ensemble makes creating soft cheese fun and easy - and something the kids could do together with me to have a better understanding of what 'real' food is. (fyi, I got it from Gardener's Supply but I saw that it was on Amazon too.)
Hence the investment in a microwavable, dishwashable, attractive kitchen doohicky.
So what does it make? Just various simple soft cheeses (spreadable) or ricotta. Depending on where you're from, call it queso fresco (Latin America), fromage frais (French), frischkäse (German), panir (Indian) or just farmers cheese. We're talking milk or cream and adding lemon juice or vinegar - that simple.
Life is too short for fake butter, cheese, or people.
You basically put 4 cups of milk in the white bowl and microwave for 10 minutes (my microwave is 1100 watts, length of time depends on your strength. there are internet conversion tables). Add 2 tbsp lemon juice (the green lid doubles as a measuring device). You can substitute vinegar or for yogurt for the lemon juice as variations. If desired, you can also add salt, pepper, herbs or whatever flavors you would like at this point. Let sit and cool on the counter for 30 minutes for the curdles to build up and then drain the mixture into the green colander (you can collect the whey which I'll discuss later).
Nestle the colander back in the white bowl and press the cheese down to solidify. Put in the fridge for an hour to continue draining and firm up. I never realized it was so easy to make! Makes me feel like a complete dufus for buying $6 Boursin herbed cheese at the store.
So far, I've experimented with making it plain with just salt and pepper, rolling it in chives, or adding lemon dill seasoning to it. But I'm envisioning making fresh tzatziki, doing a honey walnut version, or a sun-dried tomato/basil version.....yum....so many possibilities.
Plus I just solved my 'I have 2 hours to figure out what I'm taking to bookclub tonight' problem. Crackers and cheese, people...that's what.
As to variations, the recipe is basically the same for fresh ricotta (just don't press the cheese curds into a solid chunk). Technically ricotta is made from adding an acid to leftover whey rather than milk but this is the simpler version. It's easy to make and you can avoid buying the store-bought version that has guar gum or a bunch of stabilizers added to it.
I tried to make a goat milk soft cheese the other day but didn't read the milk carton label close enough and learned the hard way that if you use any milk products that are ultrapasteurized (almost anything organic), all the good milk microbes you need have been destroyed. So I didn't get any curdles - will have to try that one over with a local source.
Changing the recipe from all milk to half cream/half milk would make a cream cheese - haven't made this yet but it's next on my list. Endless possibilities for flavors there - bagels await.
History digression: Did you know that "Philadelphia Cream Cheese" has never been made in Philly?
Back in the day, many soft cheeses (more like Neufchatel) were made in the Philly area (so many dairy farms around). New Yorker William Lawrence basically made a variation of those soft cheeses by adding more cream... and called it....wait for it....
It sold okay but then a distributor named Alvah Reynolds thought it would sell better if it invoked the great dairy reputation of the Philadelphia area and repackaged it as "Philadelphia Cream Cheese". It was a big hit - a true branding success story. (I'll have to check in with my sister Wendy who worked for Kraft for many many years to see if there's any more to the story.)
Last thing.....another benefit from making soft cheese is the byproduct...whey. I captured the whey in a bowl when I drained my cheese and then just stored it in a jar in the fridge til I figured out what to do with it. Apparently , you can use it for a bunch of different things (here's 36 of them) - it does depend on whether you've got acid whey (like from the soft cheese process) or sweet whey (like from the hard cheese process). I've only tried one so far....mixed it into a bread recipe. But some of them sound pretty interesting (e.g., #15 adjusting the soil pH on my raspberry plants which are slow growing in my high pH clay soil).
So nuture your inner turophile (look it up!) and take a stab at making your own cheese. I would love to know if you have any flavor ideas.
Blessed are the cheesemakers, indeed!