I've had homemade cheeses before and loved how they tasted, but I never got around to making cheese myself. So one day recently, I mustered up the courage and began the process of learning how to make a simple cheese.
Making cheese is a lot simpler than one might think – at least when it comes to making a simple cheese. You can make it just by heating milk and adding vinegar, which is quite similar to the way I improve on a recipe requiring blutermilk. When I make imitation buttermilk, all I do is add lemon to the milk until it curdles, the only difference is that when it comes to making cheese, you harvest the curdled part. The solid substance is called the curd, the leftover liquid is called whey – the same curds and whey Miss Muffet enjoyed.
This seemed a little too easy and this type of cheese is fairly soft, with an almost cottage cheese-like consistency. I searched a little further to find a way to make a firmer cheese?
The answer came … Rennet! Rennet is traditionally made from the stomach of a calf, it is salted after the beast is slaughtered. You can buy rennet easily through various cheese-making supply websites. I was too impatient to wait to get the real stuff, but I found out that there were other forms of rennet that would give the same results. After looking for what seemed like an eternity, I found a recipe for vegetarian rennet. I took about a pound of nettle leaves, a couple of ounces of hops, and some yarrow flowers, put then in a pot and covered it with just enough water to immerse the plants. I bought it to a simmer and then let it sit for a while to steep. I then drained it and added about a cup of salt.
Another thing that helps in cheese-making is conditioning the milk. Through my research I found that I had to add live cultures … but where to get them? The answer ended up being simpler, buttermilk and yogurt. In the same pot as the milk, I poured a half-gallon of milk, one quart of buttermilk, and a whole container of yogurt. I put in half a pint of heavy cream for good measure. I let this sit for a good two hours and guess what? It began to curdle. I wanted thicker curds though, so I poured a half-cup of my homemade rennet in and the curds got thicker in just a matter of minutes. To promote the growth of the bacteria in the yogurt, I let it sit a while, warm it slightly over the stove, careful to not even bring it to a simmer.
I could now see the curds and the whey. The whey was a pale yellowish hue and the curds looked a little bit like scrambled egg whites. I then lined a colander with cheesecloth and proceeded to filter the curds from the whey. I put the curds into a bowl and added salt to further help the removal of excess liquid. Next, I returned it to the colander lined with a fresh layer of cheesecloth. I was anxious to taste it, and wow, it actually tasted like cheese!
The next step is optional – putting your cheese in a mold and pressing it. To make my press, I rummaged around the kitchen to see what I could use. I took an old plastic sherbet container and put a bunch of holes in it. I then placed my cheese curd filled cheesecloth inside and placed it in a large bowl and but a plate on top of my curds. Now the problem was having enough weight to press it. I placed two big cans of tomatoes on top and, voilà, it worked. After pressing it, I put the cheese into the refrigerator and let it set. It tasted a lot like cheddar.
Next time I try to make cheese, I probably use this same recipe but will try to improve upon it. When I master this one, then I think I'll feel a little more like trying a different style of cheese. Happy cheese making!