It's all about cheese

It's all about cheese

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Many cheese recipes call for a culture or two as well as rennet. Making rennet at home is pretty much out of the question, unless you keep cows or goats for meat and have ready access to their stomach lining. Cultures, on the other hand, can be made at home.

For many soft and semi-hard cheeses, mesophilic culture is required. It's convenient to buy it from a cheesemaking supplier and have ready for use in your freezer. However, sometimes you want to make cheese now and don't have it at hand. Use buttermilk instead. Buy it with a minimum of two weeks of its life left, then keep it at room temperature for 12-24 hours. It will thicken, and the bacteria will have nicely multiplied. Use a cup of it for a gallon of milk. Freeze the left-over buttermilk for future cheesemaking adventures.

If you prefer to make hard cheese, you'll need thermophilic culture as well. Treat a good-quality yogurt (yogurt should have only milk and cultures as its ingredients; otherwise it isn't yogurt and won't work) the same way as the buttermilk above. You have thermophilic starter.

German cheeses often use a dairy product called Dickmilch to culture milk for Tilsiter, Allgäuer Bauernkäse, German Camembert. I've not seen it anywhere outside Germany, but you can make it yourself if you have access to raw milk. This will not work with the processed-to-death milk you find at the grocery stores; it has to be started off with raw milk. Pour half a pint of raw milk into a flat dish and leave at room temperature or slightly warmer for 12-24 hours. If it's not thickened after that time, add a few drops of lemon juice and leave for another few hours. You'll have soured milk that teems with good bacteria suitable to culture milk for cheesemaking. Once you have this starter culture, you can use pasteurized milk to increase the quantity, though you typically need one cup per gallon of milk for cheesemaking.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Other easy cheeses

Quark, aka curd cheese, aka fromage frais is a type of cream cheese that tastes nothing like the cream cheese named after a city and manufactured by those who like to mess with your foods. It is one of the most popular cheeses in Germany for baked cheesecake but is also tasty on a slice of bread and covered with jam. Many like it as a dessert mixed with fruit, and others prefer it with some fresh herbs on bread for dinner. It's delicious when served plain with boiled potatoes and a green salad, too.

If you have access to raw milk, use the following recipe:

1 gallon of raw milk, divided into two equal parts

Refrigerate one half of the milk; you'll need it tomorrow. Pour the other half of the milk into a flat dish and keep in a warm place (76-80F) overnight. The milk should have a much thicker consistency now. If it doesn't, add 4-5 drops of lemon juice, stir, and wait another 3-4 hours.

Pour this thickened milk into a large pot and add the milk from the fridge. Keep in a warm water bath in the sink until the mixture heats up to about 95 degrees. If it's a couple of degrees warmer, it won't matter, but make sure it doesn't heat up much more than 95F, or else you'll end up with a cheese that's good for cooking only. Keep it at this temperature for half an hour to an hour, after which time you'll notice the whey separating from the curds if you carefully stab it with a knife. Let it rest for another 10 minutes, then pour the mixture into a sieve/colander lined with cheesecloth over a pot. That way, you can use the whey, which is quite nutritious. You can boil your pasta in whey, for example, or make bread and replace the water called for in the recipe with whey. Or cool it, then add a spoonful of honey and the juice of a lemon to have a refreshing drink.

Once the whey stops running, hang your cheese in the cheesecloth for about 3-4 hours from a hook or from the tap. Then it's ready to eat.

If you don't have access to raw milk, use this recipe:

1/2 gallon of milk
1 quart buttermilk
1 quart kefir

Mix all ingredients in a large pot, put in water bath and heat to 95F. Proceed the same way as with raw milk.


1 quart whipping cream or heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon citric acid (any Indian grocery store should have it if you don't want to order online)

Heat cream to 165F. Heat it slowly or else it'll scorch. Dissolve the citric acid in 1/4 cup of warm water. Add to cream (it'll separate now into curds and whey) and stir for 10 minutes. Pour into cheesecloth-lined colander. Hang it for a couple of hours.


Yogurt is very easy to make at home. All you need is a small tub of Greek yogurt (or any proper yogurt, the ingredients of which should be nothing but milk and cultures; if it contains pectin or gelatin or even inedible items such as HFCS, it isn't yogurt.) and a quart of milk. Mix the yogurt with the milk, then keep at about 75F for 6-12 hours. A yogurt maker is handy for this, but by no means essential. If the day's high temperature is above 75f, keep it on your balcony for a few hours, just make sure it's well covered. Likewise, if the night's low is 75F, put it on the balcony or outside the door at night, and when you wake up you'll have yogurt. If you live in a cold climate, set your oven to 75F (if it's 5 degrees more, it really doesn't matter) to provide the ideal temperature.

Stretching your store-bought sour cream works in the same way, except use half and half instead of milk.


No matter the spelling, this is a Middle Eastern soft cheese with a creamy texture. It's typically served with olive oil and fresh herbs mixed in.

1 quart fresh yogurt
1/2 teaspoon good quality salt (at the very least, use unrefined sea salt; unrefined rock salt is less polluted, and pink Himalaya salt gives you the benefit of containing all minerals and trace elements found in human blood)
extra-virgin olive oil to taste (start off with about a tablespoon, then add as needed)

Mix the yogurt with salt, then pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Leave for an hour or so, then hang the cheesecloth from a hook so the yogurt loses more whey. After 12-24 hours, it'll have the consistency of a creamy cheese. Add olive oil and herbs of your choice. Or form into small balls and store in jars fully covered in olive oil. When stored that way, it'll keep for weeks at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making Cheese - The Basics

Cheese came about for the very same reason jams were made: to increase a product's lifespan. Milk, especially without refrigeration, will spoil within days. There is nothing daunting about making cheese; it's no more difficult than making jam or cooking a square meal. The one virtue you need for making cheese is patience. Pretty much everything else allows for tweaking and compromising.

It's a myth that you need a "proper dairy" set-up in order to make cheese. I've been making it for years, and only yesterday I finally ordered a cheese press. You can make a lot of different cheeses by using what you have readily in your kitchen, some cheesecloth (Bed, Bath, and Beyond have a decent quality one, though the cheap ones from the Evil Empire will do in an emergency), plus a good-quality thermometer that ranges from about 75-200 F. Once you go beyond the most simple recipes, you'll need rennet, and perhaps some cultures. More about that later.

The most important aspect about cheesemaking is a clean kitchen, with absolutely no traces of washing-up liquid or any other chemical cleaners. Rinse your pot after you wash it thoroughly to ensure there are no traces. Rinse your ladle if you use one. Boil your cheesecloth before use.

Let's start with the simplest of all: paneer, also known as queso blanco.

In a large pot, slowly heat a gallon of store-bought milk to 180/190F. This is where patience comes in. If you heat it over high heat, the bottom of the pan will scorch, and your cheese will have a slightly or worse burnt flavour. When the milk reaches about 180F, turn it off, then add a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. You can use any vinegar really, and even lemon juice, but I'm a snob and like apple cider vinegar. In most cases, a quarter cup is enough. Stir the milk to mix the vinegar in well, and you should see curds forming pretty instantly. If you don't, add another glug of vinegar (about a sip's worth), and that should definitely do it. As soon as the milk curdles, move it from the hot stove. Let sit for five to ten minutes. Meantime, line a colander with cheesecloth, then pour the contents of the pot (which now is whey and curds) into it. Be careful about splashing; the stuff is hot. Once you've transferred it all into the cheesecloth, take the four corners of the cloth and knot them together. Then hang either over a pot or above the sink, making sure the cloth doesn't touch the bottom. Let drain for 8-12 hours. You now have a non-melting cheese that takes on pretty much any taste, sort of like tofu. Cut into cubes and add to curry, or add to your favourite Mexican dish.