Lexington, KY – I have never been one to back down from a gastronomic challenge. Homemade pasta, artisan breads and delicate meringues have been making appearances in my kitchen for years. But becoming a Kaas (a cheese maker) never crossed my culinary radar until recently, and it likely hasn’t crossed yours either. But if you have milk in your fridge and vinegar on your shelf, you too can easily make and brag to your friends about your new Kaas skills.
Cheese making at its most basic form is heating milk and adding an acid to separate curds (the clumps in cottage cheese) and whey (the watery fluid that separates from the clumps). The acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, provides the needed catalyst that causes the milk to curdle and produces cheese’s distinct texture and flavor.
If you are already envisioning lavishing your dinner guests with homemade blue cheese dressing next weekend, think again. Hard cheeses require a lot of time, supplies and a temperature-controlled environment that is usually not practical or available at home. Cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, crËme fraiche, mascarpone and cottage cheese, on the other hand, are perfect beginner cheeses and are much less complicated and time consuming to make than hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Roquefort and Swiss. In time, if you do indeed catch the “kaas buzz,” more in depth research can be done online or through cheese making classes to achieve a perfect blue cheese or Camembert.
The steps to making basic soft cheeses are straightforward and simple and require only basic ingredients and kitchenwares. A couple of glass bowls, a colander, a large saucepan, kitchen twine and muslin or cheesecloth will get you on your way to making your first batch of cheese. Additionally, if you do not have a food thermometer, you may want to invest in one. It is possible to make soft cheese without a thermometer but the more accurate the temperatures, the better results you will achieve.
Be sure the milk you buy is not labeled “ultra pasteurized” -
it will not set up properly because the high temperature ultra pasteurization uses denatures the milk proteins. Beyond that, any form of milk from fresh cow’s milk, organic milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk will do.
The most important key to success in cheese making is sanitation. From beginning to end, nothing should be allowed to come into contact with the cheese that has not been properly sanitized. This is easily done by soaking bowls and utensils in a bleach solution of about 1 oz per gallon of water followed by thorough rinsing.
After stumbling across a book at the library about the cheese making process, I attempted my first batch of homemade ricotta. Since then my cheese making repertoire has expanded, but basic ricotta is certainly my most used recipe. Ricotta is extremely versatile as well as really simple to make. It can be used in crepes, layered in lasagnas, replace cream cheese in cheesecakes and topped on bruschetta with a drizzle of olive oil. Whichever you choose, after making a batch of your own, you will swear off store bought tubs of dry, tasteless ricotta cheese for good.
When making cheese, you inevitably will end up with a large amount of whey. That whey protein is extremely nutritious and should be saved and reused. I store the yellowish liquid in a glass jar in the refrigerator and add it to my morning smoothies, mix it into bread recipes, soup stocks and beans.
Whole Milk Ricotta (from Fias Co. Farm)
1. In a heavy pot, over direct heat, heat 2 qt. of whole milk to 200∞ (sometimes I accidentally heat it to boiling). Add 3 tbsp. of white vinegar or 1/4 cup of fresh, strained lemon juice. Make sure to bring the temperature back up to 200∞. You will see very tiny white particles (the albumin protein) floating in the whey. The heat and acid from the ripe whey has precipitated the protein.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and set it, covered, to rest undisturbed for about 15 minutes.