Equipment you will need:
– Clean cotton cloth or cheesecloth (there’s a reason they call it that.)
– A large colander or strainer.
– A large glass bowl and a large stainless pot to hold at least 1/2 gallon or one gallon of milk.
– A food thermometer
– A cheese press or heavy weight and a plate to make your own press.
Supplies you will need:
– Rennet (you may get lucky and find this at your health food store, if not, you can order it online in advance of planning your weekend cheese making.)
– A half gallon or one gallon of whole milk. (DO NOT use ultra-pasturized. It will not work.) The higher the cream content the better. If you can happen to find something called “cream top” use that. Or mix cream and 1% or skim milk together. Whatever you end up using will determine the texture and volume of your curds.
– Mesophilic Starter Culture, such as 1/4 cup buttermilk or other starter culture from a cheese making supplier.
Allow the buttermilk to sit out at room temperature for 6-8 hours to sour up. It should also get thicker. If you have to purchase a quart of buttermilk – because this is often all the stores carry – measure out what you need for this batch of cheese (1/4 cup) and pour the rest of the culture into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Two ice cubes equals about how much culture you need to start another batch of cheese later if you want. Frozen buttermilk will last about 2 months and still be strong enough to make future starter culture with.
Mix the milk and your starter culture in a stainless pot with a lid. Warm it up on the stove to 75º. Turn off the heat and let it sour up for 2-3 hours. The longer you let it sour the more flavor your cheese will have.
Turn the heat back on and heat up to 110-115º. Remove from heat. This next step is very important, so don’t cut corners. Mix 1/4 tsp rennet for a half gallon of milk or 1/2 tsp for a whole gallon with 1-2 tsp of distilled water or water that has been boiled and cooled. DO NOT add the rennet directly to the milk without mixing it with water first. Drizzle the rennet mix over the surface of the milk and mix thoroughly for 1-2 minutes. Let it rest. Then stir it again briefly in 5 minutes to prevent the cream from separating.
Cover the pot, and while trying not to disturb the milk as much as possible, move it to a warm area (75-82º) for 24 hours or until it forms a curd or becomes semi-solid on top.
Cut the curd uniformly into 1/2 inch cubes with a butter knife making sure the edges of the curd are smooth and not jagged. If the curd does not cut smoothly or is not firm enough to hold it’s shape, stop and continue letting it sit for an additional 8 hours. If it still does not set a firm curd, it will not make cheese, and unfortunately, you will have to start over because something went wrong along the way.
After the curd is cut up, slowly (and this is important) slowly warm it up to 110º. If you warm it up too quickly, it will cause problems with the enzymes and will not turn out. Cook for 20-30 minutes stirring once in a while to prevent curds from sticking together but try not to break up the curds into smaller pieces or damage them. This causes inconsistencies with the whey coming out of the curd.
Curds should start separating from the whey. When you see a very distinct separation, remove them from the heat. Line a colander with a clean, white cotton cloth (a dishcloth or something thin works well. Cheesecloth has holes that are much too big, but you can use it if you have nothing else. Double it up or triple layer it.) Place the colander over a bowl large enough to catch the whey as it drains out.
For Cottage Cheese: When curds have drained, fill a bowl with ice cubes and water. Dip the curds, still in the bag you drained them in, into the ice water repeatedly for a minimum of 3 minutes. Drain again. Add salt to taste. Can add half and half or cream to give your cottage cheese a more creamy texture.
For Crumbled Cheddar Cheese or Farmer’s Cheese: Drain curds. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt on all sides of the curd mass. Line a colander with cheesecloth (yes, once drained, cheesecloth will work for this step). Place curds in a mold of some sort, such as a plastic container with the bottom cut out. Place the curds in the mold, place the mold in the colander with something under the colander to catch any draining whey that comes out. Place a plate or something that will fit into your mold and cover the surface of the curd mass. I’ve used a small bowl with a flat bottom the size to fit into my mold and cover most of the surface of the curd with its flat bottom. Place a very heavy weight on top of the bowl or plate you are using to compress the curd with. Of course, a cheese press works much nicer for this step, but it is not necessary and they can be $140-$250.
Keep adding more weight, in steady even pressure, to the mold as the curds drain. The more you compress the water out of the curd, the firmer the cheese will be. Do this over 24 hours. Remove the cheese from the mold and let it dry on the outside for another 24 hours. The cheese should have a dry rind starting to form on the outside. Once the rind has formed, the cheese can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Put it in a container with some air flow so it will not mold and you can let it mature for up to a month. Use it crumbled like feta, or if you were lucky, it is solid enough to cut.
Use 2 cups whole milk and 2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup of your Mesophilic Starter Culture
Heat milk to 70º. Mix culture with the milk and let sit for 2 hours. Add rennet mixed with water per above recipe. Let sit covered in a warm area for 24 hours until it gels up. Stir the curds to form pea-sized curds. Drain for 30 minutes or until all the liquid has drained out. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt on surface of cheese. Refrigerate for up to one week.
If you have a yogurt maker, this is easier because it will keep the yogurt at just the right temperature. The best yogurt maker we have found is one by Euro Cuisine and is the only one to date that uses glass jars.
1 packet of yogurt starter culture
1 quart whole milk
Heat milk to 180º F or just to boiling point. Let cool down to 108-112º. Dissolve a small amount of the yogurt culture in a separate cup of the warm milk then add it to the remaining milk. Mix well. Incubate in the yogurt maker for approximately 6-8 hours or until it has reached the desired thickness. Refrigerate to stop the incubation process. Sweeten with maple syrup, fruit or jam.