Cheese is absolutely one of my guilty pleasures. Stinky, melty, gooey, crumbly – I love almost all of it. Though I must admit, I’m one of the few people I know who has lived in France and does not like Brie – at all. And I can’t blame it on the smell since, as most of you well know, I cannot smell! Weird aversion to Brie aside, I’m a serious fromageophile.
Until recently, the idea of making cheese myself never occurred to me. I’d only ever seen cheese being made in specialty cheese shops, where they use huge vats and mixers and all other sorts of equipment that my small kitchen certainly does not contain. (And really, whose does?) Imagine my surprise, then, while skimming through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, when I learned that I could actually make cheese at home. And not only could it be done, it would be so easy there was no good reason not to try. So with recipe in hand (and one of my favorite cooking co-conspirators nearby for moral support), try to make cheese I did. It worked, and it was pretty darn cool.
Now, this particular cheese is not your typical stretchy or stringy white cheese. It is a fresh cheese, whose texture is soft and crumbly. The taste is very mild. It resembles other fresh cheeses like Mexican queso fresco or French fromage blanc. You can slice it and drizzle it with honey for a sweet treat or make it savory crumbled up over salads, tacos, or hot pasta.
Fresh White Cheese
From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
1/2 gallon milk (whole is best)
1 quart low-fat buttermilk
Put the milk in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching, until the milk bubbles up the sides of the pot, about 10 minutes.
Line a strainer with a triple layer of cheesecloth or a piece of undyed cotton muslin. Have a long piece of twine ready.
Add the buttermilk to the boiling milk all at once and stir constantly until the mixture separates into curds and whey; this will take just a minute or so. It will look like cooked egg whites suspended in a slightly thick yellowish liquid. Remove from the heat and stir in a large pinch of salt if you like. (Be generous with the salt. My cheese would have been better if it had been a bit saltier.)
Carefully pour the mixture through the cloth and strainer so that the curds collect in the bottom and the whey drains off. Gather up the corners of the cloth and twist the top to start shaping the curds into a ball. Run the bundle under cold water until you can handle it. Keep twisting and squeezing out the whey until the bundle feels firm and dry. Don’t worry about handling it roughly; it can take it.
Tie the string around the top to hold it tight, then tie the string around the handle of a long spoon or a stick to suspend the cheese back over the pot to drain. Let it rest, undisturbed, until cool and set, about 90 minutes. Remove the cloth and serve immediately or wrap in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Or freeze the cheese for up to 3 months.