16 September 2014

How to Make a Simple, Yummy Cheese

There's a saying, "everything tastes better with cheese", and it seems it's one of those sayings everyone believes.  I mentioned here on the blog last week about making ricotta and mozzarella and all I've heard since is "how?" "can you share the recipe?".

We are big on cheese. We love the stuff. I buy four 1 kilo blocks of tasty cheese every month, and it's not often we'll have any left over. It gets sliced for sandwiches, cubed for salads, grated for spaghetti and casserole toppings, melted for dipping (and yes, I'll share the recipe for the yummiest cheese dip later) and cut into fingers for lunchboxes.

We love soft cheeses too. Cream cheese (Cream Cheese Patties, cheesecakes, cakes and frostings), ricotta (as a layer in lasagne or in a dip  or in a lettuce leaf with sultanas and grated carrot), mozzarella (grated fresh onto pizza or  crumbed and baked for a snack) and cottage cheese (instead of butter on sandwiches or scones, or on celery for munching) are always in the fridge too.

I haven't tried making hard cheeses yet. Parmesan is the one I'm bursting to try, but so far time hasn't allowed. I'm hoping for a few quiet weekends over the next couple of months and it is just one of the things on my to do list.

I do however regularly make cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and feta (which may well be my all-time favourite cheese). They are all simple cheeses that can be quite easily made in your very own kitchen.

Just one thing I'd like to point out: good cheese demands good milk. I do my very best to find fresh raw milk for cheese making. That's not always possible (depending on who we know currently milking a house cow), so my next milk of choice is Swampy's. It comes from a dairy down Warrnambool way.

And one more thing: making your own cheese is not always cheaper than buying it. Good milk is expensive and it takes a lot of milk to make cheese. But if you love fresh cheeses it is worth it.

This week I'll show you how to make a basic cottage cheese. This cheese is great spread on bread or crackers, makes wonderful dips, can be used to make a mock b├ęchamel sauce for lasagnes and is pretty darn good for you.

It is also the easiest of the cheeses I make to actually make.

First you mix the milk powder and water (I do it in the saucepan, saves on washing up).

Put the saucepan over a low heat and warm the milk to around 30 degrees Celsius so that it is warm but not hot.
Very slowly add the lemon juice or citric acid, stirring all the time. Just add it a drop at a time, you only want enough to form curds. Too much lemon juice (or citric acid) and the curds will be big and tough - you're aiming for nice small, soft curds.

Once the curds start to form stop adding the lemon juice and let the mixture rest for about ten minutes to set the curds.
Strain through a cheesecloth. We like quite a dry cheese so I let it drain for about 30 minutes. If you like a creamier, more moist cheese then don't drain it quite as long.
Scrape the cottage cheese out of the cloth into a container. Chill it and it's ready to use. Add salt to taste when you use it if you want to, I usually don't bother.

Strain the mixture over a bowl so you can keep the whey. You can add it to soups, gravies and sauces, to muffin and cake batters (remember to adjust the other liquids), it is full of goodness, far too much to waste.

Cottage Cheese

1 cup skim milk powder
1/4 - 1/2 cup lemon juice OR 1 tsp citric acid in 2 tsp water
5 cups cold water

Add the skim milk powder to the 5 cups of water. Beat with an egg beater or electric mixer to ensure the milk powder is properly dissolved. Heat milk in a saucepan, over low heat, until just warm. Remove from heat and slowly add the lemon juice or citric acid and stir. Let the mixture sit undisturbed. When curds and whey have formed strain through a cheese cloth (I sometimes use a clean Chux). Before using, add salt to taste.

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