Saturday, December 10, 2005

Curds & Whey

First, get a fresh cow and milk her.

Now, for the easy part. This is how I do it. Sort of.
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First, I am working with unpasturized fresh whole cow’s milk. I have two stock pots that nest in each other and put hot water in the bottom one and the milk in the inside one. I take my milk out of the fridge and skim half of it. All my milk doesn’t have the same amount of cream on it, so I use the ones with the least cream (I mean, my Jersey can produce milk that is nearly half cream sometimes!) in the cheese and skim the ones with the most cream (which I then make mostly butter from, but also ice cream and sour cream, and occasionally cream cheese). Two gallons of milk makes a batch of cheese for me, (about 1½-2 pounds of cheese) but it is less than 2 gallons after I skim the milk.

I put that somewhat less than two gallons of milk in my stock pot in the hot water, and a thermometer in the water, and usually turn the eye on low (gas flame -- I cannot control the wood fire enough to do this). I want to bring the temperature of the milk gradually up to about 88-90 degrees. If you are making this cheese in the summer, room temperature (non-air-conditioned) works.

I usually go ahead at this time and add some buttermilk culture (just active buttermilk, aka mesophilic culture), some yogurt culture (aka thermophilic culture) and some amylase enzyme that I have (if you are interested, Hoegger’s Goat Supply is the best source). I’ve made it without the amylase and it is fine, we are just used to really flavorful foods and this makes it more flavorful. It is what makes stinky cheeses stinky.

That sits on the stove until the milk heats up, and allows time for the culture to propagate and the amylase to do its thing. I think it is best if it sits at least a couple hours but I never time it or anything. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll do the next steps as soon as it gets warm, and if I’m cleaning the kitchen and making lots of other things (bread, ice cream, butter, supper), it may sit even longer than that. Generally it takes at least an hour for it to heat up.

After it has ripened, I add two more things: citric acid and rennet. Both should be available without too much trouble, often at your health food store. Neither should be expensive.

Here’s some chemistry: The citric acid is technically optional -- the milk/curds have to be acidic which the culture will make it acidic if you leave it long enough. There is an “iron test” where you heat up a nail and touch a piece of curd to it and see how far it stretches to see if it is acidic enough. Doing that is a lot of trouble, requires lots more ripening time, and I was never quite sure exactly how acidic it really was. Or you could get litmus paper to test it. But if you are willing to add some citric acid to it, well, then that’s all there is.

I add about 1 ½ tsp of citric acid to my nearly two gallons of milk. I don’t actually measure it, and sometimes I use less, never more. Put this in about a half cup of cool water and let dissolve well, then add gradually to the milk while stirring. I add the rennet immediately after the citric acid, and with the Malaka brand I add 4-5 drops/quart. Again, put this in cool water first (about ¼ cup) and add to milk while stirring then stir well (a minute).

Then the whole thing sets for about 20-30 minutes, keeping the temp about the same.

Cutting the curds comes next. That is a process that is hard to describe but relatively easy to do. You need a really long (deeper than your pot), really sharp knife. By the time you are ready to cut them, the curd should be solid and probably pulled a little away from the sides of the pot, and/or maybe a little whey visible on top. Cut into about 1 inch cubes. How to do this in a 3D pot? Well, first, cut into 1 inch columns (cut the top of the curd into what looks like cubes, all the way to the bottom of the pot, so each “cube” is the depth of the pot). Then, going along the same cut lines, angle the knife at about 45 degrees and cut as deeply as possible in all directions along each cut curd line.

Let rest awhile, 15-20 minutes, then with a very clean hand, stir the curds, cutting any pieces that were left too large. At this point you can turn on the stove again very low and begin the process of heating up the curds. You want to heat them no faster than 1 degree per minute (and I always take way longer than that), stirring the curds about every 15-20 minutes (you don’t want them to mat on the bottom of the pot). You want to move them from 88-90 degrees to 108 degrees. Once they are 108, hold there for 20 minutes.

The next step is draining them. For this I take the small stock pot out of the large one, empty the large one and set it in a sink. I put a colander onto the top of this pot and line it with cheesecloth. BUT real cheesecloth isn’t what they sell as cheesecloth in the store. So what I usually use is old pillowcases, cut to the size you need, which is fairly big so it can fold over itself while the cheese drains or be gathered up to be tied for cheeses you tie up to drain (like ricotta or feta).

Then just pour the whey and curds into the cloth lined colander. Usually the whey will easily pour off first, making the draining much easier. You want to save this whey because there is much you can do with it, like make ricotta, or use it as a stock base or bread base or something like that, and at worst, it makes wonderful animal food.

This is the next part that differs from traditional, because traditionally you stretch the curds in water, then cure in brine (which I have done), and I do those two things in one step and then the cheese is ready to eat. (This step owes special thanks to the book Goats Produce Too which is THE best beginner cheese making book out there).

After the curds are drained (and timing on that isn’t critical -- don’t leave them out too short or too long but it is way flexible) and matted, break them up into a bowl. I do about a half pound at a time. Add “some” non-iodized salt (I use maybe a half tsp per half pound and my cheese is fairly salty because we like it better and don’t have issues with salt but I don’t strictly measure other than pouring it into my palm). Heat in microwave until it starts to get hot (I use 60-90 seconds for the first heating). Take wooden spoon and knead, pouring off any whey. Heat again (30 seconds) and knead. Don’t let it cool too much while kneading, you are just trying to get the heat distributed and the whey poured off, and start the stretching. Repeat heating and kneading until suddenly you will see it all smooth and shiny and stretchy. This takes me about three heat and knead cycles. Knead until smooth at this point, then let it cool in the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Also freezes nicely.

To make ricotta with the whey, put the pot of whey back on stove on high heat. Heat to about 190 degrees. At that point if you want more yield for your trouble and/or creamier ricotta, add a quart or two of whole milk. Keep heating and stirring constantly. At about 194-197 degrees you will see flecks appear in the whey where the proteins are coagulating. Heat a little longer if they are very small and they will grow in size. It takes a long time though to go those last couple of degrees (just like it does with candy). Then just turn off heat and let it start to cool. The ricotta will settle to the bottom. You’ll drain this just like the mozzarella but it is way finer. Pour through your cheese cloth and then you can tie it up to let it drain more/faster. Once it is not dripping actively, you can use it or freeze it. I just put it into ziplocks and freeze it as is. I salt it as I’m using it.

Just for truth purposes, the curds & whey in the photo were actually becoming parmesan cheese and ricotta. A process not a great deal different from the mozzarella except no acid is needed, they are cooked to a higher temperature, a cheese press is needed, and then it is aged.

Blessed are the cheesemakers. They are, of course, the peacemakers.


madcapmum said...

I'm looking forward to the rest of the post, but in the meantime, I'm looking at your quote on the side and I think there's a word missing or something.

So is "curds and whey" cottage cheese? That's what it looks like. I'm interested because I'm going the next step and eliminating even more stuff from our diet, and I need recipes to make up the difference.

dragonfly183 said...

My problem seems to be using store bought pasturized milk which is currently my only option. My curds looked nothing like yours. They were very very small and stringy and I neded up with a cheese that looked more like that garlic cheese spread I buy in the store.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I've used pasturized milk before (I pasturized it), so it may be homogenization (which is an even more harmful end product). How big the curds are should depend on how you cut them. What kind of rennet did you use? Junket rennet will NOT work. Etc. Hard to trouble-shoot but just that it was store bought milk should NOT prevent you from making cheese, especially this one.

In fact, all books on cheesemaking will tell you to use pasturized cheese for unaged cheeses, and for years I did do this. I understand why they advise that, and I think the threat (of growing unwanted types of bacteria) is over-rated (except for very young children).

Anyway, glad to know you tried. Had been wondering what happened to you.

Joe Tornatore said...

thanks for wheying in.