January 11, 2012

the cheese experiment

Well, what would YOU do if someone gave you a full, fresh gallon of raw organic cow's milk from a dairy only a few miles from their home?

If you're me, you almost immediately decide to finally check that cheese-making item on your to-learn list off.

Last weekend, I was graciously gifted a gallon of raw milk from Dyer Dairy in Georgetown, Texas. A few short hours later, I was sent home with very clear instructions, a small packet of rennet, an instant-read thermometer, and all the encouragement I needed to put everything together into a successful homemaking adventure.

I began the cheese making late Saturday night; my husband was conveniently out of town and I knew the kitchen would be mine in which to run my science experiment.

It was near midnight when I began sterilizing my stock pot and readying the ingredients, and after midnight by the time I stirred in the rennet and left the pot to rest on the counter for twelve hours.

Though the rennet and its accompanying instructions were technically meant for goat's milk (resulting in chevre), I had it on good authority that I could attempt the same with cow's milk. A few Google searches later, I could only assume that this cheese is called "bovre," but still have no idea how to pronounce that.

If you speak French, let me know.

In any case, it couldn't have been a simpler process and the end result was quite surprising. After sterilizing my stock pot and other equipment, I slowly heated the gallon of raw milk to 86 degrees, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once it hit 86 degrees, I removed it from the heat and stirred in the rennet. I covered the pot and let it sit overnight without disturbing it (even a bump can affect the cheese). Twelve hours later, I carefully opened the pot to find curds and whey.

The curds had set to a consistency much like that of sour cream or Greek yogurt. At this point, I was supposed to cut the curds with a knife into cubes; I forgot to do so, and went straight to the part where I ladled it into the makeshift cheesecloth (a flour-sack kitchen towel works perfectly).

The hardest part of this entire endeavor was finding a way to suspend my flour-sack dish towel high enough so that any remaining whey could drain out while it sat in the fridge for 6 to 12 hours.

I managed to wrap the towel around a spoon and suspend it in a mixing bowl (photographed above) that just fit into the fridge. Every couple of hours I drained the bowl of its whey. About 8 hours after putting the cheese in the fridge, I unwound the flour-sack towel to find a very mild soft cheese.

It has the consistency of chevre but not the tangy flavor. Salt was a necessity; I also took some and rolled it in fresh herbs. The cheese is lovely with crackers and nice as a salad topper. It's a lot like cream cheese, actually, so I'm going to see how it does in a cream-cheesey recipe.

Having a positive first-time experience means I'm looking forward to more cheese-making in the future, and perhaps even a class!
It ain't purdy, but it's tasty. Have you ever made cheese? I hear mozzarella is a cinch, too, so maybe that's next!