cheese making for newbies

Fresh Day Cheese

Our homemade Ricotta.....No, wait- it's actually 'Day Cheese'.

Earlier this month I invited two friends over to spend a Sunday afternoon at my house…..or rather, in my kitchen. Somehow we had gotten it into our heads that we should try our collective hand at making cheese. My friend, Sylvia, is a modern day Renaissance woman who is hugely capable at figuring out how to do accomplish pretty much anything she puts her mind to.....from tiling her entire bathroom to erecting an 8 foot high bamboo pagoda in her garden and then growing a vertical pumpkin patch on it- honestly!. Having long ago mastered a recipe for ‘Sada Paneer’, she was definitely the more experienced of our cheesemaking trio. Michelle and I, both recent culinary school graduates, were used to attempting new recipes and techniques, though our curriculum had included zero cheesemaking. Having just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’, I had been most inspired by her experience attending a cheesemaking workshop at Ricki Carroll's New England Cheesemaking Company in Ashfield, Massachesetts. She then returned home, immediately applying her new found know-how to frequent fresh cheese production for scrumptious family meals. I had even sourced an available supply of unpasteurized milk, through a dairy farm in Chilliwack. Though this is a fantastic ingredient for producing optimal cheese (not to mention the way it has been done for thousands of years), it is illegal to buy and sell. The only way around this regulation is to purchase shares in an actual cow, such as the one in Chilliwack, and then pick up one's regular supply at a secret location. I figured that if our day went well, we might want to consider exploring some alternative ingredient options.....

Sylvia’s Sada Paneer

6 cups milk (low-fat to whole will work)
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk

1. Boil milk and then add the buttermilk. Reduce heat to medium.
Return to boil while stirring continuously, until curds form and separate from the whey. (about 4-5 minutes) Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 10 minutes.

2. Line colander with double cheese cloth. Ladle curds into cloth.
Tie 4 corner together tie to wooden spoon and hang into pot to drain
for 2 hours.

3. Place wrapped paneer on a plate and cover with a cookie sheet. Weigh down with something heavy- like a 1 gallon water jug. Let stand for 1 1/2 hrs.

4. Unwrap paneer and cut into wedges. Lasts 4 days in the fridge. Also freezes well. Makes about 1 cup.

We decided on 3 recipes for the day- ricotta, cream cheese and mozzarella. Of the 3 cheeses we attempted, our results went as follows: The ricotta turned out not to be ricotta at all. (I only noticed this after the fact, when I went back on the recipe's website to find this reader’s comment- “What you made is a ricotta substitute called ‘Day Cheese’. I bet it tastes good too though.” It’s flavour was light and mild, though its texture was rather dry. Our second effort, the cream cheese, didn’t thicken properly. Even after leaving it at room temperature for the recipe's maximum suggested time (before I thought we might start to poison people), it was still too runny and seemed more like sour cream. And, lastly, the mozzarella was a full out flop. It had been the only cheese we attempted to make using rennet, which is a natural complex of enzymes that can coagulate milk, causing it to separate into curds and whey. The necessary reaction never occurred, and we had do dump the whole lot down the sink. Despite the fact that we ended up wasting a large quantity of milk, we still managed to enjoy ourselves, stopping for a lunch break of ‘day cheese’ with fresh bread, pesto, pickles and cold beer.

Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet sat on..... eating her curds and whey.....

Would I do it again? Not without proper supervision, though I would take a stab at the paneer recipe. Since then I have begun an email dialogue with local cheese maker ‘Farmer Tomas’. He does occasional workshops and has assured me that an October date will soon be announced..... one which will include the use of rennet. I think I know 3 women who would be very interested in attending.

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