Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cheese - Cook It! 2012: April Resolution + Farmer's Cheese Four Ways

First pass at farmer's cheese with sweet and savory flavorings
We eat a lot of cheese around our house. So I was extra excited at the April Cook It! 2012 resolution, providing me with a push to make my own.

And, I ended up trying two different process variations for making farmer's cheese. First I started by placing a half gallon of organic whole milk and 1/4 c. of distilled white vinegar in a large stainless steel pot before realizing this method called for leaving it on a back burner of the stove overnight.

Being too impatient to wait and waste a full day of cheese making  not to mention good light to photograph this project  I decided to go another route and make a second batch at the same time. So, inadvertently my first go at making cheese provided a great ground for some experimentation and comparison of the results. There were no complaints about extra cheese.

Farmer's Cheese, Round 1:

Start with a half gallon of organic, whole milk

Pour into a large stainless steel pot

Place milk on very low heat to bring to a slow boil

In the meantime, place a collander in a large bowl and line with cheesecloth

Once milk begins to bubble and froth at edges, stir frequently to prevent burning
and to keep a skin from forming. It took 45-50 minutes for mine to reach this stage.

Remove pot from heat and add 1/4 c. distilled white vinegar.
You should see curdles appear immediately. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Pour cheese through cheesecloth-lined collander to separate all the whey

I had a lot of whey in this batch and had to pour it off a few times

in order to keep the cheese from being submerged.

Your curds will look like this

Curds and whey!

Tie your cheesecloth up into a bundle and hang it to drain for 1-2 hours

You'll see the curds are considerably more dry

I ended up with 11¼ ounces of cheese from this batch

And decided to split it so I could try a couple flavor combinations

I went with things I had on hand in the garden and pantry

Such as rosemary, lemon thyme and sage honey with a dash of salt 

The more savory version simply contained salt, pepper and chives

They were both delicious with crackers, bread and both dried and fresh fruit

These cheeses tasted great, but they were a bit crumbly in texture  perhaps I over mixed them by hand when adding in the flavor ingredients or let it hang too long, consequently draining out too much of the whey? Also, after mixing in the ingredients I pressed them into small plastic-lined bowls and put them in the fridge, but since we were so eager to try them, (and hungry!) I think they needed longer in the fridge to firm up. The next day they were much more sliceable vs. scoopable and crumbly.

I didn't follow a recipe for the flavoring and I actually went quite light since I didn't want to overdo it on my first try. Next time I would definitely use more fresh herbs, and experiment with other flavor additions.

For the 6 ounces of savory cheese, I added approximately 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp chopped chives. I would've liked to have used more chives, but that was all I had on hand in the herb planter. Smoked sea salt was a great topper on this too!

For the 5¼ ounces of sweet cheese, I used 2 tsp honey, about 1/2 tsp each of chopped rosemary and lemon thyme and a few pinches of salt. I would probably add another teaspoon of honey and more herbs next time too, but it did have a nice subtle flavor mix.

Farmer's Cheese, Round 2:

Based on this blog post (but halving the ingredients), I added the 1/4 c. distilled white vinegar to 1/2 gallon of organic whole milk at the beginning. While the instructions say to leave it for 24 hours (or as little as 12 in warm weather/kitchen), I ended up getting sidetracked and left it for 36 hours before progressing to the next step of putting it on very low heat. I think this ended up producing very developed curds quickly, which was nice.

I actually forgot I had this cooking and didn't check it until 45 minutes
after turning on the heat...so it was definitely ready!

Immediately I saw this batch had much more, and larger curds

I had only slightly singed it in my spaciness, and drained the curds as before

Thinking I might go the way of paneer with this batch,
I added 1½ tsp kosher salt to help dispel the whey

At this stage I had 1 lb, 3¾ oz of cheese  significantly more than the Round 1 method

It was so good, I put some aside to have a simple, creamy option

Then I patted the rest into a rough square

And wrapped it in cheesecloth to press the remaining whey out

Logically I ended up with much less whey this time, and decided to freeze some
as ice cubes to use later (Note jerry-rigged system in the background; the cheese is
between the two cutting boards, draining at an angle)

After about 5 hours I checked the consistency

And while it was still fairly moist, I decided to stop draining it at this
point since I actually preferred its initial creamier texture

The Round 2 process is certainly very easy and great if you are busy with other things since there's more hands-off time as it soaks, versus having to keep an eye on and stir the milk as it heats in the Round 1 method. I actually think I preferred the super-creamy, moist version which was the result of the initial draining of the way and added salt. It was much softer, almost like cream cheese or ricotta texture, with great flavor.

I think if I had persevered with the paneer route, I would have had to apply more weight/pressure to really get all the moisture and whey out.

The quesadilla options are countless
Each type of cheese has different things to recommend it, and I think Round 1 produced good flavored cheeses for snacking and eating with bread or crackers. Round 2 produced cheese was a bit more versatile since left plain. The softer one is also good for spreading and goes well with toasted pita and olives. The firmer one made its way into tortillas for both a savory quesadilla (think a softer version of Mexican queso blanco) with salsa, as well as a mock blintz with fresh strawberries and rhubarb jam.

I looked at a ton of blogs and food websites before embarking on my own cheese making, but specifically referenced this one for the process of Round 1, and a combo of the above link and this one for Round 2.

The beauty of them though, is you can really do so much in terms of flavoring them. I definitely have lots of ideas in mind on what to experiment with in future batches. Homemade farmer's cheese will become a staple at ours for sure.

And though I know there are a ton of uses for whey, I haven't allocated any of mine yet! Some will go into smoothies, and I froze the output from Round 2 for later use. Maybe I'll use it to have another go at bread, or to make ricotta since I'm on a cheese roll. This hot sauce looks awesome too.