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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Super Easy Cheese

Cheese is one of those items that most people probably never think about making, but it can be very fun and rewarding to make. While some cheeses are quite time consuming and/or require special materials, that is not the case with all cheeses. This recipe is a very easy cheese that can be made in just a few hours (you're not working the whole time) and with no special ingredients.

There are a number of things that you can do with the cheese; I will outline two of them over the next couple of days. The recipe is based on a queso blanco, a very basic white cheese. It can be molded and pressed into a block, but that requires special equipment. For the loose curd cheese recipe here, the most specialized equipment needed is cheesecloth. When was the last time you used cheesecloth to actually make cheese? Maybe it's time!

Super Easy Cheese
Yield: 3-4 cups of cheese curds

1 gallon whole cow's milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized milk)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (plus 2 tsp, if needed)

Pour the milk into a double boiler over medium-high heat. I do not have a special double boiler, I just sit one stock pot inside of another. The double boiler is not strictly needed, but I find that without it, I sometimes get cheese scorching slightly on the bottom with I add the vinegar.

Place a candy thermometer into the pot to keep track of the temperature. Heat the milk until it reaches 175-180 degrees F. This step should occur over a period of about 20-30 minutes. Stir periodically. Once the milk reaches 175-180 degrees, hold it there for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the vinegar and stir to mix. Continue to hold at the same temperature while the curds form.

Curd formation can take up to one hour to completely develop, but you should see some curds form almost immediately. Stir periodically and check the temperature frequently. As the curds form, you will be left with a pale colored whey. Be sure to wait until the whey is very clear before draining. This picture shows when you might be tempted to drain but don't yet! Be patient! To be fair, draining early will not ruin your cheese in the slightest, you just won't get as much of it.

If, after 50 minutes, your whey is still not pale as in the second picture, add two more teaspoons of vinegar to finish the process. Once your curds and whey look like this, you're ready to drain.
Have a colander lined with a quadruple layer of cheesecloth prepared. Drain curds into colander. You can save the whey if you wish and use it in baked goods, etc., or just let it go down the sink.
Tie up the cheesecloth into a little bag and hang on a wooden spoon across the corner of a sink to drain. Let it drain for about 2 hours, or until the bag stops dripping.
Once drained, the curds are ready to use. If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to eight days.

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