For some, the idea of cheese making conjures up visions of backbreaking work involving presses, mysterious chemicals, washes, brines & rinds…and time — lots of time for aging.
But cheesemaking can also be fast, easy and free of special ingredients/equipment. If you have milk, a couple of lemons and a thermometer, you can make cheese this weekend. Or this afternoon, for that matter. Once you learn how easy it is to make mascarpone, ricotta, queso blanco, halloumi and more, I trust you won’t want to delay any longer.
1. Yogurt Cheese – Am I stretching the concept of cheese by starting with what is basically drained yoghurt? Probably, but as misconceptions go, it’s pretty tasty — and easy too, which is why it made the top of my list — it’s a good place for cheese virgins to start. Just look at what this Canadian Foodie does with it.
Start with thick, full fat yogurt (Balkan Style is my favourite). Empty a 750g container of yogurt into a sieve lined with a clean cotton/linen dishtowel or 3 layers of cheesecloth. Lightly cover the yoghurt with the ends of the dishtowel. Suspend the sieve over a bowl, and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Pour away the whey that collects in the bottom of the bowl as many times as is necessary. It also helps to change the cloth a couple of times; more water will drain away, resulting in a firmer final product.
I used yogurt cheese as a tangy foil to the sweetness of my granola-marshmallow treats that I made to take with me to The Canadian Chef’s Congress this weekend near Duncan. Camping on a farm all weekend with chefs/cooks from all over Canada — I have no doubt we’ll be fed well (but it never hurts to be safe, right?)
2. Homemade Ricotta Cheese – from milk to cheese in well under 2 hours — seriously. If you didn’t know that before…well…now you do. Use this new found knowledge wisely. Try my Ricotta & Sour Cherry Tart, as a start.
3. Queso Blanco – I will admit to never making this. But I’ve thought about it alot — does that count?
The Homesick Texan makes this unripened cheese sounds as easy as any other I’ve ever made, so I’m confident in including it on my list. Milk, lemon/lime juice (or vinegar) and a little salt — it’s not what you would call a melting cheese, but it adds great texture to refried beans and burritos, and it’s neutral flavour lends itself to added tastes such as chiles, peppers or herbs.
Experiment — the most it’s going to cost you is a gallon of milk and a couple of lemons. In return, you’ll gain the satisfaction of making your own food, and the full knowledge of what’s in it. And if you’ve read the ingredients in the average package of processed food these days, then you’ll know that’s quite a prize.
4. Homemade Mascarpone Cheese – Have you seen the price of this stuff in stores? H-E-double-hockey-sticks will have to freeze over before I’m willing to part with $12 for what is, I have learned, essentially whipping cream curdled with lemon juice. You can keep your unpronounceable food additives thrown in for shelf life, I’ll keep about $6, and we’ll call it even. Sound good?
5. Homemade Halloumi – This is where we cast the net a little wider — you’ll need rennet for this one. And, possibly, calcium silicate — but that’s why it’s the last on the list. Slightly specialized ingredients make it for the more experienced easy-cheese maker. Someone who’s moved on from yoghurt cheese, let’s say.
Rennet is a coagulator generally derived from animal products. Vegetarian rennet is also available, and rumour has it that rennet can be made, at home, from nettles. I’m always up for another nettle experiment — too bad I’ll have to wait until spring.
Halloumi is a traditional Cypriate cheese that is stored in a salty brine and grills exceptionally well. I use it on pizza, in salads, and on toast with pesto (above). If you like feta, you’ll like Halloumi. Now go get yourself some rennet.
6. Creme Fraiche – it may not be cheese, but it sure is one heck of a dairy product. Follow my recipe for a tangy treat that is perfect on everything from a bounty of berries to a stack of potato pancakes.