It’s never been a goal of mine to make cheese. I mean, why would I take the time to make something so accessible at the grocery store? It just kind of happened, well, sort of… Maybe it was because I had a bottle of raw milk and wondered what to do with it. Or, maybe it was because I spied a bottle of organic vegetable rennet at Fiddleheads and was intrigued with the words “for cheese making” on its label.
I don’t know much about cheese, little bits here and there but I’m far from being an expert. Did you know that there is such a thing as vegetarian cheese? Apparently, I’m such a “meat head” that this is entirely new to me. As it turns out, the word rennet is new to me as well. Let’s start with what I do know: cheese is made from cow, sheep, or goat milk. But how do they get it to solidify? Rennet is the answer. It is an enzyme that comes in a small bottle or tablet form and is used to coagulate liquid milk to make solid curds. Traditionally, the enzyme is extracted from the fourth stomach of a young mammal (one which has yet to be weaned from its mother). Today, this is a by-product of slaughter houses and most European cheese makers prefer it. If this upsets you, you’ll be glad to know that there are a few alternatives for separating curds from whey! Man made chymosin (not a fan of that idea), and vegetable or microbial rennet. All of which are used to make what is considered vegetarian cheese, who knew?
The raw cow’s milk thing is new in our house as well and I’ve been reading up on it since the first bottle came home with me a few weeks ago. You wouldn’t believe the controversy surrounding the stuff, it’s not even legal in some states. Maybe my “hippie” is showing here but I dig the added nutrition and purity. We like to drink it straight but I’ve now used it to make both strawberry ice cream and my first batch of plain cream cheese. The latter is not something I normally keep in the house, we just aren’t the ‘bagels and cream cheese’ type. For me, the biggest association is with fresh Medjool dates. My mother would bring them home when I was a kid and cut them in half, removing the pit and stuffing them with a pillowy cloud of white cream cheese. The combination of the soft sweet date with the tangy cream cheese was as addicting then as it is today. I remember the first time I made this little snack for my husband, he had such a goofy grin on his face. They are just so stinking good…
Coincidentally, while shopping for garlic scapes last Friday I found a fresh organic package of this wrinkly delicious fruit instead. Everything was coming together in my mind. One of the many suggested uses I had read for raw milk was to make cream cheese.
I read over a couple of recipes and the process was truly simple, I couldn’t resist. There are a few ways to go about this, here is the way I chose.
2 cups whole (or in my case raw) milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp of buttermilk (you can use a packet of mesophilic starter if you prefer but this works just as well and is found at most grocery stores)
1 drop of vegetable rennet diluted in 2 tbsp of non-chlorinated water
big pinch of sea salt
You will need: a medium sauce pan, a candy thermometer, cheese cloth, and kitchen twine
Warm the milk and cream in a sauce pan, stirring until it reaches 90 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to make it really easy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk, then add the diluted rennet. Move the liquid around gently. Cover the pot, insulate it with some kitchen towels, then pop it on the top of your fridge where it’s nice and warm. Let it sleep for up to 14 hours – do not disturb!
At this point the mixture will resemble jiggly yogurt and is ready to be drained. Set your cheese cloth over a bowl and scoop the mixture into it.
I splattered all over myself doing that last step and thought it would NEVER set up right. It did.
Gather the ends together and tie it with a piece of kitchen twine nearest the (almost) cheese. Pick it up from the bowl and let it hang from something in your kitchen to drain off the whey. I used a pendant light over our counter, you can use a cabinet knob if you have one or a wooden spoon over the top of a pitcher. Let it drain overnight – at least 10 hours. Mine went longer (about 14 hours) due to our schedule and came out just fine.
Peel away the cheese cloth and reveal clean and nutritious cream cheese! Store it in an air tight container in the fridge.
I will warn you, there is a lot of waste involved in the process. By that I mean of the 1 quart + of liquid you started with, you might get a cup and a half of cheese. I read that you can use the whey to make ricotta but didn’t save it this time. Despite the waste, I was pretty psyched when I unwrapped the perfectly firm ball of cheese. This isn’t something I plan on making all the time but I enjoyed it and perhaps you might too.
*Note: the fresher the raw milk, the sweeter your cream cheese will be.
*the recipe calls for a very small amount of buttermilk, I used the rest of my bottle to make oven fried chicken. Yum!