Okay, so the title of this post should probably include some addendum to the previous post, because my 10,000 words written on my second novel in the first week and a half of baby girl’s preschool just ballooned into a 50,000-word complete rough draft in the following two weeks! But, the part I think you’ll be more interested in is that all this free time also gave me room to try something my wonderfully creative urban-homesteading-ish mother-in-law has been telling me was easy for years: cheesemaking.
Yes, that’s weird. But if you read this blog, a little weirdness won’t surprise you, will it? I started easy, with a basic cream cheese recipe anyone can make with a gallon of milk and some cheese culture starter, and it worked! Even though I managed to screw it up. Oh, yes. My incredible focus on my writing means I am one bizarrely checked out cook in the kitchen. Read on to find out how even I couldn’t screw up homemade lacto-fermented cream cheese, despite my best efforts.
Why The Heck Bother To Make Your Own Cheese?
Well, mostly because we are part of a fresh milk group that goes to a lot of effort to get high-quality milk fresh from a local farm, and since my husband hasn’t been drinking it lately, it’s starting to go to waste. Mama’s newly balanced budget just won’t stand for those shenanigans. Also, cream cheese is usually just compressed into a block these days from a pasteurized cream, not fermented with cheese culture like it used to be. (Most other harder cheeses are still fermented with cheese culture, just like yogurt, because that’s the only way to make them.) This means that homemade cream cheese is not only healthier for my probiotic-loving tummy; it’s tastier too. Think Zingerman’s tangy cream cheese, or any gourmet cream cheese you may have had at a nice restaurant with herbs and garlic.
Homemade Cream Cheese Recipe
- 1 gallon of milk (or halve it like I did if you have a half gallon available)
- 1 packet of cheese culture/rennet starter (half for a half gallon)
- a candy thermometer
- a collander
- cheese cloth
- skillet, big bowl, and spoon or whisk
Yield: the equivalent of ~ 3 packages of storebought cream cheese
Okay, like I said, super simple. You do have to get cheese starter, which is a bit of a barrier if you want to just run down to the kitchen and try this, but call around. You might be able to find cheese starter cultures locally at cooking supply stores. You can even buy cheesemaking kits online for specific kinds of cheese. Cheesecloth is something you can find at a grocery store or hardware store, sometimes, or buy that online too. It’s just a roll of loosely knit fabric that you can cut pieces off of to use. (“Cientos de usos! it proclaims on the package.)
Heat your milk in a skillet to 86 degrees. That’s not very hot. How did I manage to screw this up? By reading Celsius on my thermometer instead of Fahrenheit, of course! When the milk started steaming, I knew I was doing something wrong. But not to worry. Heating the milk too far (unless you scald it) just means you’ve pasteurized your milk, unless it was already.
I let the milk cool down a bit before the next step, but if you are doing this correctly, you can just take your milk off the stove and put the packet of cheese culture starter/rennet into the milk and mix it in. Let it sit for 2 minutes, stir again, and then pour it into a container.
Cover the container and let it sit on your counter at 72 degrees (room temp) for 12 hours, or roughly overnight. Then place your collander over a large bowl (the collanders with handles easily sit above the bottom of the bowl for good drainage), line the collander with cheesecloth, and ladle your now thickened milk mixture into the cheesecloth. Tie the four corners of the cloth together, and then ignore it for another 6-12 hours. I forgot mine, of course, and came back in about 16 hours to find very firm cream cheese. No worries, that’s how I like it.
Remove your cheese from the cheesecloth and place it in a covered container in the fridge. I salted my cheese when it was heating on the stove, using flaked salt (any fine salt will dissolve well, but they make special salts for cheesemaking if you’re going to do it a lot). It didn’t actually taste very salty when I was done, surprising since it cooks down to such a small quantity. I decided to add some extra salt, garlic and onion powders, thyme, and coriander to my cream cheese, and mixed it all up into one delicious spread. Oh yeah. That would be why it’s all gone now, a victim of my homemade croutons and a voracious appetite born of speed writing.
If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes. I think I’ll try cheddar soon, but that’s a lot harder, the MIL says, so I’m sure I’ll screw it up at first. Have you ever made cheese or other products we usually buy at the store? I’d love to hear your adventures in comments.