Although I bake, make sweets and sometimes even cook, it never occurred to me that making cheese would be something to do at home. Then I was looking through the Community Education schedule for Santa Rosa Junior College and there was a cheese making class! Well, I know I like eating cheese, so figured it might be fun to make some.
The instructor, Mary Karlin, called the class Same-Day (or Fresh) Cheeses. After introducing ourselves, a brief lecture and tasting examples of the four cheeses we were going to be making, we moved to the kitchens. I was in a group with a couple and another woman. The couple had beer making experience, but we were all novice cheese makers. The woman mentioned how her friends and co-workers had been really excited for her about attending this class, thought it sounded really interesting and sent her off with a Monty Python quote from Life of Brian, “Blessed are the cheese makers.” The couple said most people they mentioned it to had seemed a little mystified about it. “Why would you do that? You can just buy cheese at the store.”
We first made paneer, then moved to ricotta and mascarpone and then started chevre, which we finished at home. The method for the first three was very similar, just slightly different ingredients. The method seemed like accelerated, controlled spoilage. We applied heat then added an acid to coagulate the curds.
And then cooked a bit more to get as much curd formation and as clear of whey as possible – think yield here! Then separated the curds (solids – proteins and fat) from the whey (liquid – water and water soluble compounds) and let the curds drain until they were the desired firmness. The more you drain it, the firmer it gets. So, depending on what you are going to be using it for, you can control how firm it gets. One of the reasons to make your own! You can also add salt, or not, depending on your taste.
The whey – byproduct, not waste – can be used like stock in soup, or to cook rice or beans or in bread. If you have pigs you can feed it to them. It’s acidic, so you can also use it on acid loving plants.
The paneer or panir, which is an (East) Indian cheese, was pressed after draining to make it a very firm block. It can be used like tofu, and even stir fried, and doesn’t melt. Often made with whole cow’s milk, we used 2%. Buttermilk was used for the acid.
Ricotta and mascarpone are both Italian cheeses. For some reason with mascarpone I’ve always had the r in the wrong spot, thinking it was maRscapone, so I definitely learned a new thing there. The ricotta was a mix of whole milk and heavy cream, with citric acid. For mascarpone we used half and half, you can also use cream, and tartaric acid. We did not try it, but lemon juice can also be used for the acid.
Chevre, or spreadable goat cheese, pronounced chev, apparently the re is silent, was our gateway cheese. Actually I think Mary called it our bridge cheese, since it was an introduction to a cultured cheese. We used a kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company that had pre-mixed magic powder. Cultured cheese is somewhat like baking bread, in that you need things at the right temperature to activate the culture, but not so hot that you kill it. Another fun fact – goat’s milk is so white because there’s no beta-carotene in it.
The Beverage People in Santa Rosa is another source of cheesemaking supplies, so they are now on my list of places to check out. There’s also a local cheesemaking club!
The class was a lot of fun! I was surprised at how simple this type of cheese was to make. It was magical seeing the curds form. And tasty product to eat! I haven’t made any at home yet, but it’s definitely doable.
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