Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Accidental Farmer talks about Cottage Cheese

One of my visions for Forging Fromage was to bring in guest posters...people who have something to offer (I bet we all have a little something hidden away) by way of cheese knowledge. Home cheese makers, professionals, beginners, wanna-be's...every experience is potentially a learning experience, so please...if there's anything you'd like to talk about here, just let me know! Today, we are gonna be given a little lesson on making Cottage Cheese by Susan of The Accidental Farmer. Susan is a friend of mine who lives on and cares tirelessly for an organic farm with everything from veggies to chickens to (of course) dairy cows! She also makes my favorite lip balm of all time...has a booth at our local Farmer's Market...and now she blogs, too! One of these days, I'm going to ask her to bless us with a post filled with her fabulous insights on the benefits of Raw Milk...she's so much better at voicing it than I am! Remember, this month's Cheese Adventure is Cottage, if you'd forgotten, or are still searching for a recipe...Susan is giving us her tried and true method.

Susan's Cottage Cheese

I learned to make cottage cheese by reading several cheese making books and just diving in and trying it. After making several batches, I have devised my own cottage cheese recipe, using a little from this, a little from that, and a little that is all my own. However, this recipe most closely resembles the recipe for cottage cheese in Making Artisan Cheese: Fifty Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen by Tim Smith. I do not use rennet in this recipe, but let time make the curd form. It makes a much more tender cheese. My recipe makes a little more than two pounds of cheese, but it can easily be halved. But you should still use the same amount of mesophilic starter culture, even if only making a half batch.

· A heavy bottomed two-gallon stock pot and a larger pot to make a double boiler

· An instant read thermometer (need to be able to read temps between 72º and 112º)

· A spoon for stirring (unless you are using the metal whisk – see below)

· A large metal whisk OR a long serrated bread knife OR a long frosting knife with a bend in it for cutting the curd

· Professional cheese cloth – you might find at a fabric store, or order from Dairy Connection.
~The stuff in the grocery store is too loose a weave – you will lose a lot of cheese!
~Butter muslin is too tight a weave. It will take forever to drain and it will be hard to wash the curds if you use it.
· A large colander
· A large bowl for mixing the finished product with salt

Wash and sterilize all of your equipment prior to use. Wash your hands frequently while you work. You are injecting the milk with special bacteria that will make great tasting cheese. The bacteria on your hands will not give you such great results.

· Six quarts milk, preferably raw, most of the cream skimmed off and reserved
~ If it is pasteurized, do NOT use ultra pasteurized. Meijer's house brand was not ultra pasteurized the last time I looked.
· ¼ tsp. mesophilic starter culture – get from Dairy Connection or find a cheese maker who will give you a bit.

· Canning salt or flake salt (you can get flake salt from Dairy Connection, but canning salt works well, and you can buy that in about any grocery store.)

I made my own double boiler by putting a two gallon stock pot inside a three gallon stock pot. I have two Dutch ovens and four stock pots. And some days I wish I had a couple more. My stove is always busy!! I put the milk into the smaller pot and set it into the larger pot, into which I put about 3” of water. Water should come up the sides of the pot with the milk, to about 4” from the top. This creates a water bath and prevents the milk from scorching as you heat it. If you don't have two pots, then just remember to stand over the pot as you heat the milk! Scorched milk does not make good cottage cheese. I start with six quarts of raw milk. I skim most of the cream off the milk and put the cream in a pint jar in fridge. I'll use that at the end, adding it to make the finished cottage cheese creamier and richer. If using raw or unhomogenized milk, the cream will rise to the top while you are making the cheese and you will lose some of it. That's why I save it and add it back in after the cheese is made.

Heat your milk until it reaches about 72º. Add the mesophilic starter culture to the milk and incorporate it gently into the warmed milk with a wire whisk or large spoon. Then put a lid on it and forget it for about 24 hours. It should be somewhere where the temperature doesn't fall below 68º, although mine often does and it still seems to make good cheese.

After 20 hours or so (if your house is warm), tilt the pan slightly and see if the milk pulls away from the side of the pot. It will be kind of gelatinous. If so, you are ready to go to the next step. If not, let it sit a little longer. You shouldn't have to let it sit for more than 26 hours, though.
Now very gently cut the curd. You will do this either by cutting with a knife or by using the wire whisk. If you use the whisk, do not stir, but gently drag it through the curd to break it up into smaller chunks. If using either of the knives, first cut straight down making cuts about 1/4” apart. Then turn the pot 90º and cut straight down perpendicular to your first cuts. You should have 1/4” x 1/4” strips.
Now for the hard part (and why I use the frosting knife with the bend). Lay the knife as close to horizontal as you can and begin cutting horizontally to make 1/4” cubes of curd. I know, you are thinking it can't be done. You are right – it can't be done. It really is nothing more than a laudable objective. You will not have perfect little cubes. But get them as close as you can, and stir gently to see if there are any big long “worms” of curd that need to be cut up some more. Now set your timer for 15 minutes and walk away. The curds will begin to settle a bit in the pan, and you will see the whey begin to separate out of the curd. When you cut the curds, you are exposing all of those little surfaces to the whey in the pot, and it will draw more whey out of the cubes.
After 15 minutes has passed, turn the burner on under your double boiler. The curds need to be stirred gently while heating so that they don't mat in the bottom of the pan. If you are heating directly on the burner, turn heat on lowest setting. You want to heat the curds to 100º over 25 minutes. You must do this slowly. Patience is required here. Then let the curds sit at 100º for 10 minutes. Now you will slowly raise the temperature to 112º. This should take another 15 minutes. Then let the curds sit at the target temperature for 30 minutes. If the curds still feel very soft at the end of this time, let them cook a little longer at 112º. If you exceed that temperature by more than one or two degrees, you will have tough cheese, so again, be patient and watch the heat. Let time do the cooking, not temperature.
When the curds feel fairly firm, it is time to drain them. Line your colander with sterilized cheesecloth (I steam mine in a vegetable steamer) and gently pour off a bit of the whey that should be floating on top of the curds. Now use a large ladle to ladle the curds into the colander or pour them gently directly from the pot. Let them drain for about five minutes, then gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and tie them into a hobo's bag. Slip a chopstick through the knot and let the bag hang for about 20 minutes inside your pot. (The chopstick should fit on the rim of the pot, holding the bag of curds out of the whey that will be draining from it.)
About the whey – I will tell you right now that the whey from this recipe is not good for ricotta. I don't know why, but don't bother. But there are all sorts of good things to do with whey. Put a little in your oatmeal and let it sit on the counter overnight before cooking for breakfast the next morning. Ditto with pancake batter – make it the night before and put in fridge overnight. Put some whey in homemade mayonnaise and let it sit on counter for seven hours before refrigerating – it will last several weeks instead of just a couple. Drink it. Give it to your dogs – they love it! Chickens love it even more. Water your plants with it. Pour it on your compost pile. Whey is alive and teaming with good things. Do not throw it down the drain!
Okay, by now your cottage cheese has drained enough. Fill a large bowl (or your emptied pot) with ice cold water and swish the bag of curds through the water several times. It will get kind of milky looking. Then let the whey drain again for about 15 minutes. Swish in fresh cold water and drain again for 15 minutes. This is a really important step, because the cheese will last longer if it has been washed well.
Now dump the curds into a large bowl, stir, and salt to taste. If you have used raw milk and if you have washed the curds well, then pour in the reserved cream. Your cottage cheese will stay good for a week or two. If you have used pasteurized milk or have been a bit careless about washing the curds, then save the cream and add to the cheese as you eat it, since the cream will make the cheese spoil a little faster.
Store the cheese, refrigerated, for a week or two, but best if eaten within a week.
Here is one of my favorite ways to eat my homemade cottage cheese. Oh Mama’s Deli at the South Bend Farmers Market sells this great Muffaleti Olive Salad and I mix it about 5:1, cottage cheese to muffaleti. Stir, add some fresh ground black pepper, enjoy!

Bon appétit!
Susan...thank you so much for sharing your cottage cheese making with us...It looks so delicious! We still have a couple weeks left in our Cottage Cheese Adventure....does anybody else want to say anything!?


Heather S-G said...

Susan....awesome!! I just made mine for the first time the other night...and I absolutely loved it! I am going to try your way next time. :)

NKP said...

I love that you can use raw milk. Ontario has made raw milk the most difficult contraband to get ahold of - it's unreal!
I am looking forward to making cottage cheese next weekend. Delish!

Alicia Foodycat said...

That looks fabulous!