Most cheeses are pretty hard to make at home. A good friend of mine is a very solid cook and experimenter and one year I remember him trying to make cheddar cheese in his kitchen. The results where somewhere between rotten dairy and deadly fungus. There are a lot of variables that go into cheese making and some of them are super-hard to control in most home kitchens.
But not every cheese is hard to make at home. In fact, on the other end of the spectrum, there are a few cheeses that are insanely easy to make at home. When homemade cheese won the poll last week, I knew I would be doing one of these softer fresh cheeses.
1) Wrap roughly chopped garlic and rosemary in cheesecloth. Don't wrap it too tight, you want the liquid to be able to circulate around it. Tie off the top though so it stays in a bundle.
2) Bring milk to a simmer in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add in herb bundle as it heats and stir it into the milk. Stir the milk frequently as it heats to prevent scalding.
3) Once milk is simmering lightly (don't bring it to a rapid boil), remove herb bundle and immediately stir in lemon juice. Stir and remove from heat.
4) Let milk sit for 10 minutes so the curds can form.
5) Line a colander with a double layer of cheese cloth and carefully pour liquid through colander. The curds will separate from the whey. Let it drain for 10-15 minutes to make sure as much liquid as possible is drained off.
6) Start gathering up cheesecloth and applying pressure to the curds. Gently squeeze out as much liquid as you can. I recommend squeezing the cheesecloth and then putting a heavy bowl on top of the cheese to apply constant pressure. Let that sit for 15-20 minutes. (Not you can keep pressing the cheese and make it very firm, but I like mine soft.)
7) Unwrap cheese and season with a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and rosemary. Stir together gently. Place cheese in a serving bowl or chill for later. Garnish cheese with extra rosemary and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with crackers or bread.
The Herb Package
Making this cheese at home is pretty sexy. It doesn’t take long to make and the final results are soft and rich and best served warm in my opinion.
Since you need to slowly heat up the milk to start the cheese, I thought I would take that opportunity to add in some flavors.
I very roughly chopped some rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves and then wrapped them in cheesecloth. You want them to be pretty loosely wrapped so the liquid can circulate through the herb packet.
Then just tie off the packet with a bit of kitchen twine or a thin piece of cheesecloth.
Making the Cheese
I recommend using a full gallon of WHOLE milk for this recipe. Otherwise you might not end up with enough cheese to really make it worth it.
Add the milk to a large pot and get it going over medium to medium-high heat. Add in the herb packet right at the beginning. Stir this frequently as it heats up to move around the herb packet and also prevent scorching.
Once the milk is start to simmer, but not boil, it’s ready for the next step. This should take 10-15 minutes ideally.
Remove the herb packet and stir in the lemon juice. The acid from the lemon juice will separate the curds from the whey. It’s very important that the milk is very hot for this step.
Stir in the lemon juice and you’ll immediately see the science happening.
Let this sit off the heat though for 10 minutes to make sure that your curds are well formed.
Then pour the contents into a colander that has been double-lined with cheesecloth. Let this drain slowly.
What drains off from this process is called whey and it’s far from useless. Here are 16 fun ways to use whey if you want to save it.
Meanwhile, when your curds have drained off, gently press out as much of the liquid as you can. If you press too hard though you’ll force the curds through the cheesecloth (not good).
What I like to is pull the cheesecloth into a little bundle and then put a heavy bowl on the bundle for 10-15 minutes. The weight from the bowl will gently press out a good amount of liquid.
You can press this to your heart’s content. Obviously, the more you press it, the firmer it will get.
For my version though, I left it semi-soft so it’s nice and spreadable. This was my finished soft cheese.
I seasoned it with some kosher salt, minced rosemary, and coarsely ground black pepper. I stirred about 1/2 teaspoon of herbs and pepper into the cheese.
When you’re ready to serve the cheese, drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle with a bit more rosemary and pepper on top.
Serve with nice crackers!
This is one of those recipes that I think would be really fun for kids to make. You could learn a bit about how curds form, make it, and have a great snack!
Personally, a few of these crackers and a decent glass of wine makes for a pretty great happy hour in my book.