So, you finally have a dairy animal on your homestead! You’ve mastered milking and learned how to make your own butter and maybe even yogurt. What comes next? Learning how to make cheese right in your own kitchen is a skill many homesteaders dream of learning. Let’s talk about the basic of cheese making and an easy recipe for you to try at home.
How Cheese is Made
In the most basic of terms, the process of cheese making means merely separating the solids from the liquids by adding a starter culture to fresh milk. The culture causes the lactose in the milk to be changed into lactic acid. The lactic acid then causes the milk to curdle, separating the solids and the liquids. Certain types of cheese require an additional enzyme to coagulate the milk even further. The cheese solids, or curds, will then be separated from the whey (the liquids) by cutting the cheese into pieces and then pressing it into a mold.
For some cheeses, there will be an extended aging time of anywhere from a month or two to years in some cases, depending on how long it takes to achieve the correct flavor and ripeness. Cheese making can be a complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. Simple cheeses like cottage cheese and farmer’s cheese can easily be made at home.
Types of Milk Used in Cheese Making
The methods used during cheesemaking, from how the curds are cut and which enzyme is used, to how the cheese is aged, all have an impact on the final product, and what kind of cheese you end up with. The type of milk also plays an important part. While cow’s milk is probably the most common, sheep and goat milk (and even buffalo!) are also quite popular. The important thing is that the milk is high in the protein casein, which makes the curds. Although certain types of cheese are most commonly made with milk from a specific animal, you can make cheese from the milk of any dairy animal you have on your farm.
- Goat’s Milk: Goat’s milk is widely used in France for making many different types of cheeses. Goat’s milk is lower in potassium, which makes it safer for folks who have kidney disorders. It is also lower in lactose, so it’s great for people who have issues digesting cow’s milk.
- Sheep’s Milk: Sheep are not usually the first animal that comes to mind when you start thinking about getting a dairy animal on the homestead. And, in fact, their milk is not often consumed just for drinking because it is very high in lactose, making it harder to digest. However, many favorite and delicious kinds of cheese are made from sheep’s milk, including Feta and Manchego.
- Cow’s Milk: Cow’s milk is probably the most versatile milk of all, as long as you don’t have issues digesting it. It contains just the right amount of protein and fat for making all sorts of dairy products, and of course just for drinking. Cow’s milk is used to make mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, and many more.
Making Farmer’s Cheese
You may know cheese by one of its many other names used in different regions of the globe. In India, it is called paneer. In Africa, they call it wagashi. Latin countries call it queso fresco or queso blanco. In fact, America’s cottage cheese, France’s fromage blanc, and Germany’s quark are all versions of the same cheese. The only differences are how much moisture is left in the cheese and which foods it’s served with.
If you have farm fresh milk, of course, that’s what you’ll want to use. It can come from a sheep, cow, or goat, and there will be a subtle difference in flavor depending on which one you have. You can even use milk from the grocery store, as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized. You’ll need one gallon of milk to make about one pound of farmer’s cheese.
Rennet is often used to curdle the milk in cheese making, but in the case of farmer’s cheese, all you need is some lemon juice or vinegar. You will get a hint of the flavor from whichever one you choose. If that bothers you, you can also use citric acid (found in the canning section), which is almost flavorless.
Follow these steps to make your first batch of Farmer’s Cheese:
- Gently heat one gallon of milk in a pan with a heavy bottom. Use a low setting and stir occasionally, so the milk doesn’t scald.
- Once your milk reaches 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it from the heat. You can simply watch for the first signs of boiling (which occurs just above the 200-degree mark), or you can use a candy or cheese making thermometer.
- Slowly add your curdling agent and watch carefully for when the milk begins to curdle. The exact amount you will need can vary depending on the properties of your milk. You’ll want to stop adding your curdling agent as soon as the curd form to avoid getting a sharp, tangy flavor. Let the pot sit for 20 minutes before moving on to the next step to allow the curds and weigh time to separate completely.
- Line your colander with a piece of cheesecloth, set it inside a bowl, and pour your curds and why through it. There are lots of uses for whey, or you can simply give to your chickens, so don’t just pour it down the sink.
- The next step is up to you. You can leave your cheese as is if you want it to be soft and spreadable. You could add salt and fresh herbs and spread it on soft bread or crackers. For cottage cheese, simply place the curds in a bowl with a bit of the whey. Or, if you want a slightly firmer cheese, tie the cheesecloth at the corners, squeeze out as much liquid as you can, and then hang it over a bowl to continue draining off the whey.
If you want a very firm cheese you can slice, place the cheesecloth wrapped curds and colander in your refrigerator overnight with a weight on top. Be sure to put a bowl underneath it to catch the whey. Try rolling your pressed cheese in cracked pepper of chopped herbs to serve on crackers.
Farmer’s Cheese is best eaten fresh. Use it up within a week to 10 days and store it in your refrigerator.