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Cheesemaking


Spring is the time of year when I get the urge to DIY everything, from the garden to the kitchen and beyond. This week, cheesemaking is on the agenda. I wanted to make something fairly simple using cultures I already had. I decided to use my mesophilic cheese culture to make Queso Fresco. Ingredients:

#1. Add the ¼ rennet tablet to ¼ cup cool water. Make sure your water is unchlorinated. Set it aside to dissolve while your milk is heating.

How do you get ¼ rennet tablet? Note that the tablets have a cross or plus sign on one side. Use a butter knife and those score lines to cut your rennet tablet into quarters. Save the remaining portion of the tablet in the freezer for your next batch.

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#2. Pour the milk into a large stainless steel pot. Heat slowly to 90ºF.

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When making cheese, I like to use really fresh vat pasteurized milk from a local dairy. Avoid ultra-pasteurized milk for cheesemaking.

#3. Sprinkle the starter onto the surface of the milk. Let it dissolve for a minute or two, then stir in the starter thoroughly.

#4. Add the rennet solution. Pour it through a slotted spoon so that the solution is evenly distributed.

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#5. Mix in the rennet with up-and-down motions, no stirring! Do this for about 1-2 minutes, to make sure the rennet is completely mixed in.

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#6. Leave the milk to set for about 40-45 minutes. You're looking for a clean break in the curd. It should pull away from the side of the pot like yogurt.

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#7. Once the curd has set, cut it into ¼-inch cubes. Curds should always be cut in a checkerboard pattern, across then down.

Make sure to get the knife all the way to the bottom of the pot. Then cut at a diagonal, across and then down, so that you have an entire pot of similar sized curd pieces.

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#8. Put the pot back on gentle heat and heat the curds up to 95ºF. Heat slowly so that it takes about 15 minutes.

While the curds are heating, gently stir them every few minutes to keep them from matting together.

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#9. Now let the curd set for about 5 minutes without stirring.

After the curds have set, pour off the whey. Whey is that yellow liquid surrounding your curds.

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To drain the whey off, I simply held the pot lid on both sides and poured over a colander, just in case some curds slipped out. Don't forget to save the whey. It's great for so many things!

#10. Once the whey is drained, sprinkle salt over the curds, 1-2 teaspoon of salt should be enough.

#11. Keep the salted curds at 95ºF for another 30-40 minutes. It is normal for more whey to be released during this time.

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#12. Line your colander with cheesecloth and pour the curds into the lined colander to drain.

#13. If you have a cheese press, pour curds into the mold and press at 35 pounds of pressure for 5-7 hours.

If you don't have a cheese press, don't worry. It's easy to press cheese without special equipment. Once most of the whey has drained out, fold the top of the cheesecloth over the curds. Lay a small plate on top of the curds and use a jar of water or other heavy item to press the cheese. 10

I had just made a pot of bone broth, so I used that half-gallon broth jar as a weight. The pressing time can vary, depending on how dry you'd like your cheese to be. I left my homemade press for about 6 hours. The final cheese was firm and held its shape well without crumbling. It sliced easily, too.

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