Making your own cheese is a rewarding and cost-effective pastime, and best of all, it is easy and fun. This article will outline how anyone can make their own batch of no-culture cheese.
The Ingredients You’ll Need to Make No-Culture Cheese
The ingredients for making no culture cheese are simple.
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The most important ingredient is milk. You will need 4 liters (8.5 pints) of unhomogenized pasteurized cow’s milk.
This will give you a yield of between 500 and 700 grams (1-1.5 pounds) of cheese.
Milk is typically homogenized before it hits the shelves. Homogenization involves shaking the milk in a machine to get rid of fat concentrations.
While this makes it more pleasant to drink, the process can severely impact the end quality of the cheese, in terms of texture and yield.
Farmer’s milk is normally unhomogenized, and while you can buy it at markets, it is becoming increasingly more available on supermarket shelves.
The better the quality of milk, the better the result.
Investing in good quality milk will give you creamy and tasty cheese to enjoy with your friends and family.
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The next thing you want to look for is rennet. You can easily find it online in liquid or tablet form. Rennet is an enzyme found in sheep’s guts.
That might be off-putting for some, but luckily, you can also find junket, which is a vegetarian version. This can also be found in liquid and tablet form.
Cultures for Health is one of the best places I’ve come across for anything fermented. They sell animal rennet, vegetable rennet, and organic vegetable rennet for making your own cheese, as well as many, many other supplies for fermenting in your own home.
- Buy animal rennet (Cultures for Health)
- Buy vegetable rennet (Cultures for Health)
- Buy organic vegetable rennet (Cultures for Health)
The only other thing you are going to need for the base cheese is salt.
1. The first thing you want to do is allow the milk to come up to room temperature naturally.
2. While that is happening, you should prepare your rennet or junket solution.
- For 4 liters of milk, add a teaspoon of rennet to a quarter of a cup of mineral water at room temperature.
- If using tablet form, use 1 tablet, stirring it into the water to dissolve it.
- If using junket, you may need around 4 tablets/teaspoons. This is because it is not as strong as rennet. (Unless you’re using the organic, double-strength vegetable rennet from Cultures for Health)
3. Once that has happened, you want to find a large pot and pour the milk in.
4. Add a decent pinch of salt and very slowly heat it up on a low heat setting.
5. Use a wooden spoon to stir the milk to prevent it from catching on the bottom. This is very important. If the milk catches on the bottom, it will affect the taste of the cheese when it sets.
6. The scientific method to this is to put a thermometer in the milk and take it off the heat at 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).
As you continue to practice, you will learn how to tell the temperature simply by dipping your finger in the milk or touching the side of the pot. It should feel warm.
This temperature is actually the body temperature of a cow. In days gone by, no-culture cheese was made straight after the cow had been milked.
7. When the milk reaches the right temperature, it is important to move it to a room temperature surface. If you leave it on the stove, and especially an electric element, it will continue to rise in temperature, ruining the separation process.
8. Now it is time to add the rennet or junket water solution. Simply pour it in and stir gently and then put the lid on the pot.
9. If you are making the cheese in winter, you should wrap it in a blanket. On the other hand, if you are making it in summer, you should let it rest in a well-ventilated area.
10. Next, go make yourself a cup of tea and go read the newspaper or watch the news for an hour or so.
The Separation Process for No-Culture Cheese
If you have done things correctly, when you lift the pot lid, you should see that the milk has separated into curds and whey.
You can tell if you have a good batch by lightly prodding it with a wooden spoon.
A good batch will hold together and sink under the yellowish whey without breaking apart when you prod it.
- Grab a kitchen knife and score the curds about six times parallel in any direction.
- Put the lid back on and let the curds rest for another 8-12 hours.
- Once that time is up, get a kitchen knife and score the curds horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.
- Set up a mesh grate over the sink and sit the cheese molds on the top of it, and you are now ready to start spooning the curds into the molds.
Filling or No Filling?
These cheeses can be enjoyed with or without a filling. The plain option is easy to do.
- All you need to do is use your slotted spoon to scoop curds into the molds.
- Fill them right up to the top and give them a gentle tap or two to drain off the whey.
- Once you have filled a mold, sprinkle liberally with salt. Give them a good dose as most of the salt will drain off with the whey.
- You can opt for any inclusions. Capers work very well, as do chopped olives, anchovies, fresh chilies, and pretty much any filling you can think of.
- The secret is to do it in layers and not put too much inside them as it can cause them to break.
- Set aside a little bit of curd and let the cheeses drain for an hour or so.
- When you come back to them, you will see that they may have reduced in size.
- Use the curds set aside earlier to fill up the mold and let them drain again.
- Once they are drained, put the grate over a baking tray and pop them in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Flipping Your Cheeses
You can enjoy your cheeses after 24 hours, but they do take a better shape if you flip them inside the baskets.
Simply turn them upside down in your hand and give them a gentle tap. The cheese should fall out, and now you need to pop it back into the mold upside down.
Do not worry too much about them losing shape, as they are still a soft enough consistency to take the shape of the mold.
Leave them for 12 hours, and they should now have an equal shape all around. Simply put them on a plate, drizzle with tasty olive oil and eat with tomatoes and basil, or just spread on crusty bread!
Drying and Pickling Your Cheeses
You can also dry these cheeses and store them in a jar for future consumption, but this only works with the plain ones.
- You need to leave them in the fridge for a total of 10 days.
- After a couple of days, you need to take them out of the molds and sit them on top. Keep turning them over every day so they dry evenly.
- After 10 days, take them out of the fridge. You may notice that they look hard and yellow, but if you soak them in white wine vinegar, they turn white instantly. You should let them soak for at least 24 hours.
- When they are ready, you roll them in crushed black pepper. The vinegar will have softened the outside of the cheese, which will allow the pepper to bind with it.
- Let the cheese dry for 24 hours and store in a glass jar. They will keep for at least three months.
- If you want to take the pickling up an extra notch, you can preserve them in a red wine vinegar and olive oil mixture. This will lift the pickling levels to new heights, but it is a very strong flavor, so beware.
Other Options for Your Soft Cheeses
If you want to preserve your cheeses in their soft form, you can make up a saline solution. Be careful here; these soft cheeses take on salt very easily, so make a very weak brine and put it in an airtight jar.
Pop your cheeses in, and they will keep for months.
You can also put them in olive oil and flavor them with garlic, herbs, or peppercorns.
Bonus for Leftover Whey
Most people literally pour the whey used in the cheesemaking process down the drain. You can use it for all sorts of things!
You can use it to make ricotta the Sicilian way. Very simply, bring a pot of milk up the cusp of a boil, and then take it off the heat. Pour in the whey, and it will instantly separate into ricotta curds.
You can also boil potatoes in it, use it in soups or sauces, and you can also use it as fertilizer for your plants.