The smell of purple lilacs on my 60-mile ride on Sunday sent the message, quiet but clear: April has arrived with freshness. We had a bush in our backyard my mother would let us snip bouquets from, and the smell still reminds me of our small-town home.
Ironman is behind me, and there is newness all around. New things going on at work, a new apartment/neighborhood, and a new training phase. Sounds like the perfect time to make fresh cheese.
When Mark bought a book on cheesemaking home, I wasn’t surprised. After all, what would a household with books on homemade bitters, charcuterie, and bread be without a guide to spinning the illustrious fatty substance yourself? A sad place, I say.
We started with an easy one: queso blanco. A cheese made by adding vinegar to milk and straining the curds from the whey. It’s really that simple.
From “Artisan Cheese Making At Home,” by Mary Karlin: “Translated as “white cheese,” queso blanco is one of the fresh cheese found all over Latin America that are similar to farmer’s cheese. Because queso blanco doesn’t completely melt when heated, it makes a perfect finishing cheese, or cheese for where you want chunks to remain intact.”
Sign me up.
Mark gets the credit for making the actual cheese, but I was a happy sampler and taco-eater. We tried it on top of carne asada tacos (with sweet potato, purple cabbage, and lime) and they were a hit in our party of two. Next time, I’d love to stir it into a chicken tortilla soup with avocado.
Makes 1 pound; 1 hour to make the cheese, 1 hour to drain.
1 gallon pasteurized whole cow’s milk
About 1/3 cup cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal brand)
1. Assemble your equipment, supplies, and ingredients, including a kitchen thermometer. Clean and sterilize your equipment as needed and lay it out on clean towels.
2. Heat the milk in a nonreactive, heavy, 6-quart stockpot over medium heat to 195 degrees F, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching. It should take about 25 to 30 minutes to bring the milk to temperature. Turn off the heat.
3. Stir in the vinegar using a whisk. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit 10 minutes. The milk protein will coagulate into solid curds and the liquid whey will be almost clear and light green in color. Depending on the milk used, if the whey is still a bit cloudy or there are small bits of curd visible in the whey, you may need to add a bit more vinegar to fully coagulate the curds. If so, add 1 teaspoon at a time and stir with a rubber spatula until the rest of the curds are formed. Too much vinegar will offset the flavor.
4. Place a nonreactive strainer over a nonreactive bowl or bucket large enough to capture the whey. Line it with clean, damp butter muslin and gently ladle the curds into it. Let the curds drain for 5 minutes.
5. Distribute the salt over the curds and gently toss the curds with your hands to incorporate. Be careful not to break up the curds in the process.
6. Make a draining sack: Tie two opposite corners of the butter muslin into a knot and repeat with the other two corners. Slip a wooden spoon under the knots to suspend the bag over the bowl to catch the whey. Let the curds drain for 1 hour, or until the whey has stopped dripping. Discard the whey or reserve for another use.
7. Remove the solid mass of cheese from the cloth and place in an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Fresh cheese such as this are best when eaten within 24 hours, though it may be stored for up to a week.