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Qué blanco que sos, queso blanco!

2012 January 20
by Alice

The simplest kind of cheese is nothing but dairy and acid. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep milk. Whole milk, skim milk, yogurt, buttermilk. Lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid. Mix and match any of the above, and you’ll land on some traditional simple cheese. Ricotta and paneer both fall into this category, so when Rachel chose this style of cheese for the first month of the Cheese Challenge, I knew I didn’t want to repeat what I’d already done. After flipping through my new copy of Home Cheesemaking (yay Christmas presents!), I also settled on queso blanco (“white cheese” in Spanish).

Having now made three different simple cheeses, I definitely don’t understand why they all turn out different. They do though, so hey.

bag o' curds

Cow’s Milk Queso Blanco

As usual, I used our herd-share raw cow’s milk. I meant to save the whole one gallon, but when I saw that the amount of acid to use was “as much as needed”, I broke down and drank a few glasses of milk plain, leaving me with 13 cups for the cheese.

I mean, I was eating spicy Thai food. I’m sure you understand.

Having broken my old candy thermometer some months back (and still haven’t managed to get to a designated mercury disposal site – why do they make it so hard‽), I’ve been using the beer thermometer to watch the temperature. The scale matches what Rikki calls a “dairy thermometer” in Home Cheesemaking: 0° to 220°. Bingo. Beer and cheese have probably been getting together behind my back for a while now, huh.

I prepared a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar to curdle the milk. Fun fact: we bought this vinegar at the Farmer’s Market from Bernie of Pomo Tierra Ranch, who is the gentleman in the drawing below. He looks pretty much just like that.

apple cider vinegar

Around 180°, the milk had been steaming for some time. It started showing thick, creamy foam on top. When it hit 185°, I dribbled in the vinegar, still stirring, the milk left on the heat. I paused between each small addition. Like magic, when I had added the full quarter cup, and not a moment before, the curds separated.

curds & whey

As soon as the solids precipitated, I pulled the pot off the heat. I ladled the curds from the whey into a butter muslin lined colander in the sink. I’ve used cheesecloth for my other cheese ventures, but I’m trying to do right by these recipes, and quasi blanco specified butter muslin. Thankfully, the beer/wine/vinegar/cheese-making supply store stocks puppies everything I have needed so far. I suspect that the finer weave of the butter muslin contributed to the smoother texture of the finished cheese.

Plus, it’s purrrrty.

butter muslin

Just look at those crisp folds, and the evenness of the weave.

draining curds

Go ahead, let yourself admire the graceful draping. I know I did.

colander o' curds

I gathered the corners of the muslin, and hung the cheese to drain on the tap over the kitchen sink. I meant to leave it two hours, but took it down two hours and twenty minutes later instead. It doesn’t seem any worse for the wear.

Like paneer, and unlike ricotta, this cheese was firm and held its shape. The taste is mild – not vinegar-y, but also not particularly memorable. Definitely a tofu-style placeholder. Next time, I’ll probably add salt.

queso blanco

I’m storing it in a glass container in the fridge, cutting chunks off as needed. The final weight of the cheese was 750 gms, or 26.5 oz. Not bad for a few hours work. A week later, I am intimidated by just how much cheese it made. Three quarters of a kilo is nothing to sniff at.

The queso blanco made its debut as cubes in a green salad with diced beets and smoked herring, seasoned with salt, pepper, Meyer lemon juice, and olive oil. Nom nom nom. This week it has been reprising its role as garnish du jour on top of broccoli soup and mashed potatoes.

salad with cheese

Queso blanco, you’re not bad, but I feel ready to move on. Who else is ready for some culture up in this (cheese) joint?

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. January 21, 2012

    See, posts like this make me want to make cheese! They make me think it is attainable, within my grasp, reachable, doable, easy! All I have to do is be willing to sacrifice some of my drinking/cereal milk to the cheese gods… Gotta work up to that one. But I can imagine it. So simple. I love it!

    • Alice permalink*
      January 21, 2012

      With this type of cheese in particular, since you just add the vinegar until the milk separates, you can try it out with only part of your drinking/cereal milk, and you wouldn’t have to worry about measuring out cultures or rennet. You could make queso blanco with 1 cup, or 1 quart.

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