Qué blanco que sos, queso blanco!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just look at those crisp folds, and the evenness of the weave.
Go ahead, let yourself admire the graceful draping. I know I did.
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.
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.
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?