This post is part of the “Find Your Whey” yearlong cheese challenge, run by Rachel over at Another Year Without Groceries.
After curdling milk with lemon juice, white vinegar, and apple cider vinegar, and using rennet to firm up the curds, it is time for me to move on to bigger challenges: cultures. I’ve avoided taking on cheeses that require sanitization and little packets of bacteria because, frankly, they scare me. I decided to make chèvre, a single goat’s milk cheese, and then spent a few weeks hemming and hawing over the intimidating cleanliness requirements, until I broke down.
Screw it. I’m doing this the lazy way.
I have brewed several batches of beer, which requires sterilization of all the equipment and utensils used. Heck, it even requires sterilization of the water used to top off the wort. This is the most nerve-wracking part of brewing, for me. The elaborate dance of iodine-laced water staining plastic yellow in various containers, being schlepped back and forth from kettle to bucket – aargh. It usually ended with me forgetting and putting some completely unsanitized item into the fresh wort anyway. Pah.
While all this intricate juggling is occurring, in the back of my mind Lazy Alice is whispering (un)helpful things like, “People have been brewing beer for centuries. Probably eons, however long those are. It can’t be *that* easy to mess up.” Lazy Alice (who I suspect has horns and a fetching red one-piece) goes on to say, “It’ll be fine, just pour it in/use that spoon/swish it around.”
I humor the whisperings of Lazy Alice during fermentation experiments, but not canning. If I allowed the latter, I would foresee death by botulism in the future for her.
Anyway, back to the cheese. I decided to keep in mind that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and try making chèvre with minimal sanitation. I wasn’t going to be downright dirty, but I wasn’t going to do more than regular cleaning on the utensils involved.
I’d say “kids, don’t try this at home”, but…
1) I doubt any of you are children, and
2) That’s kind of the point, that we all get to try this at home.
Takes about 20 hrs, only 30 minutes of which are active. Makes ~3/4 cup of cheese from 1 quart of milk.
I was hoping to use raw goat’s milk, but I haven’t tracked any down yet. In substitute, I went to a nearby grocery store, and bought one of each of the two goat’s milk brands that were not ultra-pastuerized. I made two batches of cheese, and they turned out basically the same, so this won’t be a taste-test experiment.
Oak Barrel carried “chèvre culture“, which is produced by, you guessed it – The New England Cheesemaking Company – and includes some rennet. The packet contained enough culture for one gallon of milk; as I was working with one quart at a time, I eye-balled a quarter of the powder, and put the rest back into the packet sealed up tight, then back into the freezer.
Then I blinked, and the cheese was done.
Okay, it wasn’t quite that quick, but it sure felt like it. The milk gets heated indirectly to 86°. That’s pretty darn low. I poured the quart of milk into a saucepan, put the pan in the sink, and filled the sink with hot water. I stirred the pot a few times, and then took out my camera to snap some pictures. ‘Cause y’all haven’t seen enough pics of milk. Heating. Boringly.
Next time I looked at the temperature, it was at 98°. Oops. I reckoned that the inside of a goat is probably hotter than 98°, and that this probably wouldn’t hurt the cheese more than my whole “not sanitizing things” would. I added some cold water to the sink, and watched the temperature slowly slowly s-l-o-w-l-y drop.
Once the mercury hit 86°, I moved the pan from the sink to the counter, added the culture, and stirred it in for about 30 seconds. The lid went on, and the pot got wrapped up snug as a bug in a burrito.
The goal was to keep the milk around 72° for 12 hours. When I checked the ambient temperature in the morning with the second batch, it was only 65°, but the cheese still set. Not sure what effects the lower temperature had, but it certainly didn’t prevent curd formation.
Before going to bed that night, I set up a colander with a single layer of butter muslin. In the morning, I was nervous. I didn’t fully trust that the culture would take. I had only left the cheese for 10.5 hours rather than 12. My misgivings were shown the door, though. The curd was smooth, like firm yogurt. After scooping the curds in ladlefuls to the cheesecloth, I tied the bag and hung it over the knob of the KitchenAid mixer, drip-draining in to the bowl, which was set at a tilt to catch the whey. This I left for 10.75 hrs, what my work schedule allowed.
When I walked in the door, I was struck with the smell of CHEESE. The curds were now firmer, and drier, and gently pungent. I put the wrinkly cheese into a glass jar for storage. Three days later it was gone. I found the taste milder than store-bought chèvre, but no less delicious. I ate it on bread, stirred it into pasta, dolloped it on rice with greens, and scarfed it plain. With a spoon. I did everything but put it in ice-cream. Which is actually a thing.
So how did the lack of sanitation go? Swimmingly. For this simple cheese, it worked out fine both times. Two trials does not scientific evidence make, but it suffices for my kitchen. More importantly, it gave me the courage to keep trying cheeses without feeling like I have to have the perfect set-up first.
Now, when do I get to make brie? Drool.