Let’s make cheese!!

Huh? What did she just say? Yep, let’s make cheese. And I’m not being euphemistic, either. A few months ago, I had 3 gallons of milk in my fridge, one of which was a day away from it’s expiration date. I knew we wouldn’t drink it and being the cheapskate that I am, I didn’t want to toss it. After much research, I decided to make cheese with it. It was so fun and SO YUMMY that I do it a lot now, on purpose!

Here is a step-by-step method for making your own cheese, and some ideas for what to do with it afterward!

What you’ll need:

A big pot (at least a gallon and a half, maybe two) but not so huge that you can’t manhandle it.
1 gallon milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
colander or sieve
clean, thin cloth (grab one of your husbands old t-shirts, they work great and he’ll never notice. Just make sure it’s not his Metallica shirt from that concert he went to in ’93)

Pour the milk into the pot and set it on the stove. Warm it over medium heat until just BEFORE it boils. How do you know? Look for little bubbles around the edges – or be a pansy and use a thermometer – boiling is 212 degrees so when it gets to 200 or so, you’re good.

Add the vinegar to the milk and stir it like mad, then remove it from the heat.

Throw a lid on the pot (or cover with a dishtowel if all your pot lids are being used as shields in a mighty battle in the front yard where you’ve sent your kids to get out of the way while you make cheese) and let it sit for about 15 or 20 minutes. More time won’t hurt, but less time will cause problems. While it’s sitting, it’ll get all clumpy and gross looking. This is good. These are curds and that’s what we want.

Get a big bowl and set it in the sink. Put your colander in the bowl, and then line the colander with the shirt or cloth. Pour the clumpy gross stuff into the colander. The liquid that comes off is whey, and the clumps are curds. It’s like Little Miss Muffet right there in your sink. The whey should be mostly clear at this point*. The whey is GOOD STUFF! Save it… we’ll get back to it.

Now at this point you can wrap the cloth around your ball of curds and squeeze it as best you can, add a little salt, and you’ve got ricotta. Go make lasagna!

What I like to do is squeeze it, then wrap it up in the t-shirt and go hang the t-shirt in my shower, with the ball of cheese at the bottom, squeezing it every once in a while for a couple hours. This results in a dryer cheese. Add a little salt and it’s awesome just spread on crackers or toast.

*If the whey is still cloudy at this point, return it to your pot, bring it back up to 200 degrees, and add another 1/4 cup vinegar. Remove from heat and let that sit another 15 minutes, then add it to the curd in the colander. Don’t worry, you didn’t mess up, it just happens sometimes.

What to do with your cheese:

Veggie cheese spread
1 ball fresh homemade cheese (room temp)
1 tsp salt
1/2tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp garlic powder (to taste)

Using a hand mixer or electric mixer, blend the above ingredients.

In a food processor, finely chop the following:
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 bunch radishes
1 bunch green onions

(you can sub whatever veggies you like, really, these are just my favorites)

Set up your cloth/colander again and put the chopped veggies in it – press the veggies and squeeze as much liquid out as you can.

Fold the veggies into the cheese/spice mixture. At this point you can wrap it all in saran wrap, shape it into a ball and roll the ball in herb or nuts for an AWESOME cheese ball.

I’m not really a cheese ball girl though, so I like to get the giant tortillas (burrito size) , smear about half a cup of the cheese and veggie mixture on a tortilla, roll it up and repeat until I’m out of spread. Then chill the rolls for about an hour, slice into pinwheels and serve. Requests for these pinwheels have actually become demands. Like, I’m not invited unless I bring the pinwheels.

Any recipe that calls for a soft cheese, especially expensive cheeses like chevre, etc, you can substitute with this! It won’t cost you more than a gallon of milk.

Back to the whey:

Substitute your whey for water when you make bread or biscuits, use the whey to cook rice or pasta. Any time you might use chicken stock, you can use whey. Add a little to your pet’s dry food to moisten it – it’s super healthy and will make his coat shiny. If you have little ones, make their oatmeal with whey, they’ll never know how healthy it is.

Rumor has it that you can drink it – I’m not that brave. If you try it, let me know – I hear it’s amazing in a smoothie.

My tips:

Please, for the love of all things holy, use whole milk.

If you have access to raw milk, USE IT. And thank your lucky stars. Just be sure to keep your cheese well refrigerated.

Play around with flavors – add honey and fruit or preserves, add chiles, really experiment! Let me know what you come up with – what works and what doesn’t!

After you’ve had your cheese hanging in the shower and you take it down, rinse your shower. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

This is one of those things that you can do and tell people “I made this cheese” and they’re going to FREAK OUT. They’ll think you’re Martha Stewart on meth, but all it takes is a gallon of milk and a little time. It’s super simple but so cool and so impressive. And really, watching the milk curdle and get all gross is really awesome, especially when you tell yourself you’re going to eat it later!

Please, be brave, try it, and let me know what you think! If you have questions or just need encouragement, leave me a comment and I’ll get you started!