Cook It 2012: Cheese!

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Cook It Challenge of the Month: “Go forth! Make fresh cheese!”  

grow and resist grow it cook it can it 2012 cheesemakingStraining off the whey

Or, in my case, forget about cheese entirely until my pal Briggs reminded me days before I needed it done.

The night after I returned home, the Ladyfriend and I hung out with Briggs and Double S. We caught up over dinner and way too many varieties of rhubarb cocktails (you’ll hear about those soon). It was fun, as always. Not really related to this story, but still worth mentioning, is that while April’s butter-making challenge was sicky-sad for me, Briggs rocked it and brought their herb butter for our bread. It was ridiculously awesome. I might have licked my knife. Twice. Shh.Briggs reminded me of upcoming cheese though, even with the heads up, I didn’t manage to squeeze it in until yesterday. I thought about skipping it all together, but fresh ricotta-ish cheese could be dinner right?  We would eventually need to eat dinner. And fresh cheese takes very little time. In a moment of perhaps-questionable-judgement (?) I went for the Serious Eats 5-minute microwave method. I know. I know! It seems almost blasphemous. Especially since I only use our microwave for re-heating. I never actually cook with it. I would just as soon get rid of it all together and use the shelf for cookbooks.

grow and resist Cook It 2012 cheese

Is it ok to use apple cider vinegar? I couldn’t see why not. In the end though, the flavour of the ACV was a bit too strong. Round #2 used regular distilled vinegar.

I do think (if you aren’t opposed to using a microwave) the method has merit. And the post is certainly entertaining so certainly read it. What won me over was the premise of not creating a stuck-burnt-milk-scenario in the kitchen. Or boiling milk overfloweth situation.

Here is the thing: I despise,and have a completely irrational fear of, cooking milk. Is there a named phobia for that? Because I have it. I will make all kinds of complicated things in the kitchen, but if a recipe calls for cooking milk I’m out. I will likely toss it in the ‘not-gonna-happen-too-much-trouble’ category. It is not based on anything at all. I have no terrible past kitchen incidents with cooking milk. I think it is a base-less passed on fear from my Mom. Who likely inherited it from her Mom and on down the chain until there is a stout German lady putting her foot down after having made one too many puddings for her 12 kids. (Hi Mom!)

Yet, I manage to completely suspend this fear when making macaroni and cheese. And, yes, the rest of my life is full of random rules and inconsistencies that I prefer to think of as quirky and not just plain nuts. Just go with it.

Did it work? Not really. It isn’t the fault of the method or recipe. Trying things when I’m in a hurry rarely works out. I do things silly things like decide to double the recipe and not change the timing. And, as is my always-fear with cooking milk, I don’t know when it is done “right’. Or done enough. Or whatever. Clear whey? Like clear-ish? Or like water? Or perhaps sort of translucent? See? Cooking milk, by any method, is a mystery! In the end, what I got was yummy, but it was a measly amount of cheese from 4 cups of milk.

grow and resist grow it cook it can it 2012 cheesemaking

Sort of translucent-ish whey. Separated whey and curdles. The word curdle is gross. Curdles are tasty.

On to round #2, with the rest of my grass-fed, raw, organic milk from Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island. At just a quick 20-minute ferry ride from a few miles down the road, I don’t think it could get more local for (cow) milk.

grow and resist grow it cook it can it 2012 cheesemaking

Flour sack towels work much better than cheesecloth. For everything. Down with cheesecloth.

I cooked 4 cups of  local, raw, grass-fed cow milk (from cows that I’m sure are petted and kissed on the soft nose daily). When it got bubbly (not boiling… you definitely don’t want that mess) and about 180 degrees, I added 4 tablespoons of regular white distilled vinegar. I turned off the heat and stirred for a few minutes until it looked well separated. Or as separated as I believe it would become. Then strained over a flour-sack towel for a few minutes. It drains really quick in the towel and it is washable – so bonus!

grow and resist grow it cook it can it 2012 cheesemaking

Unseasoned fresh cheese. Chives and cracked pepper? Honey? A drizzle of aged balsamic?

I gotta say… it is pretty tasty. Even plain. I think the grass-fed milk adds some awesomeness. I am pretty excited to try it with a few mix-ins and toppings for dinner with crackers and fruit.

That being said… high quality milk is expensive, which is why high quality cheese is expensive. It takes A LOT of milk to a very small amount of cheese. So, next time you are in the store and thinking you are getting ripped off by the price of organic cheese, know that you totally aren’t. It is often out of our budget (and most folks, I imagine), but the value is there. Small organic farmers are not getting rich and are getting messed over by large corporations and government policies in many of the same ways we all are. So, when you can, give your local small farmer some serious love! The world will be better for the effort!

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