My first experience with making dairy products at home was yogurt. Long before Greek yogurt was popular in the United States, my travel bug had given me an insatiable craving for the thick, creamy fermentation. A hostel owner turned me on to a local maker of sheep’s milk yogurt, which I then ate mixed with honey and topped with fruit almost every morning I was in Greece.
American yogurts paled by comparison, so back home, I searched for an alternative way to get my Greek yogurt fix. I could strain almost any yogurt to approximate the consistency, but only expensive ones got me in the right flavor neighborhood. Then I learned all I needed was a little bit of good yogurt and a gallon of milk: Even with cow’s milk, homemade tasted better and was more affordable than anything I could buy. Which of course led to the question, Could cheese be this easy?
Thankfully, the answer is yes: Some cheese is easily made at home. But I was still wary of making cheese. I thought I’d need difficult-to-find starters, special tools, and a daily care regime for my cheeses. All of these things can be true for some of my favorite wheels: feta, sharp Cheddars, stinky blues, and dense Parmesans.
Then I was gifted a cheese-making kit with the essentials and instructions for creating mozzarella and ricotta. This started me down the road of making a range of fresh, soft cheeses—and now teaching you how to do so. I’ll be writing about cheese, yogurt, and uses for them all month, so here are a few essentials to get you started.
The easiest cheeses require little in the way of special equipment. Many of the tools that will come in handy for the cheese making most likely already live in your kitchen, including a colander, large slotted and wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons, and a long knife, such as a bread knife. But there are a few additional things that will pave an easy path for your cheese-making adventures.
- Large kettle: A large, nonreactive pot with a heavy bottom is essential for making cheese. I found a stainless steel one at a discount store that holds more than 2 gallons of milk and has become my favorite. Make sure yours is at least 1 gallon.
- Thermometer: You’ll need to keep either a fairly close or an eagle eye on your milk temperature, depending on the type of cheese you’re making. I’ve used metal-probe dial and digital thermometers and found them to work equally well—as long as they cover a range of 0°F to 220°F.
- Butter muslin: This densely woven sister of cheesecloth is ideal for soft cheeses, capturing all of the curds as you drain off the whey. Locally, I found mine among the beer-making supplies rather than the cheese equipment; apparently, it makes great hop bags.
Depending on the cheese you’re making, you may find other specialty items necessary, such as citric acid, rennet, and specialized starters. But for your first attempt, which I’ll introduce to you next week, these basics will suffice.
Twice as Tasty
Although my first cheese was mozzarella, I’ve since learned of a cheese that’s even easier to make: an acid-added, heat-coagulated cheese known variously as queso blanco, panir, whole-milk ricotta, and farm cheese. I call it Lemon Cheese, since lemon juice is my favorite acid for this recipe. It takes only 30 minutes to make—and you can make yogurt at the same time.
The primary byproduct of cheese making is whey—and lots of it. I hate the idea of just pouring it down the drain, but fortunately there are many ways to use it, including when baking with sourdough. I’ll share some of my favorite uses for whey, including the Cheesiest Macaroni and Cheese you’ve ever tasted.
Yogurt and its whey also have a range of uses beyond breakfast under a Grecian sun. My taste buds are honed to tangy rather than sweet, so I prefer yogurt in almost any recipe that calls for mayonnaise. I especially love it in another Greek favorite, tzatziki, and other dips.
The photos on this page show the basis for all of this month’s recipes—all made from 1 gallon of milk. So gather your cheese-making tools: the fun begins next week.
Twice as Tasty is offering a new trio of workshops this spring, including a hands-on cheese- and yogurt-making workshop in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Workshops are always available locally in Montana’s Flathead Valley, and I’ll be taking them on the road to the Pacific Northwest in May. Click here to learn more.