Queso blanco, panir, whole-milk ricotta, farm cheese, lemon cheese—they’re the same cheese by different names. Even where recipes for them may vary, they share two features: all form curd through the addition of an acid, and all coagulate because they are heated above 176°F, the temperature at which the milk protein casein “sets.” This makes Lemon Cheese, my preferred name because I like to use lemon juice to form the curd, surprisingly simple and easy to make. This recipe is also a great first cheese because you need few special tools or ingredients: just cheesecloth, a thermometer, and ideally cheese salt. You can make about 2 pounds of cheese from a gallon of milk, but I prefer to use some of that gallon to make yogurt.
6–8 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4–1 teaspoon cheese salt, or to taste
Pour the milk into a large, heavy-bottom pot and heat it over direct medium heat; alternatively, pour the milk into a container set in a water bath before heating (see Tips & Tricks for more details). Heat the milk, stirring occasionally, until the temperature is between 185°F and 200°F.
If making Fresh Yogurt (see below), ladle 1 quart of hot milk into a large measuring cup or bowl. Cover loosely with a cloth towel or napkin, and let that milk cool to 105°F–115°F while you continue making cheese.
Remove the large pot of milk from the heat. For every quart of milk in the pot, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. In other words, if you removed 1 quart of milk for yogurt, pour 6 tablespoons of lemon juice into the milk left in the pot; if you are making the full gallon into cheese, add 8 tablespoons. Stir well, and then cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes, until the curds and whey separate.
Check for clear separation. If the whey looks milky, add another 1–2 tablespoons of lemon juice and let sit an additional 5 minutes. Set a colander over a large bowl or pot and line it with a single layer of butter muslin. Ladle the whey and then curds slowly into the muslin so that most of the whey runs through before the curds slide into the colander. Let the curds drain for 5–10 minutes, until most of the whey has dripped into the bowl; the whey can be reserved for another use.
Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of cheese salt for every quart of milk used for the cheese. In other words, add 3/4 teaspoon of cheese salt if you removed 1 quart of milk to make yogurt or 1 teaspoon of cheese salt if you are making the full gallon into cheese. Tie two opposing corners of the muslin into a knot, and then tie the other two corners around a wooden spoon handle or other support so that it can hang over the pot to drain. Let the cheese drain for about 30 minutes for a soft, spreadable cheese and up to 2 hours for a dry, crumbly cheese. Remove the cheese from the muslin and store it in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1-1/2–2 pounds.
Tips & Tricks
- Although you can make Lemon Cheese and Fresh Yogurt independently, the initial step for each requires the same technique to heat the milk to the ideal temperature, making it easy to create two recipes from 1 gallon of milk—the essence of Twice as Tasty.
- If your largest kettle has a thin or grooved bottom, it may be best to heat the milk in a water bath: Place a rack or layer of canning rings in the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot by 1/3 with water, and then pour the milk into another heatproof container that fits within the pot. Insert the container into the larger pot, making sure the water in the outer pot matches the milk level in the inner container but does not overflow.
- Constant stirring isn’t necessary, but stirring every few minutes can prevent sticking even over direct heat.
- Lemon juice is one of many acids that can separate curds and whey. Apple cider vinegar is effective and produces a traditional queso flavor. If you plan to use the cheese on Grilled Fish Tacos, lime juice adds a tasty twist. For a dessert plate, sweeten the cheese by using part orange juice and part lemon juice.
- Using fresh lemon juice and grating the zest into the cheese before hanging boosts the lemon flavor. This cheese is also delicious when flavored with fresh herbs, such as chives and oregano, garlic chives and dill, or mint and sorrel. Use about 1 teaspoon of herbs per ounce of cheese.
- Lemon cheese doesn’t melt entirely when heated, making it a suitable addition to hot pasta or Thin-Crust Pizza; it’s also yummy spread on Sourdough Cabin Bread with marmalade or crumbled over a salad.
Twice as Tasty
I was a vegetarian for years but never vegan for one reason: I couldn’t give up yogurt and especially cheese. Because I love to play in the kitchen, making home-fermented dairy foods was inevitable. From yogurt, we moved on to mozzarella and ricotta and then discovered Lemon Cheese. We even make feta and chèvre when we can get our hands on goat’s milk. Soon, a homebuilt cheese press and a dorm fridge we’re converting into a cheese cave will let us start experimenting with aged hard cheeses. No doubt—we’re hooked.
I initially bought milk by the quart to make yogurt, but I switched to full gallons once I started making cheese. Lemon cheese and yogurt are ideal for a combined session, because both need milk heated to 185°F. Depending on your house temperature, the yogurt will likely be ready for starter around the time you set your cheese aside to drain.
3 tablespoons plain yogurt with live cultures or yogurt starter
Use the heated milk you set aside while making Lemon Cheese to make your yogurt. If making yogurt only, heat the milk as you would for the cheese, either over direct heat or in a water bath, until the temperature is between 185°F and 200°F.
Once you remove the milk from the heat, allow it to cool to 105°F–115°F. Then stir in the yogurt with live cultures and mix well. Pour the mixture into a 1-quart thermos and seal the lid. Let set 4 hours to overnight so that the curd can form.
Pour the yogurt from the thermos into a clean jar or container; for a thicker yogurt, first pour it into a wire-mesh colander set over a bowl and let it drain for at least 20 minutes, until the yogurt stops dripping readily. Store the finished yogurt in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 quart.
Tips & Tricks
- Although you can buy yogurt-specific cultures online, you can get equally good results for your initial batch by purchasing plain yogurt with live cultures at a local store. Check the label to ensure it says “live cultures” (specific ones should be listed), and avoid ultrapasteurized forms of milk and starter yogurt for the best results.
- Once you have made your first batch, you can use the last few spoonfuls of yogurt from the prior batch to start a new one. This revolving starter will weaken over time, so plan to buy new yogurt starter when your homemade yogurt becomes runny.
- Whole milk works best for most homemade cheeses, but 2% milkfat can be used to produce delicious Lemon Cheese and yogurt. With a lower fat content, the yogurt will likely be less dense.
- A thermometer is the best way to nail these temperatures and ensure consistent batches of yogurt; without one, you are more likely to overset your yogurt, turning it into cheese, or underset it to the consistency of a milkshake.
- You need to keep the milk around 110°F while the culture is forming. My favorite method is to seal it in a wide-mouth thermos for the set time. Other techniques involve sealing the treated milk in a quart canning jar with a screwed-on lid and then placing the jar in a gas oven with a pilot light, a slightly warm electric oven, a water bath, or a blanket, but none of these holds heat as well as a thermos.
- If you follow the traditional method of draining your yogurt to thicken it, you can use the drained portion in smoothies or other beverages that benefit from all the flavor of the yogurt in its thinner form.
- Yogurt is delicious in a range of recipes, including Yogurt-Dill Sauce, Grilled Onion Dip, hummus, and salad dressings, and in or with Sourdough Pancakes. I also love it with granola. On its own, eat it plain or flavor the serving with jam, honey, maple syrup, or fresh fruit. I’ll provide even more uses for yogurt later this month.
Uncertain about trying these recipes on your own? Twice as Tasty is teaching these techniques in a hands-on workshop this spring, held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. This workshop is available locally in Montana’s Flathead Valley all spring and in the Pacific Northwest in May. Click here to learn more.