Table cheeses can vary in shape, size, texture, and flavor but the recipes all adhere to a few base ingredients and techniques. There are a few things you will need to prepare before you can turn milk into cheese.
What you will need to begin:
a stainless steel pot large enough to hold the milk comfortably, with lid
a stainless steel spoon, slotted (with holes)
a knife long enough that the blade can reach two thirds of the way into the pot
several small bowls for preparing the ingredients
a large bowl to collect the excess liquid (at least one gallon)
a perforated container in which to form the cheese (plastic storage container with holes drilled)
a simple thermometer that reads between 80°F and 200°F
one gallon of milk
rennet (can be bought in many forms. I like liquid vegetable rennet which you can buy here.)
citric acid OR lemon juice or vinegar
The Milk: Whether you decide to use pasteurized or raw milk, make sure it is fresh. Spoiled tasting milk will make spoiled tasting cheese. I use whole, pasteurized milk for cheesemaking because it is easy to get. One gallon will render nearly a pound of cheese.
The Coagulant: I use vegetable rennet because it is fairly easy to acquire and it is not made from animals. The rennet will coagulate the fat once it reaches the appropriate temperature. Follow the suggested amount on the label as each rennet will be different.
The Acid: citric acid (sour salt) is widely available and imparts little flavor. The addition of acid to milk will allow the fat to separate from the whey.
Both the rennet and citric acid can be purchased here.
Any powdered ingredients, such as the citric acid-- or for the advanced cheesmakers, p. candidum (used to create the bloomy rind on brie) or p. roqueforti (used to create the blue striations in blue cheese)-- should be dissolved in a small amount of warm water and allowed to sit. Same with the rennet. The amount of water is arbitrary as it will be poured off later.
Thoroughly clean your pot and utensils with hot, soapy water and dry with paper towels. I prefer to use paper towels under the assumption that they are relatively sterile. Cloth towels harbor bacteria that could negatively effect the process.
Ok. Everything looks good. Let's get started.
Gently heat the milk to 86°F. Keep a close eye on your thermometer because the temperature will ascend fairly quickly and you don't want it getting too hot or it may damage the milk.
Turn off the heat, and while continually stirring, slowly add the dissolved citric acid and the diluted rennet.Advanced: At this point you may also add powdered molds or bacterium (for flavor and/or texture).
Put the lid over your pot and move it to a cool burner. It will remain fairly warm.
Now you wait.
The time varies generally depending on the milk but you should expect to notice curdling, a distinct separation between the fat (curd) and the liquid (whey) almost immediately.
Keep the lid on until the curd is firm and a clean cut can be achieved (about an hour). You should be able to dip the blade of the knife into the curd and remove it cleanly. The curd will resemble tofu and will be surrounded by the greenish whey.
Once a clean cut can be achieved you may cut your curd. Keep in mind that the more you cut the curd, the more whey is released. If you don't cut enough your cheese will be too soft and difficult to manage. If you cut too much, your cheese will be tougher. I begin with square inch curds; cutting a grid from the top and then tilting the knife at a 45 degree angle to cut below the surface.
The curd must now be separated from the whey. Line the colander with wet cheesecloth and set it above the bowl in which you will be collecting the whey. Wetting the cheesecloth will tighten the mesh in the cloth making it more effective. With the slotted spoon, carefully transfer the curd to the cheesecloth. Be gentle. Do not try to force liquid out of the curd by pressing or squeezing. Once you have removed the big chunks you may pour the remainder through the cloth.
Once done, wrap the ends of the cloth up so that the curd hangs in the cheesecloth. Rig the bound curd above the bowl allowing it to naturally drain. DO NOT SQUEEZE, WRING or otherwise MOLEST the curd. Let it do its thing and it will taste so much better. In the image below, I have suspended the curd from the faucet of my kitchen sink. You may need a wooden spoon and rubber bands as well.
After a few hours you are free to salt the curd (to taste) and transfer to a prepared container. I buy plastic storage containers and drill several airholes in the sides, bottom and lid. Once your curd is nice and snug in it's new home put it on a dish to collect run-off and store in the refrigerator.
Back to the whey. The nutrition in whey is excellent. Plants and animals, alike, love whey. In fact it is quite beneficial for humans as well. I return the whey to the stainless steel pot and heat it to 200°F. Running it through the cheesecloth again reveals tough little curds known as ricotta.
Ricotta is considered a bi-product of cheese. I love fresh ricotta. Season it generously with rice vinegar and salt and eat it immediately. It works well over salads and tacos and can taste like feta with the right seasoning.
The whey is hot! Let it cool in a bowl over night then take it to the garden in the morning as a treat for your favorite plants.
Watch as your cheese shrinks by nearly half over the next couple of days! you can eat it plain or continue to age, flavor and cure your cheese. You can rub salt and spices on the outside, give it an alcohal bath, brine it, marinate it, pretty much do anything you want to it.
This particular cheese was set aside to make into "bloomy" cheese. Bloomy cheeses, like brie, camembert, and the luxurious double and triple-cremes, have a white fungus enveloping the entire exterior of the cheese. I had never tried this style before but I found that there wasn't much to it! I mixed the powdered fungus into a quart of water and keep it in the refrigerator in a misting spray bottle. Lightly spraying the cheese every week seems to have achieved quite a nice bloom.Well, good luck to you all! I hope you have fun making simple table cheese! Post any results below. We'd love to see what you have created!