I’m going to confess something. You’ll either nod sagely at my bravery or recoil in horror and never speak to me again. I’m just not that into cheese…
That’s not to say I don’t ever eat it. I’m partial to a nice slice of Jarlsberg (the holes make it taste better). I keep Parmesan in the house to add some extra umami to everything. And I’ll eat cheese at other people’s houses, but I never think to buy it and I never crave it. It just doesn’t tickle my fancy the same way a nice salami does. So I’m as surprised as you are that I made my own cheese last night.
My eye was caught by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s column in the Guardian the other week explaining that making certain types of cheese at home is a walk in the park. I imagine cheese to be a combination of dairy and witchcraft so this intrigued me. And then I happened to come across a bottle of rennet in Waitrose* the very next day and the spell was cast. I was going to make my own curd cheese!
It is ridiculously simple. You need some non-homogenised milk, some rennet, a pinch of salt and some muslin or ahem, cheesecloth and then you can get going with a few small pieces of attention to detail. You should be able to get non-homogenised milk at a Farmers’ Market but if you want to do raw or unpasteurised milk for whatever reason, then source yours through Duchy Originals at most major supermarkets or try some of the suggestions here. And while you’re at the supermarket, follow this excellent tip from the comments on the original article and pick up a pack of muslin squares from the baby aisle. Much larger than the trendy facecloths around, you’ll get about 5 for a fiver and can use them for cheese making or the forthcoming preserves season. Just iron before use to sterilise it.
I was using raw buffalo milk from Alham Wood Farms and I was surprised to see just how creamy it looked in colour and texture. Much more like the milk when I was a kid and most appetising looking. I heated it to 38° with the aid of a thermometer and then added the rennet. I think I used a touch too much, around a quarter of a teaspoon to a pint of milk, but a little bit extra splashed in so I suggest you measure carefully and not above the milk itself if your hand isn’t too steady. I stirred it in well and then left it for 15 minutes to separate into curds and whey while I got on with a batch of lemon curd.
And when I came back, it really was like magic. What had been thick creamy milk was now a slightly unappealing layer of watery liquid and something that did look quite cheese like already. I scooped the curds out with a slotted spoon into the muslin and tied onto the kitchen tap to drain and set for around three hours, dispensing with the whey completely. This is all you need to do. I won’t judge you though if like me you keep going in and staring at it as if hoping to catch a glimpse of the alchemy as it happens.
About three hours later, when I could wait no more, I unwrapped my little milky miracle. And it looked like real, honest to goodness cheese! Possibly a little bit firmer than it was meant to be due to the extra splash of rennet, it looked like cottage cheese with the firmness of mozzarella. I served it crumbled on some green lentils and homegrown tomatoes and it was stunning. Slightly bouncy, with a touch of saltiness while rich and creamy, it turned some placid pulses into something rather racy as it melted slightly and soaked up the juice from the tomatoes.
I couldn’t get over how delicious it was and how unlike the shop bought equivalent in flavour and depth. That’s probably the buffalo milk but I like to think it’s my natural cheesemaking skills. On an effort to taste ratio, it scores maximum points. I enjoyed it so much I had exactly the same dinner the next night as well and probably would have done so a third night had I not run out of cheese. Had I been able to get my hands on some more milk, I’d have made more and served it on my favourite black pepper infused crackers from Ryvita. I might even have remembered to photograph the meal instead of gorging myself. I think it’s safe to say I finally get the cheese obsession. I’ve come over the dark side of dairy…
*which happened to be vegetarian on closer inspection.