The Fine Art of Making Cottage Cheese

I started writing this post in June of 2013 and have yet to make a good, tasty batch of cottage cheese. Here is what I wrote back then.

“I have yet to be successful making cottage cheese. It is either more like ultra thick yogurt, tiny little curd crumbs or rubbery. Sound appetizing? Not, really. But…..I still want to be able to make it, so succeed or fail, I am going to try again and let you see how it goes. Who knows, maybe there is someone out there reading that knows how to do this and can help me out. That would be a real blessing.


This recipe calls for one gallon of whole milk, buttermilk and rennet. It is really a pretty simple process.” 

I still have yet to make a good cottage cheese. I didn’t even try for a year or so, since it never turned out edible. Well, last week I decided it was time to try again. I used the same book, same recipe and got the same results…..again. The curd was too done, rubbery and squeaked in my teeth. There was no flavor to speak of and the consistency was yucky.

After that attempt I got out my other cheese making books and compared the recipes. The main difference was not letting the curd sit at 110* for 30 minutes after it was heated up. I hoped that eliminating that 30 minute time frame would allow the curds to stay in a softer state, similar to store bought cottage cheese. It’s hard to describe, but if you picture the consistency of store bought cottage cheese curds, they are soft, pliable and kind of juicy inside. I know, poor description, but I can’t think of a better way to compare theirs and mine. 

I made another batch of cottage cheese today. It’s better, but still rather rubbery, lacking the soft, pliable texture I am looking for. Here is what I did.

1 gallon of skimmed goat milk heated to 86*
Add 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
Add 1/4 cup water to which 1/4 tsp. of rennet was added
Stir for 30 seconds
Let sit and ripen for 1 hour at 86*
Cut the curd into 1/2″ cubes
Slowly heat curd to 110*

Okay. This is where the cheese books differed. Two of them indicated that the next step is too drain the curd instead of letting it sit and ‘cook’ at 110*, so that’s what I did today.
 

When I poured the curd and whey into a cheese cloth lined colander, the consistency of the curd was very nice and reminded me somewhat of store bought cottage cheese. I was happy. But as soon as I poured it into the colander to drain, it’s like the curds released all of their interior moisture, matted up and became chewy and squeaky again. Rats!

The next step is supposed to be to let the whey drain, then dip the cheese cloth with the curds into cold water to cool them, and let them drain again. Which I did, but the curds had already changed. It’s this change or step that I am trying to figure out. How do I prevent the curds from releasing their moisture/liquid/whey? Cool them quicker? I’m not sure. I’ll have to experiment some more.

The good news is that it tastes better this time. I crumbled up the curd, since it was trying to mat together. It’s just the nature of the curd to want to mat together. I added 1/2 tsp. of salt and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream I had skimmed from the milk before I started.

Frank and I did a taste test before I put it into the fridge to chill. We’ll see how it tastes later on, then again tomorrow. My first attempt the other day ended up as pig food, so it wasn’t a complete loss. This one may end up the same way. I may even share some with the chickens, too.

If you have any recommendations, I sure would like to hear them. I know there are other ways to make cottage cheese, like leaving it out on the cabinet for a few days and letting it curdle. I’m not brave enough to try that one yet. I guess I still want to have a little more control over the process. Not that I don’t have sauerkraut and kefir sitting out on the cabinet all the time, it’s just different than two or three day old curdled milk.


I’ll keep you updated on my cottage cheese making progress, and hopefully it won’t be two years before I try again. I’d like to be able to master this technique. It’s kind of like learning to make bread. Frank and I have eaten a bunch of heavy, heavy flat whole wheat bread. We call it brick bread. Almost edible, but not very good. That was part of my learning to make a consistently, good loaf of bread. Then I started making sourdough bread. Yes, we have had a few rather heavy batches, and one that was too sour to eat. Now is the time to master making good, edible cottage cheese, so please help me out if you can.

Until next time – Fern

Fern’s Cheese Making Tips

Now that Frank and I have been making cheese for about four years, we have worked out some kinks, developed a working routine, and figured out how to solve some problems that were

Our first wheel of cheddar

affecting either the ease of the process or the flavor of the cheese. Except for reading my cheese making books, or articles online, I have never met anyone that makes cheese. Much of what we have done, and continue to do, is trial and error. And, as with any new venture, once the basics are somewhat mastered, the time of real learning can begin. It’s like gardening. Once you have grown a particular plant for a few seasons, then you really begin to figure out how to increase production through proper soil conditions, moisture requirements, insect pest control and companion planting. I once heard an analogy of comparing learning to an onion. As you peel off a layer, it reveals more of the onion. I think cheese making, gardening, and many other ventures are the same. The more you learn and master, the more is revealed that you can learn.

Making cheese. It takes some time, equipment and good, quality ingredients. All of the cheese we have made comes from our own goats’ milk. There have been a few batches of mozzarella along the way that I tried making with milk that I had skimmed the cream from, but it just doesn’t taste as good as whole milk, so we don’t skim the cream before making cheese. I have already written articles about making several different cheeses, as well as how I wax our cheddar, and will list them here for your convenience. 

 

There are also several more articles and recipes for using some of these cheeses, like making cheesecake from Chevre, listed under the page, The Things You Can Do With Milk, found at the top right hand corner of the blog under Things To Read.

I included a picture of our first wheel of cheddar for a couple of reasons. One, I was very excited to actually begin making cheddar, and two, because it tasted awful. It was rather disheartening to finally have a dream come true, only to have to wait a couple of months to find out it was very bitter with a strong after taste. After two years, yes two years, we began to wonder if all homemade cheddar was supposed to have this strong, bitter aftertaste. Well, it’s not. Most of our cheddar up to that point ended up with a reddish kind of mold inside the wax. It wasn’t mold in the normal sense, like that stuff that shows up on your bread or old leftovers in the frig, but it was something that was obviously growing in there. So, I read all of my cheese making books and did many online searches. That was a couple of years ago, so I can’t give you the sources of my information, because I don’t remember where I found them. But this is what I discovered.

 

One. Before you wax any cheese for aging, brush the entire surface well with apple cider vinegar, then let it dry for a bit. Do this after you have let it sit and form the rind for a few days, according to the directions for the type of cheese you are making. The vinegar will help kill any surface bacteria on your cheese before you encase it in wax. Two. Keep your wax as hot as you can get it during the entire waxing process. I wax with a brush, not the dipping method, which is much faster that applying layers of wax with a brush. There is a post

listed above about waxing. At first I was melting the wax, then turning off the heat. According to my research, the wax needs to be as hot as possible during the entire process. This also helps to kill any bacteria on the surface of the cheese. The result? No more strong, bitter aftertaste, and a wonderful cheddar flavor. Needless to say, I was very happy after two years of making cheese to finally discover the reason for my much less than desirable cheeses.

And the best way to clean up those wax drips from the stove and cabinet? Paper towels.

Some other tips I found along the way for making cheddar have caused me to adjust a few things. I only ripen the milk and buttermilk for 45 minutes instead of an hour. This will lessen the acidity somewhat. Reasons for too much acidity can vary, with one of them being the animal you milk. I also use just a hair less rennet than the recipe calls for. As we’ve have gained more experience, and identify certain flaws in the process, research has been very helpful in increasing the success and flavor of the finished product.

 

Another thing I discovered recently is how to keep the wheels of cheese from being very difficult to remove from the mold after the last 24 hour press. It appears that it is natural for some bacteria to grow between the cheese, cheese cloth and cheese press. This can make it extremely difficult to get the wheel out after is has sat for 24 hours. To alleviate this, wipe down the inside of the mold, the surface of the press and the follower with apple cider vinegar. I did this the other day and it worked great. The only place the cheese stuck was to the base of the press. I put the vinegar on the follower and mold with a cotton cloth, but forgot to do the base. But because I overlooked the base, it showed me just how effective this technique was.


Making buttermilk from a commercial culture is very easy, as I outlined in the article above. About the only thing we do different now, is keep a continual supply by using about 1/8 cup of our existing culture to inoculate the next batch. This limits our need for commercial buttermilk culture to the first batch of the year when we begin renewing our cheese supply. With the double batch of cheddar we started this morning, it was time to culture another quart of buttermilk.


Mozzarella cheese is fairly easy to make and doesn’t take the time or attention cheddar does. We can make a quadruple batch of mozzarella in about four hours, while an equal amount of cheddar takes about eight hours and more babysitting, meaning you have to tend to the next step more often, so you can’t get really involved in any other projects or chores while making it. The hardest thing to learn about making mozzarella is the stretching process, and it’s almost impossible to describe in words. The first batches I made tasted okay, but the consistency was like rubber. Really. Kind of like chewing on one of those rubber balls kids used to play with. But we ate it anyway. Frank is a wonderful man that way. He will usually try to eat anything I make, even if it’s like rubber or has a strong, bitter after taste.

There are a couple of things I am doing different this year when making mozzarella. First, I read that you can save the brine and reuse it many times. That was great news. It always bothered me to use 1/2 cup of salt per batch of cheese, only to pour it out. That seemed like such a waste of salt. We tried adding the salt to the curd, like some recipes recommend, but like it much better when the cheese is soaked in a brine. Second, I am using water to stretch the cheese instead of whey. I liked the idea of using whey since it is a natural byproduct of making cheese, but it seemed to be the cause of the cheese souring long before I thought it should. Since I have changed to water, we haven’t had that problem.

Chevre. Even though chevre is versatile and can be used in many different recipes, including cheesecake, I have never really liked it much. We have tried seasoning it a number of different ways, from dill, to garlic, to ranch. Frank likes it in a celery stalk, and I will eat it, but I can just as easily do without it. We haven’t made any this year because we still have some in the freezer. Chevre is by far the least labor intensive cheese to make. Just remember to roll it back and forth in the cheese cloth before you leave it to hang. It gets a lot of the whey out, and leaves a nice soft cheese.

I’m still experimenting with the pressed herb cheeses. So far the only type I have made is with small green onions and fresh garlic. The flavor is good, but the texture is not. The only thing I can figure out so far is that I press it too hard. It is a little dry, and it squeaks in your teeth, which I don’t care for. I haven’t tried any more herb cheese yet since we are working on our goal of getting 30 wheels of cheddar waxed and aging before the garden produce starts coming in. We have a number of herbs growing in the herb bed that would make a nice herb cheese, so I will be experimenting more later in the summer.

 

We have worked out a very good routine for making cheese as well. The equipment we use is well suited for making a large double boiler. It also processes many vegetables for the canner in the summer. Using a double boiler makes it easy to control the temperature of the milk and curd without scorching or overheating the milk on the bottom of the pan. Long thermometers work very well for our 12 quart stock pots. Any type of cheese press will work. We prefer this version because it doesn’t take up much room. Our kitchen is small and many times when we are making cheese, cabinet space comes at a premium. 

I have tried to ‘hurry’ the process along before by trying to put hot instead of cold water into the double boiler. This just doesn’t work. Regardless of what type of cheese we’re making, the curd ends up separated and kind of stringy instead of a nice, solid mass. I have also tried using milk fresh from the barn before it has been chilled in the refrigerator, but I get the same loose, inconsistent curd. So the lesson I have learned from this is, allow adequate time, use chilled milk with cold water, and follow the directions for whatever recipe you are using.

Temperature of the milk/curd

Temperature of the water in the bottom pot

When you are heating the milk or curd to a specific temperature, let’s say 88*, don’t heat it all the way to the desired temperature if you are using a double boiler. Does that make sense? Probably not. I got the temperatures too hot, if only by a few degrees, more than once, and ended up taking the cheese pot out of the pot of water, to either maintain the correct temperature or to cool it off. I’ve learned to turn the fire off when the temperature reaches four to six degrees cooler than the desired temperature. So in the example of 88*, I turn the fire off at 82*, wait about ten more minutes, when the desired temperature is reached. The pot of water is usually warmer than the milk or curd, which is how the correct temperature can be maintained over the 30 to 45 minute time period most curd is allowed to ripen or set up. I occasionally don’t keep a close enough eye on things and still have to take the pots out so they don’t get too hot, but I was glad to figure out a better process so I could leave the curd in the double boiler for a more consistent temperature.

Making cheese is one of those things that I provides me with tremendous personal satisfaction, not to mention something good to eat. I hope these tips have been useful, and if you have any questions I can answer, please let me know. I am by no means a skilled cheese maker, I think I still fall in the category of a novice, but I will be happy to share whatever I have learned.

Until next time – Fern

Fresh Herb Cheese

Well, it was time to try a new cheese. I ran across a recipe for Garlic and Chive Cheese in Mary Jane Toth’s book, Goats Produce Too! and decided to give it a try. You can look back at some of the other cheese making articles to see some specific techniques like using a double boiler, what the curd looks like when it is ready, using a cheese press and making buttermilk culture.

This is a very simple cheese. The milk is heated to 86 degrees before adding buttermilk and rennet. Let it sit for 45 minutes covered. Then slowly raise the temperature while stirring the curd until it is hot to the touch. I was unsure of how long to heat the curd using this method. I would rather be given a specific temperature, but this time I had to make my best guess. I think I might have cooked it too long, or got it a little too hot, I’m not sure.

After the curd was cooked, it was time to pour off the whey. Next, the recipe called for rinsing the curd in very warm water, another new step I hadn’t done before. Then, after the curd drained in a colander for about 10 minutes, it was time to add the salt and herbs. The recipe called for garlic powder and chives. I don’t have garlic powder, and my chives didn’t smell much like onions. So I substituted a small head of garlic and two small green onions from the top of one of my multiplier or walking onions. The amount of garlic powder was 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. After I chopped up this small head of garlic I figured that was about right. The amount of chives was to taste. Well, we like onions, but I wasn’t sure how strong the flavor would end up being. I didn’t want it to be over powering, so I only used two small green onions.

The curd was starting to stick together after it drained in the colander, so I broke it up with my hands. Then after I added salt, garlic and onions, I mixed it in by hand again. It just wouldn’t work with a spoon.

The next step was to put it into the cheese press for several hours.

Finished. Remove and chill for 6 to 8 hours before slicing. Well, by now it was bedtime so we weren’t able to try it until the next day. We jokingly said we may just have it for breakfast. But we didn’t.

We did have some for lunch. It is a pretty cheese, and has a nice, subtle aroma of onion and garlic. It is a very mild tasting cheese, with a very subtle taste of herbs. I could have easily added twice as much garlic and onions and it wouldn’t have been a strong flavor. I also think I pressed it a little too much because it is drier than I expected or than I would prefer. So, next time I won’t press it as hard or as long. Another factor that can affect the moisture content of the curd is how high the temperature is, and how long you cook it. That is another adjustment I will make.

Other than that, it is a very nice, fresh cheese that doesn’t take a lot of time. Frank thinks it will make great grilled cheese sandwiches. I am already thinking about the different herb combinations I will try with this recipe. I think it would make a good hot pepper cheese, too, which I like. Basil, parsley and oregano would also be a good combination. I think I will be experimenting with this type of cheese all summer. It will probably freeze well, too. Right now we have four kinds of cheese in the frig to eat up. We made mozzarella last week. I thawed out some Chevre, a soft cheese, and mixed in some salt, dehydrated onion, dill and parsley. We have been eating it with celery, carrots and crackers with our lunches. There is also some 10 month old cheddar that we made last July. It’s getting pretty sharp, but it’s very tasty. We are cheese happy and the frig is running over with milk. So what will we make next? I might just try some Colby, who knows? Learn something everyday. Learn from your successes. Learn from your failures. But don’t just sit around. Try something and enjoy what you learn from it, one way or the other.

Until next time – Fern

Chevre Cheese

Chevre is a soft cheese made from goat milk. The consistency is similar to cream cheese, but the flavor is different because it is made from whole milk, not cream.

By itself, chevre doesn’t have a lot of flavor. It is good mixed with herbs as a dip or spread. It also makes a very good cheesecake. The flavor is different from a cream cheese cheesecake, but still very good.

One nice thing about chevre is how easy it is to make. 

A standard batch that makes about four cups of cheese is made from five quarts of milk.

Heat the milk to 86 degrees, then add 1/2 cup of cultured buttermilk and three tablespoons of diluted rennet. Diluted rennet is made by adding three drops of rennet to 1/3 cup of cold water. 
Cover the cheese pot and let set for 12 to 18 hours. The cheese curd should be solid and will break when you poke it (like the cheddar cheese). 
Line another pot with a cheese cloth and scoop the curd into it.

Now comes a trick that I learned watching a YouTube. Hold two corners of the cheese cloth in each hand.
Roll the cheese back and forth in the cloth.

This will release a lot of the whey from the curd. The first few times I made chevre there was a lot of whey left in the curd when I finished hanging it (you will see that in a minute). This rolling activity has improved the consistency of the cheese.

Tie the opposite corners of the cheese cloth together so you can hang it to drain.

 

Frank put this hook right under the edge of the upper cabinet just for hanging our cheeses. It works great and is not noticeable when not in use.

Next, hang the cheese and let it drain for 12 to 15 hours. I usually time this so the cheese will hang overnight. This way it won’t be in the way during the day. 

There will still be a little whey puddled on the cheese in the morning, but it can easily be poured off. The consistency is semi firm, it will keep it’s shape but is very soft.

We like to mix one cup of chevre with one tablespoon of dried onions and one teaspoon of salt. This is good with veges from the garden.

Freezing doesn’t change the flavor or consistency of chevre. It will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

I think it’s about time for another cheesecake. That means we will need to make some graham crackers for the crust. 

Until next time – Fern

Making Buttermilk from Culture

When I make cheddar cheese, I use cultured buttermilk that I have to make ahead of time. It has to sit overnight to culture, so I have to plan ahead if I am out of buttermilk and need to make cheese again.  This is how I make it.

The directions call for one quart of milk heated to 86 degrees. Well, I decided to cool the milk to 86 degrees instead of heating it. Saves time and energy if I don’t first chill it then heat it back up.  So….when I came in from milking, I filtered some milk into a quart jar and checked the temperature.

It was almost 100 degrees.

  

So I put the jar into a bucket of cold tap water and stirred it around until it lowered to 86 degrees. 

Then the directions say to put in the culture, stir it around and let it sit for two minutes to rehydrate. Stir well again and let sit at 72 degrees for 12 to 24 hours. This is no problem because Frank keeps our house at about 72 degrees all summer!

As we were reading over this, Frank asked, “What is the culture and why can’t you use the milk you get when you make butter? What is the difference?” Well….I didn’t know, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, traditional buttermilk is the milk that comes off of butter when you make it. Cultured buttermilk is fermented or ‘cultured’ to allow specific bacteria to increase the acidity of the milk, thus the tart flavor. The same is true for yogurt. Commercially made buttermilk has been pasteurized and homogenized then inoculated with a culture. So, the milk from the butter making process would probably not have the same result when making cheese as the cultured buttermilk does. But we may have to do an experiment one day and find out what it will do. So…if you left the traditional buttermilk (milk from butter) sitting out all night would it also thicken and cause the milk to ripen in the cheese making process? Interesting question.

 
Okay. Back to making buttermilk. It will keep in the frig for 2-3 weeks, which isn’t long. I put a piece of tape on the lid with the date so I can keep track of myself. I use this buttermilk in cheddar and cottage cheese recipes. If I am not making much cheese, I wait until I am ready to make another batch before I culture the buttermilk. Otherwise, It goes bad.

The milk will thicken. It’s hard to show in a picture, but it’s almost a thin yogurt consistency. If you poke your finger in it, it will coat your finger with a thin layer of buttermilk. That means it is ready. 

And since the frig is overrun with milk again…..it’s time to make cheese!

Until next time – Fern