Of all the products we use on a regular if not daily basis cheese must be one of the most terrifying in terms of making it yourself. Curdling milk to most brings back memories of lumps landing on your breakfast cereal or floaters in your tea when you’ve left it a day or two too long. So how do you control the process to turn milk into something soft creamy and delicious rather than something foul and stomach churning? There are obviously rennets available plus a huge array of milks, some skimmed, pasteurised, homogenised, ultra heat treated. Makes quite a terrifying list and very different from the bottles with the creamy top that landed on my childhood doorstep.
Clearly starting with a mature hard cheese was never going to be a sensible option, much as I adore a Bonnet, Dunlop or Cheddar. However ricotta from fresh Organic gold top seemed an ideal starting point. Now you can make this pretty easily I think with milk and a couple of store cupboard ingredients once you’ve sourced all the necessary utensils. However Ailsa from The Big Cheese Making Company kindly offered me one of her kits to try out at home, a delightfully packaged box containing everything you need to get you going, butter muslin, citric acid, dairy thermometer etc. just supply your own milk and pot! I love cooking with the kids and teaching them about different things and cheese is like a home science kit so I asked for the Kids kit out of the choices available.
The instructions were so simple to follow and the process equally simple that it’s amazing that more people don’t make their own cheese. There’s nothing quite like those warm sweet curds with a little salt added and eaten with oatcakes. The box contained instructions for both the Spanish style queso blanco as well as its Italian cousin, ricotta. Starting with the queso blanco we heated the milk, eyes trained on the thermometer before adding the dissolved citric acid and watched in amazement as the curds suddenly appeared, separated from the greenish liquid whey.An hour later after draining through the supplied buttercloth, salting then gently weighting down we were left with a beautiful round of what was undoubtedly cheese. There’s a bit of a childlike joy associated with that first experience of making your own cheese, the knowledge that you have turned one natural product into two others has a certain feel of the alchemist to it.
Half of it was eaten warm there and then while the rest was sliced, seasoned with wild rose el hanout and pan griddled. Hot spicy, aromatic cheese is heavenly, especially when the cheese has been homemade. I also made the ricotta in a similar way, I’m not sure of the differences associated with addition of the curdling agent at different times but this got the mixed herbs from the garden treatment and went wonderfully well with cumin seed too. I also saved the whey for use in soup, however if you want to know more uses then I recommend this excellent article by Hazel Paterson.
This is stage one in my cheesemaking life, I want to make more, getting more complex. I want to source raw milk when Scotland finally gets with the times, ewes milk, fresh goats milk, use different methods of curdling and treating and will continue to blog on these in my #40by40. But as an introduction to cheesemaking for me and my girls this was perfect.
The kids kit was supplied to A Scots Larder by The Big Cheese Making Company free of charge.