As a graduate student in North Carolina, I am sometimes mystified by the cultural differences that happen in my own country. Some of my friends here have never even heard of cheese curds! Which I find to be… well, bizarre. In North East WI, I can go into the gas station and get fresh made cheese curds (chunks of un-aged cheddar) next to the beer cooler, which is by the register. To remedy this homesickness, I decided to make my own cheese curds.
I know what you are thinking, “but Mandy, cheese doeesn’t have anything to do with art, or soil…”
However, like all things that are awesome in life, cheese requires bacteria to make. The bacteria needed, Lactococcus lactis, is a gram positive bacteria that has been found in, you guessed it, SOILS!
After scouring the internet for recipes and doing some experimenting, I finally found one that worked. This recipe only requires a few ingrediants ordered online, or bought at a local cheesemaking store.
Total Time: about 3-5 hours (most of it is not active time)
- Cheese is best made in a double boiler (heating the milk in a pot rested in water). The water helps regulate and slow the heating of the cheese. Two pots, one that can nestle inside of the other. I use a four gallon pot in a five gallon pot
- Thermometer that can measure temperatures from 70-110 degrees F.
- Long knife
- Cutting Board
- The empty gallon milk bottle, used and filled with warm water
- 2 gallons of whole milk (can be scaled down if you don’t have the correct pots)
- 1 packet of mesophilic bacteria culture (the good bacteria that loves middle temperatures)
- 1 teaspoon Calcium Chloride (optional, but recommended if using store bought milk)
- 1/2 tablet of vegetarian rennet (found in the pudding aisle of a grocery store)
- 1-2 tablespoons of kosher salt (or sea salt)
1. Ripen the Milk
Fill the large pot a little under half full of water, and heat the water to 100 degrees F.
Put both gallons of milk into the smaller pot. Place the thermometer into the milk, and wait for the temperature to reach 90 deg F.
Once the temperature hits 90, sprinkle the mesophilic bacteria onto the surface. Wait five minutes, and stir in an up and down motion, making sure that the bacteria is well mixed with the milk.
Cover the milk, and wait for 45 min to an hour.
2. Get Milk to Coagulate
Dissolve the 1 teaspoon calcium carbonate in 1 cup water, and add to the milk.
Crush the 1/2 rennet tablet and dissolve it in 1/4 cup of NON CHLORINATED water and add this to the milk. I buy distilled from the store, but bottled water generally works. Do this right before it is added to the cheese, as the rennet’s power to work dissolves over time.
Stir in an up and down motion for about 90 seconds.
Do not move or disturb for 45-60 minutes, or until you can stick in your finger sideways and cause the cheese to rip (clean break)
3. Cut the curd
Take your knife and cut the curd into 1/2 inch strips. Rotate the pot, and do it again. Then, tilt the knife at a 45 degree angle and cut again.
Stir, the pieces won’t be uniform size, but that is ok.
Let the cheese sit for 5 minutes.
4. Cooking the Curd
Slowly raise the temperature of the curd to 100-110 degrees F. (over a half hour or so). As the temperature rises, whey is expelled. (clear, salty liquid).
Hold at this warm temperature for 30 minutes. Stirring periodically.
5. Molding the Curd
Let the curds sit for 5 minutes.
Scoop the curds out of the whey into the colander. Place the colander back into the pot (should be well over the whey level). Keep the curds around 98 degrees or so.
If you are adding herbs, spices, or sweets to your batch, do so now. (I like garlic and chives, or peppercorns).
Cover and let the cheese rest for 15 minutes so the curds knit together.
Cut the curd from the colander in half. Stack one on top of the other.
Fill one of the gallon jugs (or half gallon jugs) with hot water (I use the water from the double boiler pan), and place it on top of both of the curds. The warmer it is, the faster whey is expelled.
Every 15 minutes, restack the curds (flipping the curd over, and moving the top stack to the bottom). Do this for two hours.
Honestly, I lack to patience to wait for the proper time to pass… for me, it is usually only an hour or so before I lose patice and start squeezing my cheese.
When you tear open the curds, it looks like chicken breast.
7. Slicing and salting the curd.
Place the curds onto the cutting board, and slice the curds into 1/2 in to 1 inch wide strips, that are 2-3 inches long.
Put the curds back into the warm colander, and add about 1 tablespoon of salt.
Stir with your hands, coating the curds well. More whey is expelled in this process.
When you can no longer see salt, add the other tablespoon.
Now, let the curds cool to room temperature, waiting for the salts to be absorbed into the cheese.
8. Eat, and hope they squeak!