Cottage Cheese Making

Cottage cheese. The name isn't doing the product any favors, and when you read the Wikipedia definition on its origin, it states:  

The term "cottage cheese" is believed to have originated because the simple cheese was usually made in cottages from any milk left over after making butter.

I'm struck that anyone could call the process of cottage cheese making simple, but I suppose if all you have to do in your small cottage is make butter and cheese, then maybe it's all relative. If I lost you during yogurt making, then just sit back and think of some nice things to say to me, and perhaps I'll make you a batch of cottage cheese, because I will say that this homemade cottage cheese was a revelation. In fact, I felt like I should come up with a different word for it since it in no way resembled anything I could envision coming out of a small house with "leftover" milk.

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I was back at the Institute of Domestic Technology, aka Dairy Nirvana, for the cottage cheese making. I've now been there three times for their Milkcrafting series, making a range of cheese and dairy products.  

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It was also exciting to be there fresh after the birth of 8 new baby goats. They're almost like little puppies since they wag their tails when they see you, lick your face and whine, or baby baaaa, when you walk away. 

We used the fresh goat's milk for a range of products. There was mild mannered feta that included the usual heating of milk, combined with cultures, rennet, some hang time, and then the addition of a mold to give it its solid shape.  

Feta molds

Feta molds

There's also a few day drying process that just about put me over the edge to try this at home, but it does make you appreciate the work (and cost) that goes into the final product.

Feta drying

Feta drying

We learned to make a 30 minute mozzarella which is a time cheater to the normal multi day process, and I'm pretty sure the first Italian who created this cheese didn't use a microwave, but it's good fun.  

The 30 minute mozzarella stretch

The 30 minute mozzarella stretch

Who doesn't like playing with their food? They key is just to eat it within a few minutes before it turns to cement, though once it does achieve that consistency, you can just melt it on pizza, and you're back in the game.

There's always a home for harden cheese in the brick oven pizza

There's always a home for harden cheese in the brick oven pizza

Gouda making was saved for the last class as it was the most labor intensive, and included what looked like a cheese guillotine.

The gouda guillotine

The gouda guillotine

Don't kill my cheese, but you can age it because I love the crystalline texture that forms after a few years and gives it a crunchy, nutty taste.

The lightest cheese is the local goat just a few months old, then there's a 6 month aged gouda in the back, a 2 year, and 5 year in front looking all nutty and nice

The lightest cheese is the local goat just a few months old, then there's a 6 month aged gouda in the back, a 2 year, and 5 year in front looking all nutty and nice

So on to what I considered to be the easiest of cheese products to make - the cottage cheese. The first step is a familiar one - heat one gallon of the best, purest milk you can get to 70 degrees on the stove. When it hits the mark, add 1/2 teaspoon of mesophilic culture (available at the catchy, kitchy, Get Culture website). You'll also add 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet that's been diluted in 1/4 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water. Then it just sits covered at room temperature for 6 hours. Pretty easy, right?

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Now it's time for the clean curd break challenge. Stick your finger under the newly forming milk curd and poke it up. Ideally it will break clean, and not be runny. If it's runny, wait it out. If it's clean, you'll then cut the curds in 3/4" pieces, which will take some crafty maneuvering. Start on the top with decisive strokes straight down in both directions to create a checkerboard. Then you'll need to go in at angles to get the underbelly. It won't be perfect, but not to worry, you're still making cottage cheese.

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Now get comfy, because you're heading back to the stove....for a while. Over low heat, you'll have a battle with patience as you attempt to raise the temperature of the curds 5 degrees every 5 minutes, until you get to 115 degrees. It will take about 45 minutes, but it will feel like a lifetime. Gently stir during the process and rejoice while your irregular blocks start to look like....cottage cheese.

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Next, get an ice bath going in a bowl that can hold a strainer on top covered with cheesecloth. Bring your carefully caressed curds into the colander for bath time. Cool and drain for about 15 minutes.   

how to make cottage cheese

It's finally go time. Salt the curds and throw in as much creme fraiche as you like. Did we make this from scratch too? You betcha, but if you don't have 2 days for this whole charade, then just buy some good stuff and indulge in a dairy product that certainly doesn't seem like it came from leftovers in a small house.