Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cottage cheese

I modified the cottage cheese recipe that I used the other day. I know at least one person asked for it (Hi Renee!), so in the interest of spreading knowledge, here it is. If something seems less than obvious, it probably is, so feel free to point it out in the comments :)

First, the normal caveats for making cheese and yogurt:
Use clean utensils (because cottage cheese isn't aged, you don't need to bleach them).
Don't ever use aluminum; use stainless steel whenever possible, although enamelware works, too.

You will need:
8 quart or larger pot
thermometer that reads 75-125º F (I use a digital thermometer)
long stainless steel knife to cut the curds
butter muslin
colander (stainless steel)
large mixing bowl
1 gallon milk
¼ rennet tablet
non-iodized salt

There are three ways to heat the milk:
1.Double boiler
2.Via a hot water bath in the sink
3.Directly over the burner—this is only practical on gas stoves, as you will need to quickly adjust the heat up and down, even shutting it off at times. I prefer this method after experimenting with all three methods.

If you are using raw milk, strain the cream off into a pint jar and set aside.

Dissolve ¼ rennet tablet in two tablespoons of water. Set aside.

Pour 1 gallon milk into pot. Heat the milk to 80º F, being careful not to scorch the milk if you are using the direct heating method. Add the rennet solution, stirring well. Cover and let the solution sit for about ½ hour, or until the curd separates cleanly when cut by the knife (sort of like a putting a knife in a cake to check for doneness. Some day I'll post a picture...).

Cut the curd. Take the knife and cut into ½ inch squares, keeping the knife as vertical as possible Then, angle your knife and cut it again both ways; you are cutting the curds into ½ inch cubes. Let the curds rest for 10 minutes, then gently stir with your hands. The whey will have begun to separate from the curds.

Raise the temperature slowly to 100º F at the rate of 1º every 2 minutes, stirring gently every few minutes to keep the curd from sticking together. If you raise the temperature too quickly, the curd will toughen and not taste good.

Raise the temperature to 115º F at the rate of 1º every minute., stirring frequently. The curds will shrink dramatically and the greenish looking whey will be about ¾ of the mixture.

Ladle the whey into 3-one quart jars until most of it is off the curds. You can put a piece of butter muslin over the jar to preserve the curds that get into the ladle. We use the whey for soup base, in bread instead of water, and feed it to the cats; some people pour it on their garden. Of course, some people just let it go down the drain. I haven't tried it yet, but you can make ricotta cheese out of the whey...

Line the colander with the butter muslin and pour the curds into the colander and allow to drain for a minute or two. If you let them drain too long, they will stick together.

Gather the corners of the butter muslin and dip the curds into very cold water several times. Return the muslin to the colander and rinse with very cold water until the water runs clean. Gather the corners of the muslin again and allow the water to drain out; you can squeeze gently. When water no longer drains out, it is done.

Dump the curds into a mixing bowl. Add about 1 tsp of non-iodized salt (most recipes call for 2 tsp, but we have found that to be too salty) and mix well with your hands. Add about 2/3-3/4 (1-1.5 cups) of the cream back in and mix well. You can add half-and-half or regular milk instead, if you want a lower fat cottage cheese or if you are using homogenized milk.

Store the cottage cheese in 2 wide mouth pint jars in the refrigerator for up to about 5 days.

The whole process takes about one-and-a-half to two hours from start to finish. Most of the time is just waiting time, though.

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