it has been a looooooong time since i cheese mongered, but when we got back from mexico, it was the first thing i wanted. queso fresco. i mean, really fresco. thanks to an urban cheese craft kit, it wasn't a dream for long, but a reality. the kit comes with citric acid, which is the agent that turns milk into cheese. it also came with a suggestion to try the same recipe using vinegar. citric acid has always worked for me, but i was curious about the vinegar.
there are a few tricks to getting good cheese- first, and foremost you have to use pasteurized milk- not ultra pasteurized. this is key to getting your curdle on. also, boil all your instruments to sterilize before you begin. this step will help you set your thermometer too. in the boiling water, it should read 220 degrees. turn the little nut on the underside until it reads that number.
once the milk hits 140 degrees, you pretty much have to stir it the rest of the way to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. the magic number you're looking for is 185
at that point, stir in the acid and watch the magic happen. things go pretty quickly from here on, so make sure you have a strainer and cheese cloth ready to go in the sink. if you want to keep the whey (which the kit suggests for smoothies and whatnot), place the strainer over a bowl to gather it when you squeeze the cheese. salting cheese curd, is very personal- finding your ideal saltiness might take a few tries (i like it a bit on the salty side).
it helps to have a spot where you can hang the cheese. our paper towel holder is above the sink, and makes a super cheese hanger. depending on the hight of your faucet, it could hang from that too.
there's nothing wrong with a free form cheese- it's just a delicious, and frequently more charming. i bought a cheese basket back in the day when i thought this would be a regular activity, and it seemed like it should get used at least once. guess i didn't put enough pressure on it in the basket, because it turned out with some structural cracks.
the cracks didn't last long though, as the areas surrounding them were the first to be scarfed.
- 1 gallon pasteurized milk
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 3 teaspoons cheese salt (or to taste)
- heat the milk in a large pot over medium heat until it reaches 185-190 degrees F. stir it frequently to prevent sticking. when it comes to temperature, it will be thick, foamy and steaming. don't let it come to a boil!
- drizzle in the vinegar until you see the curds appear (you may not need the whole amount depending on your milk). when the curds are visible, stir the proto-cheese continuously for one minute. take the pot off the heat and pour the curds into a strainer lined with cheese cloth, in the sink.
- squeeze the whey from the curds. add the salt, and mix it in gently. pull up the corners of the cheese cloth, and squeeze out the excess whey. tie the corners into a knot, and hang the cheese over a sink for at least 15 minutes, or up to an hour. if using a cheese basket, press the cheese (clothed) into the basket. let sit until the desired texture is achieved- if eaten right away, it will be soft like ricotta. if sat on it for a day, it will be harder and crumbly. both are delicious.