America might be crazy for bacon, but can we give cheese some love, too? Few things are as delicious as a slice of fresh mozzarella in a tomato salad or a dollop of goat cheese on a toasted baguette. And my heart soars every time I arrive at a party and see that the host has invested in a cheese platter.
Seattle seems to have a thing for cheese too, if their artisan cheese-making classes are any indication. Unfortunately for underfunded cheese lovers such as yours truly, those classes can cost anywhere from $55 to $145. Even the average do-it-yourself cheese kit, available at organic grocery stores like Whole Foods, costs upward of $28.
Never one to let a lack of finances prevent my enjoyment of a food-related activity, I took to the Internet to find recipes for producing inexpensive homemade cheese.When looking online for cheese recipes, I noticed that most of them required two unfamiliar ingredients: rennet and citric acid. Rennet, a combination of enzymes extracted from the stomachs of dead calves, helps curdle milk so it becomes cheese. Citric acid also helps to curdle the milk. Online, one can find inexpensive brands of either product. But in stores, rennet can cost $9 or more for several tablets and can be difficult to find as well. Citric acid can be found in vitamin stores, but the quantities I stumbled upon were either too little or too much.
So when rennet and citric acid proved to be my foils, I found the most bare-bones cheese recipe imaginable.
Homemade Goat Cheese
1 quart of goat milk (non-ultra pasteurized is preferable, but I couldn't find any other type, so I made do with what was available)
1/2 cup of lemon juice (citrus juices can sometimes be used as a substitute for citric acid)
1 tbsp of herbes de provence (or to taste)
2 cloves of garlic (grated)
A pinch of salt
Begin by heating the goat's milk over a burner until its temperature climbs to 180°. (I used a meat thermometer to determine the temperature.) Whisk the milk gently as it warms, and when it reaches 180°, take it off the burner and pour the lemon juice in. Wait for the milk to curdle. (Don't be worried if the milk doesn't begin to curdle right away. Wait a few minutes before adding more lemon juice.)
Line a strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. (One can purchase cheesecloth at Whole Foods for $3.99.) Place the strainer over a large bowl and begin scooping the curds into the strainer. When all the curds have been scooped into the cheesecloth, or when the cheesecloth seems like it might not be able to contain more curds, tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together so it forms a pouch.
Attach the pouch to the handle of a wooden spoon, and place the wooden spoon across the rim of the large bowl. Allow the curds within the pouch to firm for an hour and a half to two hours. When the time is up, untie the pouch and drain the whey that dripped from the pouch into a sink.
Scrape the cheese from the cloth into the bowl, and mix the herbs, garlic, and salt into it. The amounts listed above are general guidelines--you can add as much garlic or spices or salt as you like.
To be honest, the goat cheese I made needed some extra oomph. It tasted creamy, as cheese should, but without the tang I normally associate with goat cheese. The next time I make it I plan to add more lemon juice post-pouch-stage to see if that'll make the cheese more tart.
One could probably add a number of toppings or mix-ins to the homemade goat cheese. And because of the mildness of its taste, the cheese would turn into something pretty tasty. In the future I'd like to sample it with a number of different toppings: apricot jam, pesto, tomatoes. Price-wise, buying goat cheese from the store would be a little less inexpensive, but if you try this recipe, you can brag that you're now a cheese maker.