If you are a cheese lover and do-it-yourselfer, discover with me how to make easy homemade cheese, combining the two!
Cheese is a dairy product widely loved by young and old. Generally, cheese is bought ready-to-eat, but not everyone knows that you can also make it at home!
Before I tell you all the tricks and secrets involved in making cheese, let me briefly tell you about its history.
A short history of cheese
A number of findings have revealed that cheese has existed since ancient times. Its use has been ascertained as far back as the Mesopotamian civilisations. In fact, it is assumed that it was the Sumerians in the 3rd millennium BC who invented cheese making. This is what can be deduced from a number of documents showing what the processing stages were at that time.
It was then the Greeks, the Romans, the Celts and the Ligurians in later times who made use of cheese, and with them, all their successors up to modern times.
During this more than millennial history, however, a change in perspective occurred that we can date back to the Late Middle Ages. Between the end of the 13th century and the end of the 15th century, cheese radically changes its characteristics. Until that time, cheese was in fact a food product destined only for the poorer social classes. In those years, however, it finally reached the tables of noble families. It is from here that cheese takes on the importance and credit it deserves.
Stay with me and discover how to make cheese at home!
First, however, a brief focus on how cheesemakers make their cheeses. This little excursus will be useful for you to really understand what happens during the cheese-making process and why certain processes are carried out that sometimes have to be repeated in order to make excellent homemade cheese recipes.
How do you make cheese?
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Cheese is a world rich in biodiversity. There are many different types, sizes, shapes, seasoning, spices and milk of origin. In general, however, apart from the customisation and characterisation of the individual cheese compared to others, the general production steps to be followed are the same.
1. Choice of milk
Each type of milk has a different amount of fat depending on the animal it comes from (cow, sheep, goat). Leaving aside the type of animal of origin, milk is divided into whole, skimmed and semi-skimmed milk. What changes is the amount of fat in the milk.
Another distinction to be made is that between raw and pasteurised milk. The former does not undergo heat treatment and will therefore be richer in indigenous bacteria, which are useful for the microbial characterisation of cheese. At the same time, pasteurised milk is safer from a microbiological point of view because the bacteria are decimated by the heat to which the milk is subjected.
2. Milk preparation
Once the milk has been selected, it is placed in containers that allow it to undergo heat treatments of 30° C-35° C to favour the effectiveness of the ferments and rennet.
3. Addition of lactic ferments
To make cheese from milk, it is important to keep the bacterial load alive. Sometimes microbial cultures not originally present in the milk are used. These bacterial cultures are called “lactic ferments“, which are necessary for fermentation. Lactic ferments are used both with raw milk, which naturally contains many lactic acid bacteria, and with pasteurised milk.
At this stage, the milk takes on a jelly-like consistency. Sometimes, to facilitate coagulation, serums are used, which are called “rennet“. Rennet can be of animal or vegetable origin.
The first type is extracted from the abomasum of certain animals following their slaughter. Specifically, enzymes capable of coagulating casein are extracted. The second type of rennet, on the other hand, is extracted from the green parts of the fig tree or the wild thistle. Rennet, if powdered, is dissolved in water before being added to the milk. Alternatively, liquid rennet is used.
Rennet can only be added after the milk has been heated to a temperature of 30° C – 35° C. At this point, the milk must be left to rest for at least an hour for coagulation to take place. The curd now forms. This is a three-dimensional gelatinous lattice within which fat globules and whey drops are trapped with the sugars and mineral salts contained in the milk.
5. Rupture of the curd
The curd is broken with special instruments when a layer of whey has formed that covers it entirely. Whey is created because as coagulation takes place, the curd begins to expel it and become covered with it. The type of cut made to the curd influences the final product dramatically. The more the curd is broken, the softer the cheese will be.
Cooking is carried out on the paste to obtain a drier product than one that does not undergo cooking. A cheese that does not undergo cooking is called “raw”. According to the cooking process, which varies between 38° C and 60° C for between 15 and 90 minutes, semi-hard and cooked cheeses are obtained.
7. Extraction and moulding
After cooking, if any, the cheese will be left to rest to allow the curd to settle on the bottom. The whey will then be removed and only then will the paste be placed in the moulds. As the excess whey is drained off, the cheese will be reduced by about half and will be rotated or pressed, sometimes for days if a very compact product is desired.
8. Salting and maturing
Salting can be done in two ways. The first involves the use of dry salt, which is placed around the cheese wheel in such a way as to create several layers.
The second is done by brine. The cheese is immersed in a liquid consisting of water and salt for a variable amount of time depending on the flavour desired. The use of brine is most effective in salting the cheese evenly and without significant variations between the inner and outer parts.
Salting is also essential for preservation and prevention of undesirable mould development. After salting in brine, the cheeses are dried with absorbent cloths for about 24 hours. Only now, the wheels are ready for maturing.
The ripening process will last for days, months or years, depending on the desired cheese.
How to make your own cheese?
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The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived: I reveal the recipe for homemade cheese! Are you ready to take note of how to make cheese at home?
The ingredients you will need for the cheese are:
- 3 litres of pasteurised whole milk
- 150 g yogurt
- 2 g rennet powder
The ingredients you will need for the brine curing are:
- 1 litre of water
- 80 g salt
_ As an alternative to pasteurised milk, you can use raw milk. By using raw milk, however, you will not need yogurt. Yogurt, in fact, only serves as a graft for the bacterial cultures that pasteurised milk partly lacks. The right lactic ferments are thus reintroduced into the milk;
_ rennet is available in any pharmacy. If they have to supply liquid rennet, a soup spoonful will suffice;
_ the rennet powder will have to be dissolved in very little warm water before being used.
The tools you will need are:
- very large copper saucepan
- food thermometer
- ricotta baskets
- small glasses
- skimmer or whisk to break up the curd
- bowls to collect the whey
- clean tea towels
Preparation: about 3.5 hours (2 hours resting time; 1 hour for draining; 30 minutes for shaping)
Seasoning: time needed for this to take place
- Pour the pasteurised milk into the copper saucepan and place it on the heat. Bring the milk to a temperature of 35° C with the help of a food thermometer.
- Now add the yogurt together with the rennet. If you are using raw milk, remember that you only need to heat it and add the rennet without the yoghurt.
- Stir the product well and let it rest with the heat off for two hours. During the resting time, the curd will have formed.
- At this point, turn on the heat and heat it for about one and a half minutes without stirring.
- After turning off the heat, proceed to break up the curd using a skimmer or whisk.Remember that, in order to obtain a soft cheese, the curd must undergo numerous breaks. On the other hand, if you want to obtain a hard cheese to ripen, create fewer breakages. The most important thing is that you are always very gentle during this procedure.
- Now, leave the curd to rest for another 15 minutes. You will notice that the more solid part will precipitate downwards, separating even more markedly from the whey.
- Now transfer the precipitated curds into the ricotta baskets and let them drain without touching anything. The baskets should in fact be raised above the surface where you are going to place them.
As for the whey, don’t throw it away, but collect it in bowls… It can be useful for making excellent homemade ricotta.
To facilitate the release of the whey from the resting baskets, I recommend gently rotating them. To speed up the process even more, you can place a small weight directly on the curd after using clean tea towels to cover it.
When the usual mass has perfectly dried from the whey, you can proceed with salting. As you already know, there are two different types of salting.
For brine salting, you will have to dissolve the 80 g of salt in the litre of water previously brought to the boil. When the brine has cooled down and reached a temperature of 15° C, you can put the cheese directly into the baskets for 15 minutes.
In the case of dry salting, on the other hand, you will have to create several layers of salt around the cheese wheel and leave it to rest for a variable amount of time depending on the desired maturity.
After salting, fresh cheese is ready for consumption unless you want to ripen it. For ripening, you will have to turn the cheese a couple of times during the first day because it will continue to lose whey. So leave it to rest in a cool place wrapped in a clean cloth.
During the first week, you will have to turn it once a day. In the following weeks, once every seven days. Leave your cheese to mature in a dry place for 1 to 3 months. At this point, there will be nothing left to do but enjoy your delicious cheese!
How do you make home-made ricotta?
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With the waste whey obtained during cheese making, you can make really good homemade ricotta. Find out how to do it with me!
The ingredients you will need are:
- 1.6 litres of whey
- 250 ml pasteurised milk
- 2g citric acid per litre of whey
- 20 ml water
- 2g of salt per litre of whey
The tools you will need are
- very large steel saucepan
- food thermometer
- ricotta baskets
- wooden ladles
- bowls to contain the whey
- precision scales for dosing citric acid
Preparation: 50 minutes
You will need to heat the whey to 60° C with the help of a food thermometer. Now add the milk and, if desired, the salt. Stir gently and continue heating until 90° C is reached. Only at this time, add the citric acid. Mind you, not before! You will have to start to see the cottage cheese flakes rise to the surface.
Now let it cook for just 5 minutes at a temperature of 90° C and afterwards, let it rest with the heat off for 10 minutes. Then transfer the ricotta inside the baskets, placing them over the bowls that will be used to collect the excess whey. Leave to drain for 15-30 minutes and consume the ricotta within 2-3 days by storing it in the fridge. Alternatively, you can leave it to ripen for a few days.
To ripen your ricotta, you only need to add salt at the end of the preparation. However, you will need to let it drain for 24 hours and not just 15-30 minutes. Now sprinkle salt all over it and place the mould on a plate. Let it rest for at least 12 days so that all the whey is removed. Regularly remove the excess whey to facilitate its release.
To smoke your ricotta, you need 100 g of fine salt for every 500 g of ricotta. If your ricotta does not reach that weight, you do the proportion according to its weight and reduce the amount of salt. You will also need fresh rosemary and black pepper. Place your ricotta sprinkled with salt and pepper on a grill for at least one night to let it lose excess whey.
The next day, lightly burn the fresh rosemary sprigs and place them with your ricotta in a large, airtight container for 15 minutes. Now your ricotta should ripen for a few days. The length of ripening should be calculated according to the consistency you wish to achieve.
Basic cheese making curiosities
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Did you know that when making cheese at home, you can flavour it to your liking? All you have to do is add your chosen ingredients to the inside of the cheese mixture just before placing it in the ricotta baskets. There are many ingredients you can use. Among them, the most popular are certainly: chilli pepper, saffron, pistachio, truffle or even pomace. Do you plan to use this little secret during your cheese making session?
Another thing you might not know is that, as an alternative to rennet for your homemade cheese recipes, you can use lemon juice. In fact, by using 35 ml of lemon juice for every litre of whole milk, you will achieve the same result! An alternative is to use white wine vinegar, but this requires very high temperatures to be reached. The milk must in fact be brought to a boil, unlike the previous preparations. We calculate a use of five tablespoons of white wine vinegar for every litre of milk used.
Regarding the health benefits and nutritional values of homemade cheese, it will be useful for you to know that for every 100g, you take in approximately 290 Kcal. For every 100g, you also take in 7.60 g of carbohydrates, 21.30 g of protein, 19.60 g of fat and 63.20 mg of cholesterol. Homemade cheeses, as well as commercial cheeses, are therefore a complete food in their own right. In principle, a balanced intake of cheese is an important health factor as it provides a good dose of calcium and protein. This benefits bones, teeth, blood pressure and above all the mood!
As far as seasonality is concerned, it can be argued that there is no specific one since cheese is produced all year round. However, if there is a perfect time to produce it, it is winter. Winter temperatures are in fact more suitable for maturing cheese than the higher temperatures at other times of the year. In winter, the cheese is much easier to make than in other months.
Now that you know how to make cheese at home, it only remains for me to wish you a good preparation, a good appetite and… Bon voyage to Italy to discover local cheeses! 😉
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