Making cheese has been an art for nearly ten thousand years beginning in Europe, then spreading around the world. There’s hundreds of different kinds of cheese with a range of flavors, textures, and appearances. Since it’s been around for so long, one may think it’s a difficult task to make in a home kitchen. Fortunately, soft cheeses are remarkably easy to make with only three ingredients:
- whole milk
So how do these three simple ingredients come together to make such a great tasting cheese? The secret is in the vinegar. Traditionally, many cheeses require the enzyme called rennet to break down the milk proteins and separate the curds from the whey. Vinegar will also curdle milk, but the result will be softer curds because vinegar isn’t quite as strong as rennet. Rennet will produce curds that are sturdy enough to make harder cheeses such as cheddar. If you want to expand your cheese making, rennet can be purchased online.
The result? An incredibly creamy and delicious ricotta-style cheese!
The steps to making this amazing-tasting cheese at home is very simple. Begin by bringing one gallon of whole milk to a simmer, about 195°F/90°C (try not to let it go to a full boil). Stir continuously so the bottom does not scorch.
Meanwhile, place a strainer in a large bowl or in the sink and line it with cheese cloth.
Once the milk reaches a low simmer, remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup of white vinegar. The mixture should begin to curdle and separate into curds and whey. Stir in about a half teaspoon of salt and let it stand for ten minutes.
Next, strain out and discard the whey leaving only the white curds. Keep the cheese in the strainer with the cloth lining for about an hour to allow it to drain completely.
Once the whey has drained, collect in the cheese cloth and give it a light squeeze. This should remove any excess moisture while also forming it into a loose ball. Store in plastic and enjoy, no aging is required! Fresh cheese can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week.
There are many variations to this recipe, and many recipes to use it in. If there’s no white vinegar on hand feel free to substitute with homemade apple cider vinegar or the juice of one lemon. Fresh cracked black pepper and additional salt may be added, or even fresh herbs, minced garlic or homemade pickled garlic. Spread on toast or bagels, or even enjoy as a dip on crackers for a simple appetizer. Fresh cheese would also work well in place of ricotta cheese; make amazing lasagnas, baked ziti, stuffed shells, or even desserts like cannolis.
Mozzarella is another soft cheese that has a few extra steps and the addition of rennet, but is also easy to make from home. If you want to keep it simple, other cheeses that can be made using the vinegar method include cottage cheese and mascarpone. For mascarpone, heavy cream is used in place of milk. For cottage cheese: skim milk is used instead of whole milk, more vinegar is added, and the curds are mixed with half and half before serving.
There’s nothing more satisfying then knowing exactly what is in the food you’re eating. Cheese seems like that untouchable ingredient that has to be bought in the grocery store, when really it is as easy as adding vinegar to heated milk. The soft, creamy fresh cheese has so many uses that it’s well worth taking a little bit of extra time to make!
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