I only wonder why it took me so long to start!
I just discovered how quick and simple it is to make home-made fresh cheese (queso fresco or farmer’s cheese), and now I am obsessed.
This recipe can be made with raw or pasteurized milk (though UHT milk will not serve), as the heating process acts to pasteurize the raw milk.
All you need is milk (full fat is best)—one liter will make enough for a hearty lunch for two—and an acid—lemon or lime juice adds a nice tang, while balsamic or red wine vinegar add a touch of color and subtle flavor. White vinegar works too.
To start, heat your milk on low to medium-low heat until it reaches between 165 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep stirring to avoid burning the bottom, and be very careful not to let the milk boil. If you have the good fortune to own a candy thermometer, your life will be simpler for this project, but no worries if, like me, you don’t—your milk is at the right temperature (or close enough) when bubbles and a thin layer of foam begin to cover the surface of the liquid and it is scalding to the touch.
When you get there, turn off the heat, and begin to add your acid of choice one spoonful at a time, stirring all the while. Most cheeses start with rennet (an enzyme that curdles the casein, or milk proteins, causing them to separate from the whey), but fresh cheese relies on acid, which changes the pH of the milk and, at the right temperature, triggers the same reaction. It’s magical, and it will happen suddenly, so take your time stirring between spoonfuls. When a mass of cheese curds separates out from the clear, yellowish whey, you’ve added enough.
Now leave the pot for at least five and at most 20 minutes. Marvel at the magic trick you have just performed, have a drink, then prepare the last step while you wait.
Layer a colander or strainer with cheese cloth or another clean piece of thin fabric (a pillowcase will also do the trick, I can assure you from personal experience). If you want to save the whey (they tell me it’s a fantastic tenderizer), you can set this up over an empty bowl, otherwise the sink will do.
When your almost-cheese has rested long enough, pour it into the strainer and allow the liquid to drain. You will be left with a pile of clumps (I’ve seen more appetizing cooking processes, but few so tasty!). Now is the time to add seasoning if you like—salt and herbs, or try getting creative with dried fruit or unusual spices. Once your cheese has mostly drained, wrap the cloth over the top, shape it into a disc-like form and place a weight on top—a jar full of water works well—to press out excess liquid. You can also hang your cheese over the sink, squeezing occasionally.
Your fresh cheese will be ready to eat in as little as 30 minutes (or less if you’re really impatient!), but you can leave it for as long as an hour and a half if you prefer a firmer texture.
While you wait, dream up the perfect accompaniments to your beautiful creation. Raw honey, guacamole or marinated olives are some of my favorites, but truly your options are limitless.
And it’s that simple!
This cheese is best eaten fresh, but will keep up to one week in the fridge. As far as I can tell from my research, you can’t ripen or age a cheese made with this method.
Enjoy your meal, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself bragging to total strangers about how you’ve just made your own cheese!
Did you give this recipe a try? How did it work for you? Please share any other tips you found helpful!
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Renée Picard