The Cheese Making Diaries

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Well, I've tried this twice now. I'm following the directions for Neufchatel that you can find here. It's a great, super detailed site with a lot of information. The only downside is that this guy is using his own fresh goat's milk, and I suspect that simplifies the process somewhat!

Cheese making, episode 1: The Phantom Break*

I was so excited. I'd followed all the steps, and it was the morning after, when my cheese was supposed to be ready. I cut through the cheese and it *looked* like a clean break! I could clearly see that the top surface was solid, and was so thrilled to see yet another miracle of nature happen. Then I started ladling out the curd.

It was a disaster. As I started trying to ladle out the solids, I realized that I hadn't actually gotten a clean break. Yes, there were solids on the top layer, but the rest was like a cottage cheese liquidy mess. I had already started ladling when I came to this realization, so I just moved forward trying to salvage it and finally ladled the whole soupy mess into a cloth to try to drain it. I set it in the sink in a colander, and waited, then I wound up the top of the cloth to try to squeeze it down. I got a bunch of the liquid out, but not nearly enough. I decided it was time to try to hang it up to let the rest of the liquids drain out.

John was out of town at the time, and I failed to sufficiently think about how I was gonna hang that sucker up before I gathered it up and headed toward the fridge. In my mind, both of our refrigerators (our main fridge and our "beer fridge" in the basement) have the kind of shelves that are wire, which made hanging up the cheese in this nifty arrangement my go-to plan. I soon discovered that the shelves in both refrigerators are glass and there's no way to use a chopstick and a rubber band to MacGyver it into a hanging position when that is the case.

So here I am, holding a gathered up pouch of not-separated milk, and it's super heavy because it is most of the liquid and all of the solids for a gallon of milk. It was probably 7 or 8 pounds of unwieldy, dripping,"would you please just be cheese already?!" mess. I'm trying to hold this thing in one hand and figure out an arrangement to hang it up with the other. I am at a loss. I finally get a clamp, and in my mind this plan works seamlessly. I'm going to clamp this sucker to the shelf. Yeah.

As I'm trying to finagle the clamp into position (there! that's it! now let me just let go for a second and see)... SPLAT! all over the inside edge of the fridge, all over the floor. Charlie was in HOG HEAVEN. I, needless to say, was pissed off.

Cheese making, episode 2: Attack of the Whey*

Skip to several weeks later. I decide that it is time to try this again. I am going to make sure that I have the absolute freshest milk and buttermilk for this process. I'd bought Homestead Creamery whole milk for the first go-round of cheese making, but then some off-brand buttermilk, which I felt sure could have been part of the problem. For round 2 I invest the extra buck or two and get the good stuff; the Homestead Creamery buttermilk. I've also read more and seen the test method for checking for a clean break, so I feel like this time, I know what I'm looking for, and I can always give it more time to set up if needed (as recommended in the troubleshooting tips in the site I've linked above).

I follow the process. I wait until the following morning and dunk my freshly washed finger into the milk. No clean break. I wait another 5 hours, try again. No clean break. Later that evening? Still no clean break. I'm back at square one, where I was last go-round.

The good news is, this time John is home with me, and he's rigged up a wire in the beer fridge to hang the cheese from to drain. So, I do the same process as last go-round, draining, squeezing, and trying to get as much liquid out as possible. Then, with the newly installed wire, I easily hang it up in the downstairs fridge to drain. A day or two later, it seems to have drained off another cup or two of liquid, and I squeeze out as much of whatever liquid remains as possible. Finally, I carefully unwrap the cloth.

Lo and behold... it's cheese! At least some very soft spreadable semblance thereof. I can't say for sure how the consistency measures up against what Neufchatel is supposed to be, but I can describe what I wound up with as a soft cream cheese. I salted stirred the cheese, and John and I divided it up into several containers. We added various mix-ins: flavor 1 is dill (almost too mild to taste), flavor 2 is basil (again, very mild, but still very good), and flavor 3 is garlic, which is our favorite.

We've been eating it spread on the homemade bread John has been making (YUM, by the way, I am quite lucky!), and as soon as I can get by the store I'm going to pick up crackers and bagels. We have quite a bit of cheese to eat!! I'd guess it's probably the equivalent of 4-5 softened and blended bricks of cream cheese. I think I'll have to start bringing in little containers of it to give away, because I want to get on to episode 3 and get past this clean break issue!

Next up: trying Homestead Creamery's Cream Line milk. I shyed away from this when purchasing my milk for these experiments previously because I had no idea what that meant, but apparently Cream Line is not homogenized, which can help resolve the break issue. I've been reading this great book and plan to follow closely their recipe in my next attempt. Stay tuned for episode 3: Revenge of the Milk*.

* These references are to the Star Wars movies, in case you just thought I was losing my mind. Not to say that I'm not, but at least there is a method to my madness. :)


Julie Smith said...

Hardy-har! This is why I stay away from complicated recipes! I'm glad you are more adventurous than I am. I needed no asterisk to get the titles; in our household, we've been going through a Star Wars renaissance lately.

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