Making Cheese…In Your Bathtub?

This weekend I took the plunge. I had been flirting around the edges of homemade dairy products for a while, toying with the idea of making my own cheeses for months. I researched recipes, read about failures and successes, and scoured the blogs for tips and hints to create a delicious cheese at home without any extra equipment or magical chemicals (rennet is a magical chemical that any serious cheese maker is going to have to face sooner or later). Cheese making or dairy alchemy as the dork in me likes to think of it is easier than you would believe.

The recipes and tutorials on-line were lacking for me. Not that they weren’t full of great tips, detailed pictures, or solid recipes, but the majority of the ones I read through required a thermometer and a microwave which are two things that I do not have. I ended up buying a thermometer, but I find microwaves abhorrent and have no plans of owning one unless it is for the pure, unadulterated joy of making grapes turn into floating, nuclear orbs. Instead I consulted my cooking bible: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian (the original How to Cook Everything also has a recipe for making fresh cheese, but I used the vegetarian edition this time. I am not sure if the recipes differ at all.) His recipe calls for neither a thermometer or microwave.

My cheese making journey continued from the recipe to Whole Foods market in Cupertino. The parking lot at the Whole Foods in Cupertino is almost as bad as the parking lot at Ranch 99 quite similar to a UFC cage fight but with caffeine fueled raging yuppies in Priuses instead of steroid enhanced bulging biceps and sweaty oiled up men wrapping their crotch around another man’s head. I actually found a parking spot quite easily because I don’t care how close to the store I park. Once inside the store I was disappointed that they do not have raw milk and I settled for Strauss Creamery Whole Milk. How many pretentious points do I win for that sentence? In addition to the half gallon of milk, the recipe requires a quart of buttermilk. I used low-fat cultured buttermilk because I didn’t have a choice. It was this or goat buttermilk. I didn’t want mix the teat juice of two different animals together. That didn’t seem kosher to me (it probably is kosher, but I’m not an expert on the exact laws of kosher).

I gathered the rest of my groceries, was assaulted by an exuberant chick in the frozen food aisle (apparently there is a brand of frozen yogurt at Whole Foods that is “the absolute shit”), and insulted by the checker. I don’t know but Andrew and I have managed to be magnets for the yuppie wrath of the Whole Foods checkers. First it was the snooty middle aged woman with the bad bleach job insulting our reusable Target bag and this time around it was a checker snidely commenting to the bagger, “How do you feel about wasting paper?” because I had more items than what could fit in my reusable bag. Obnoxious shaved head, peace sign, gaged ear mother fucker. Needed to get that off my chest.

A very important picture showing the ingredients. Showing off my pretentious dairy.

The first step after buying your products and braving the snobbery of up-scale grocery stores THAT DON’T EVEN SELL RAW MILK, is to bring your milk to a boil. Well, my first step was to actually clean out the rice underneath my burner that was sure to set my smoke alarm off (our smoke alarm is a bit trigger happy and I bet it would be get an erection from a birthday cake) and clean out a large, stainless steal pot. You need a big pot for this. If you have one of those fancy enamel pots go for that. It just needs to have a heavy bottom and I think aluminum does something scary so don’t use that.

1. Bring your half gallon of milk to a boil on medium-high heat, stir to keep it from scalding (aka that nasty burnt milk smell)

Once your milk comes to a boil with bubbles coming up the sides, then you are ready to add your quart of buttermilk. Stir it until the whey and curds start to separate. In other words stir until it looks like a yeast infected vagina has discharged into a giant tub of urine. That is seriously what it looks like. It is not appetizing looking at this point. It was a matter of about a minute for this to happen so you need to have your colander prepared.

The curds separating from the whey. Curds are the chunky part and whey is the liquid. Whey can be added when cooking bread to add extra protein. 

This is not delicious looking at this point. 

Once the curds and whey have separated remove your pot from the heat. Add salt. Be liberal with the salt. I was not liberal with the salt and my cheese I think lacked for it (that’s a nice way of saying it ended up bland). At this point you should have prepared your draining situation. Your draining situation should consist of a colander and three layers of cheese cloth. You can get fancy with additional accoutrement such as a dowel and some twine, but I prefer to keep it simple. Make sure you have enough cheese cloth to cover your cheese completely and be able to knot it.

The curds as the whey drains away.

Carefully pour the mixture over the cheese cloth. Make sure you are doing this over the sink or a bowl if you want to save your whey. Tie your cheese cloth in a knot so none of the curds are going to escape. Now tie it to a place where you want it to drain. I started with mine draining over the kitchen sink but then realized that I had dishes to wash so I moved it to the bathtub. And I thought the only thing you could make in your bathtub was moonshine. Let it drain wherever you set it up for about an hour to an hour and a half then refrigerate.

My kitchen sink draining situation. 

My bathtub cheese draining situation. 

Homemade fresh cheese! Yum!

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