Cheese, in all its forms, is merely milk curds that are drained and flavored. From that same simple process come such widely varied products as camembert and cheddar, mozzarella, ricotta, Gruyere, Roquefort and chevre. Historically, cheesemaking developed as a way to preserve milk. When people started keeping cows (and sheep and goats), the animals produced much more milk than the farmers could drink before it spoiled. Making butter kept the valuable food for weeks; cheese kept it for months.
Before I met Chef Theresa Brown and took her one day Cheesemaking Workshop at the Culinary School of the Rockies, I never even considered making my own cheese. It seemed like a complicated, long term process for which I had no knowledge, equipment, or proper milk product. Theresa, who is a local farmer and homesteader, brought in fresh milk from her two goats (Libby and Charlotte) and an antique butter churn with a built in drain for the buttermilk. It was a treat to use these special products, but the majority of the cheese we made was from regular old store-bought whole milk, and we used tools that can be found in any kitchen.
We made three types of cheese, (mozzarella, ricotta, and soft goat cheese) as well as fresh butter, all in one day. Obviously, there are many types of cheese that require special tools, age, and conditions to ripen, but my mind was opened to the possibilities of basic (delicious) homemade cheeses.
Why make your own cheese? Imagine serving a platter of farmer’s cheese with crackers, or making pizza with homemade mozzarella.You can give specially flavored cheeses as gifts, and experiment with herb combinations.
Instant read thermometer
Most of all, it is fun and surprisingly easy.
The cheese I made for this article is one of the most basic, but also one of the most tasty quick cheeses. Similar in texture to gourmet Boursin, it is excellent spread on warm bread or crackers, and takes flavoring with herbs and spices beautifully. With this base recipe you can make a garlic-thyme cheese to crumble into salads, a spicy jalapeno cheese to add to a burrito, or a sweet breakfast spread for a bagel. Use your imagination and palate to explore the possibilities.
Equipment for Cheesemaking
To succeed with this cheese, you need:
- large saucepan, big enough to hold 1/2 gallon of milk (deeper is better than wider)
- instant read thermometer (I got one at King Sooper’s for $6.99)
- collander or strainer
- large piece (at least 18″x18″) butter muslin (This might be the most obscure. I use an old curtain, washed of course. Look for scrap cloth that is finer than regular cheesecloth, but still transparent. Also, be sure it is pure cotton. If you are having trouble, you can order butter muslin from a cheesemaking supply store.)
- cooking spoon
Wooden cooking spoon
The ingredients are just whole milk (cow, goat, sheep, based on the flavor you want) and 1/4 cup of lemon juice to curdle the milk. Then you will need a variety of fresh herbs and spices to flavor the cheese after it has drained, as well as some heavy cream to blend in for texture.
When you have collected your equipment, it is time to make the cheese!