As the DIY movement continues to gain momentum, it’s no wonder home cheesemaking is the next hot topic. And from cheesemaking authority and teacher Louella Hill comes an education so timely and inspiring that every cheese lover and cheesemonger, from novice to professional, will have something to learn. Kitchen Creamery: Making Yogurt, Butter & Cheese at Home starts with the basics (think yogurt, ricotta, and mascarpone) before graduating into more complex varieties such as Asiago and Pecorino. With dozens of recipes, styles, and techniques, each page is overflowing with essential knowledge for perfecting the ins and outs of the fascinating process that transforms fresh milk into delicious cheese.Kitchen Creamery author Louella Hill gives a Burrata-making demo at Omnivore Books on Food, 3885a Cesar Chavez St, SF on Sunday, August 9 from 3 to 4 pm.
Excerpted from Kitchen Creamery by Louella Hill; cover photo and Quick Mozz photo by Erin Kunkel (Chronicle Books, © 2015). You can purchase Kitchen Creamery at your local bookshop or through our affiliate links with IndieBound or Amazon.BEFORE YOU BEGIN
If you’re opening this book, it’s very likely because you’re fond of cheese—and probably also because you like to know how things are made. Excellent! These are good characteristics for a home cheesemaker to have. Although there are thousands of beautiful cheeses out there in the world already, there’s still plenty of room and reasons for you to make your own.
REASONS TO MAKE CHEESE
To Keep Food Simple
By making your own cheeses and dairy products, you ensure the pureness of your food. No additives, no bleaching, and no stabilizers if you don’t want them.
To Support Local Dairies
By making your own cheese, you choose where the milk comes from. This means you can actively support animals who spend time outside on grass. You can be part of preserving a stretch of open space you may drive past each day.
To Participate in the Food System
You’ve heard the arguments and they’re true: Our current food system is oversized, centralized, mechanized, and deeply infused with chemicals and petroleum. To have a future, we have to enter the kitchen and work the farm. Our hands have to get busy. Our aprons have to get soiled.
To Generate Zero Waste
If you haul milk home in a reusable container, turn the milk into cheese, and toss the whey to your backyard chickens, you’ll have a wheel of “zero waste” cheese. No Styrofoam shipping containers. No cardboard boxes. No plastic shrink-wrap. Just landfill-free goodness.
To Save Money
Depending on your milk source and what type of cheese you make, you may find your pocketbook fattening as your cheese cave swells. Cultured dairy products (such as yogurt and kefir), which have 100 percent yield, can be made for less than a quarter of the price of store-bought versions.
To Give Unique Gifts
Who else celebrates their twentieth wedding anniversary with a twenty-month-old wheel of homemade bandage-wrapped cheddar? Who else gives moldy heart-shaped presents to friends on Valentine’s Day?
To Discover New Flavors
The unique combination of your stirring arm plus milk from your friend’s cow, pulverized chiles from your mom’s garden, and blue mold spores generously donated from a recent gust of wind combine to create a flavor like no other. Flavor contributions from yeast and bacteria in the air and soil are what the word terroir (in the context of wine- and cheesemaking) is defined by. Home cheese making is a perfect way to capture these extra-local, extra-unique flavors.
To Make Magic
Last, and perhaps most important, the whole process of working milk from liquid to finished cheese is really, really fun. It’s magical to watch living, breathing things—in this case, billions of microbes and the wheel itself—finish their journey as, say, a scrumptious, oozing tuna melt.
A LEAP OF FAITH
When I survey my students, most don’t know any- one who’s ever made cheese, nor have they ever milked a cow, or even been to a dairy farm. They didn’t grow up with someone making quark in the kitchen or smoking mozzarella over a wood stove. For these reasons, visualizing where milk comes from and how it gets transformed into a glowing globe of provolone can be difficult, and maybe daunting. Add to this the handsome price tag many artisan cheeses carry, and you can under- stand why undertaking cheese making on one’s own can seem out of reach.
But quiet any voices in your head saying cheesemaking is impossible, and remember everything seems complex from afar. This wonderful, once very common craft can, before long, be pleasantly woven into your weekend afternoons. It may soon be as old hat as kneading dough for a loaf of bread or coaxing eggs whites into a meringue.
You really can make cheese. You can grab a bottle of milk from the store and, in a single day, turn it into jars of beautiful fresh yogurt. Or buy a couple of bottles and make a brick of salty feta. Or, take a couple of weeks and land yourself a velvety, truffle-specked Brie. Although fine handmade cheese making may have, in recent history, seemed a craft of the past, it is now a revitalized art and, in many places, a roaring trend. And not just for milk-rich farm wives—for everyone. Even people in tiny city apartments. I created this book as a tool for turning your kitchen—whatever size it might be—into a thriving creamery.
Perhaps one way to demystify cheese making is to define it in the simplest way possible: Removing water from milk. Getting the water out means isolating the milk solids (protein, fat, sugar, vitamins, and minerals) to make a denser, safer food—a food that can be aged or easily transported. Imagine our ancestors: Seminomadic people hanging out under the noonday sun, trying to decide between hauling a sloppy pouch of milk or a nimble nugget of curd. naturally they chose the latter.
Of course, the proposition is more than simply dehydrating milk. Making cheese involves both the science and the art of creating flavors through controlled fermentation. it’s about encouraging the flavors you want and avoiding the ones you don’t. Cheese can happen accidentally—just leave a jug of milk on your counter for a week, then strain the chunks out. But the pleasant, profound flavors you love are more likely to occur when you follow a recipe (or it follows you, as you start to tinker). And actually, your chef duties travel with your cheeses beyond the vat and for a distance—to create the flavors you want, you’ll be shepherding your cheeses over the course of weeks, months, even years.
Now that you’ve made the leap and are willing to give cheese making arty, I hope this book will set you on the road to success. Like anything, successful cheese making is a matter of being prepared, keeping organized, and being patient—in this case, with both the cheeses and yourself. Following are some guiding principles I embrace in my own kitchen creamery.
As with any new technique you attempt in the kitchen (or workshop or studio), your best bet for learning and getting satisfying results without getting overwhelmed or frustrated is to start with some simple recipes that allow you to practice the basics. I organized Kitchen Creamery to match what I think is an easy and effective way to wade into cheesemaking. Adding a splash of buttermilk to heavy cream and allowing it to ferment into crème fraîche, or watching milk turn into yogurt is a perfect introduction to the role of cultures. Next, some easy or basic cheese recipes familiarize you with using rennet, cutting the curd, and draining off whey. You’ll find the touch for using a thermometer while heating milk and cooking curds, and have the opportunity to test its accuracy. I also grouped the easy or beginning recipes together because they are forgiving, and because none of them need any special ingredients (such as lipase, annato, or Penicillum candid mold spores) or expensive equipment—for example, you don’t have to invest in a cheese press until you know you are interested in making pressed, aged cheeses (and even then, you might find that a car jack or a stack of gym weights will do). Starting simply, you can add to your skills and expertise at a pace that is comfortable to you, moving through the pages of this book and your own explorations.
TAKE GOOD NOTES
Right from the start, with your beginner cheeses and absolutely as you begin making more complicated varieties, establish the habit of taking good notes. To emphasize: Write down everything you do as you make a cheese. To assist you, there’s a standardized “make sheet” in Kitchen Creamery. Try to over-record instead of finding yourself with gaps in your narrative, missing details, or minimal scratchings you can’t decode. Seemingly benign facts, such as which supermarket you bought the milk from or what the weather was like on the day you made the cheese, could be that tiny secret you don’t want to forget when trying to re-create a success. Unlike other kitchen crafts that come to completion in just a couple of hours or a day, a cheese project can extend over many months, leaving you plenty of time to forget all the details that happened at the vat. A slight difference early on may manifest as a major characteristic months later. While you can’t control many aspects of the cheese making process or environment (I’m assuming you don’t have a home laboratory or a positive-pressure air system in your kitchen), you can do your best with what you have. Taking good notes is a must.
SECURE YOUR LABEL
Without labels, careful notes become meaningless. It is a deep, sad wail that comes from the body of a cheese maker when she cracks into a wheel, finds it to be outstanding—and then realizes the cheese is anonymous. It has happened to me more than once. Like unlabeled baggies in the freezer, the cheese- maker may feel confident of a cheese’s identity on Day One. But as time rolls forward, there’s the shifting and turning of wheels, the addition of new ones, the deterioration of surfaces by fervent mites, the accidental bumping of bins, and the inexplicable vanishing of cheese labels, any of which may lead to unexpected anonymity. If this happens, a perfect cheese and impeccable notes will never be reunited. If your notes are good and your labeling is even better, you’re on track to make and possibly, hopefully, repeat a winning flavor discovery.
TRUST IN TIME
As the months pass, your cheese confidence will grow and your copy of Kitchen Creamery will, hopefully, become dog-eared. You’ll have mastered yogurt, kefir, queso fresco, and more. You’ll be on the road to finding the styles of cheese you are most intrigued by—your cheese making niche. After a long day of cheese making, when you have rinsed the last suds from the stockpot and the whey leaving a pressing cheese trickles in the background, you’ll sit down, tired, satisfied, and ready to wait.
When you reach this point—the point when you are ready to shepherd cheeses onward to old age— listen to a lesson I’ve learned: Don’t judge a cheese too early in the game. You have no idea what a cheese will taste like until it’s in your mouth, and hopefully, it doesn’t land in your mouth too soon. I offer tips later for figuring out when to open a wheel, but know it isn’t a perfect science. Also know that given enough time, a cheese may mature into something very palatable, even if it wasn’t so good earlier on. Sticking to fewer recipes will help you discover the perfect timetable for opening cheeses when they are ripe.
As a beginning cheesemaker, you let problems play out; that way you won’t accidentally throw out something that might have been okay. Trusting in time means letting a cheese age long enough and it means keeping at the craft. Keep rubbing those rinds, gathering that milk, taking those notes, and repeating it all again. However, trusting in time doesn’t mean every cheese you make will become incredible if you age it long enough. Some cheeses are destined for the compost pile. Giving bad eggs more time will make those eggs worse.
Don’t judge a cheese by its cover, either. What looks like a hairy beast may be nothing more than a poorly dressed beauty. And that smooth-rinded Asiago gem you have in the back of the fridge? Heads up! It might be harder than a rock.
My hope is that your cheeses will end up close enough to what you intended to make to leave you feeling satisfied. It isn’t likely you’ll casually create a perfect imitation of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam or Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve. But with practice and patience, it is possible to craft an incredible, unique, melt-in-your mouth transformation of some-thing that was, just months earlier, a ray of sunshine.
Enjoy this journey.
Makes about 1 qt / 1 L
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Milk: Cow, goat, sheep, heavy cream
Final form: jar or tub
The beauty of crème fraîche shines when paired with bold foods such as an extra-sweet fruit tart or salty pork carnitas. If you have a source for raw cream, this is a great recipe to try it out with, because the natural milk flavors carry through well. Make sure the cream is very fresh if using raw.
- 1 qt/ 1 L heavy cream, preferably 40% milk fat or at least 35%
- 2 tbsp cultured buttermilk
- Pinch of salt (optional)
Digital kitchen thermometer; 1 qt /1 L jar or plastic tubs; incubation setup
- Clean all surfaces and equipment before beginning.
- Pour the cream into a small stockpot and warm over medium heat to 72°F/22°C, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
- Pour the buttermilk into the warm cream. Stir well for 20 seconds, then pour the mixture into the jar. Screw the lid on tightly.
- If the room temperature is cool (below 60°F/15°C), place the jar in the incubator. Otherwise, leave the jar in an undisturbed, vibration-free place for 15 to 24 hours, depending on the room temperature. During this time, the cream will first thicken to the consistency of buttermilk, then yogurt, and finally to that of very thick Greek-style yogurt. Stir in the salt, if desired.
- Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.
Time to completion: 2 days
Makes 20 oz/560 g fresh mozzarella
Level of Difficulty: Advanced
Milk: Cow, goat, sheep, unhomogenized
Final Form: Variable
Categories: Fresh, unripened, pasta filata
This recipe makes a fresh mozzarella that is simple, milky, and soft as opposed to the other stretched-curd recipes that are firmer or more complex in their flavors. To be successful, you have to start with high-quality, very fresh, unhomogenized milk, and I highly recommend using cow’s milk. Without the right milk, the cheese won’t come together, won’t stretch nicely, or will be too tough—not the luscious cheese you wish for. For a list of possible milk sources, visit www.cheesemaking.com and search the “Good Milk List.”
Note: You won’t use CaCl2 in this recipe, though you will use it in the Cultured Mozzarella and Provolone recipes that follow. In ways, this recipe feels as much like a variation of Ricotta or Paneer as it does a mozzarella.
- 2 gal/7.5 L unhomogenized milk
- 1 ½ cups/330 ml white vinegar or 3 tsp citric acid diluted in ¼ cup/60 ml cool water
- 1/8 tsp lipase powder (optional)
- ½ tsp rennet diluted in ¼ cup/60ml water
Digital kitchen thermometer; heat resistant gloves
- Clean all surfaces and equipment before beginning. Set a colander in the sink. Set up an area for stretching cheeses.
- Pour the milk into a pot. Then, when the milk is cooler than 70°F/21°C, add the vinegar while stirring. This brings the pH value of the milk down to 5.2 to 5.4.
- Warm the milk over medium heat to 90°F/ 32°C, while stirring. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle the lipase (if using) over the top and allow 1 minute for it to dissolve, then stir in.
- Add the rennet solution. Stir for 20 seconds, then stop the motion of the milk. A curd will form in about 3 minutes. 5. After 8 minutes, cut the curd into a grid, with approximately 1 in/2.5 cm between the cuts.
- Next, gently cut the columns horizontally by scooping the curds from the edge of the pot and moving them toward the middle. After 2 to 3 minutes, this motion will free up enough whey that all the curds will start to move. Stir gently and cut down large chunks as needed.
- Return the pot to the heat and warm to 95°F/35°C over the course of 10 minutes, stirring the whole time.
- Drain the pot into the colander, collecting the curds and discarding the whey. Drain for 20 minutes, flipping once midway.
- Proceed with the stretching instructions. Eat within 2 days.
Time to completion: 1 day
Louella Hill is a member of the California Artisan Cheese Guild and a professional cheesemaker. As the Milk Maid, she teaches sold-out classes on cheesemaking in San Francisco, California.