I’ve been wanting to make cheese for a long time, but haven’t been able to find any rennet. Then this rennet-free cheese video landed in my inbox. It looked easy enough, even for a complete novice like me. Chef John’s video is very helpful, but unfortunately, he doesn’t offer written directions so you have to watch the video over and over and/or write down everything he says. Fortunately for you I did that and the recipe appears at the end of this post.
The recipe only called for four ingredients: whole milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, salt. Since I watch Top Chef I know you’re supposed to mise en place before you cook (have everything ready and in place before you start cooking). So, I set about doing this.
This sounds easier than it was. First, I needed cheesecloth but couldn’t find any. As the previous post mentioned I bought some butter muslin instead and cut my square and a piece of string for when it came time to tie up my cheese ball.
Then I needed buttermilk. However, it appears there is no buttermilk in all of Zambia (just as there is no sour cream, unless you buy a bottle of fresh cream, forget about it for 2 or 3 weeks, and then open it to see it has coagulated into a solid mass of sour cream). The closest thing I could find was Mabisi, which everyone describes as sour milk. From what I read online it appears that is fermented with a culture, just as buttermilk is, so I thought it would work as a substitute because I needed something with an active culture. (There’s another dairy product called “full cream Maas.” Maybe that’s buttermilk?)
When I opened it I was surprised to see that its texture was more like yogurt than a liquid milk.
Next, I prepared my lemon juice.
The recipe called for 2 quarts of milk. I was just about to pour my half gallon of milk into the heavy stock pan when I suddenly remembered that this was a two liter container, not two quart. I measured out two quarts and the second photo below shows you how much more 2 liters is compared to 2 quarts. I don’t know enough about cheesemaking to know if the recipe has that much wiggle room so I just stored that 1/2 inch of milk for later use.
With all ingredients in hand I set about making the cheese. First, I layered my colander over a stock pot and lined it with the muslin.
Then, I poured the milk into a heavy pot with heat on low and slowly brought it up to a temperature of 175 degrees F.
As soon as the milk reached 175 degrees F, I pulled it off the heat and added the lemon juice and buttermilk/substitute (Mabisi in my case) and stirred.
Chef John said the mixture should curdle within 30 seconds, and if it doesn’t then you should add more lemon juice (or white vinegar is you’re in a fix).
Fortunately, mine curdled right on time, which was pretty exciting! (I don’t get out much.)
After letting the curds sit undisturbed for 10 minutes I ladled them into the muslin-covered colander and let the whey drain for 5 minutes.
Next, I gathered up the corners of the muslin, tied the cheese up in it and hung it over the stock pan without the colander and drained it another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes my ball still felt pretty wet so I squeezed out a bit more whey from it. I cut the string and unwrapped the muslin and I had cheese!!! Woo-hoo!
I had a ton of whey leftover, almost half a gallon it seemed, so I refrigerated that and thought I’d look up later what people do with it.
Back to the cheese, after as much whey as you want is squeezed out I added salt to the mixture. Chef John said otherwise the cheese would be too bland.
At this point I separated the batch into three bowls and flavored each differently – one with fresh dill from my garden, one with pepper and one with nutmeg and honey.
You’re supposed to press the finished cheese into a fromage crock (those small white ceramic crocks) but all I had was these glass bowls. Dill is in the first, pepper in the second and nutmeg/honey in the third.
The new cheese is refrigerated overnight so the flavors have time to develop. Here is the finished product with the chilled whey in the background. Coincidentally, just after I was finished with the cheese I sat down to read the new issue of Psychology Today and it had an article outlining all of the benefits of whey (see this). I tried it chilled and actually like the taste. It’s like a mild, more liquid kefir. And, right after I drank it I felt like I had had a cup of coffee. It was a big energy booster.
I thought the cheese really wasn’t much different from cream cheese and thought it would have been easier to just mix dill with cream cheese and have virtually the same product. However, I took the tray you see here out to Nancy at Sugarbush and she really liked it. It does have a different texture from cream cheese – drier. She called it Mabisi Cheesy.
FROMAGE BLANC (white farmer’s cheese, rennet-free)
INGREDIENTS (Recipe can be halved or doubled easily)
2 quarts whole milk
2 cups active culture buttermilk (or Mabisi)
4 tsp lemon juice (white vinegar in a pinch)
1.5 tsp salt or to taste
1. Pour milk into heavy metal sauce pan on low heat, stir occasionally, bring to 175 degrees
2. Pour in buttermilk and lemon juice, take off heat, stir until curds and whey appear (should curdle within 30 seconds, if not add more lemon juice)
3. Let sit 10 minutes undisturbed
4. Put colander over stock pot and place cheesecloth over colander. Ladle curds into colander, let whey drain for 5 minutes.
5. Gather corners of cheesecloth and tie together in a ball. Hang cheese in the cheesecloth ball over a stock pot to drain more whey for 30 minutes. Wring slightly if you want dryer cheese.
6. Unwap and you have cheese! Add salt to cheese and herbs to taste. Put cheese balls in crocks and refrigerator over night to let flavors develop.