Culinary traditions all over the world make use of the simplest soft white cheeses.
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Soft, fresh cheeses are the simplest to make and also some of the most delicious. Not only do they provide immediate gratification, but their simplicity makes them versatile. But don’t think that just because they are simple they don’t offer important lessons to cheese makers at all levels of learning! Enjoy the simplicity of fresh cheeses while you also learn the fundamental knowledge that mastering them can bring.
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Gathering Equipment: No matter the scale of your cheese making dreams, having a properly cleaned space with the right equipment will go a long way toward making the process fun and successful. You only need a few items to get started, and you probably have them in your kitchen right now. To ensure your equipment is safe, wash it with soap and water, then sanitize by dropping it in boiling water or a diluted sanitizing rinse, or by washing it in a dishwasher with a “sanitize” setting. For more cheese making equipment and sources, see Cheese Making Resources below.
The Fundamentals of Coagulation: In an acid environment, the proteins in milk can be acted upon by a coagulant, an ingredient that causes milk to thicken and then curdle. Coagulants may come from a microbial, vegetable or animal source (animal rennet is most common). The coagulant may also be an acid, either a food acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) or lactic acid produced by a starter culture.
Choosing Acid: When making a recipe in which the curd is coagulated by adding acid, you can choose from several food acids with equal success. Each will add a different flavor profile to the cheese. The acidity level of vinegar is usually steady, but that of citrus fruits such as lemons and limes can vary, so it’s not possible to give exact measurements. Fortunately, you can easily judge when enough acid has been added by observing at what point the whey becomes translucent to clear. When using either vinegar or lemon juice, plan on between ¼ and ⅓ cup per gallon of milk. If using citric or tartaric acid powder, dissolve it in water first, then add the mixture to the milk. Plan on 1 to 2 teaspoons dissolved in ¼ cup cool water per gallon of milk.
Advice on Salting: In aged cheeses, salt assists with long-term flavor and texture development. In soft cheeses, salt simply provides flavor enhancement and is often used to bring a halt to acid development. It is generally added at the end of draining, but you can use it to assist with whey removal for soft, fresh varieties by adding some to the draining curds. For example, if you notice that the curd flavor is just right, but the texture is too moist, stir the salt into the curd and hang it to drain a bit longer.
Cheese Making Resources
Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell
Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making by James R. Leverentz
Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin
Cooking With and Serving Cheese
The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen by Chester Hastings
The New American Cheese by Laura Werlin
The All American Cheese and Wine Book by Laura Werlin
Cheese and Wine by Janet Fletcher
The Cheese Plate by Max McCalman and David Gibbons
In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen by Allison Hooper
General Cheese Knowledge
Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins
Cheese: Exploring Taste and Tradition by Patricia Michelson
Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman and David Gibbons
Cheese and Culture by Paul S. Kindstedt
Starter Culture, Ingredients and Supplies
Glengarry Cheesemaking and Dairy Supply (Canada)
New England Cheesemaking Supply