Friday, June 17, 2011
Curds and Whey
I used the first bag of CSA spinach to make this casserole, which I had been hoping to try for a long time. The recipe was from a magazine clipping, so didn’t seem poised to get me anywhere in my self-imposed Cookshelf Challenge. The recipe called for cottage cheese, however, and I knew right where I could acquire the knowledge to make my own: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. And so the Cookshelf Challenge is rolling again.
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is one of those “stranded on a desert island” books. One that I could survive with very well if there was some kind of cookbook apocalypse and it was all that I had left. It really does seem to have the “Everything” it claims and I’ve found it to be a great resource for making my personal diet more creative and more sustainable, and using my CSA subscription to greater advantage. I’ve had success with the recipes for homemade seitan and falafel as well as a safety beet recipe that I adjusted to be even more safe (ie, to hide the taste of beets, which I pretty strongly dislike). I’ve also made homemade ricotta, which is a variation of the Fresh Cheese, the Easy Way recipe in the book as is my most recent experiment: homemade cottage cheese.
Fresh cheese is actually stunningly easy to make. Just bring milk to a boil add something acidic, in this case cultured buttermilk, let it turn into curds and separate the curds from the whey. Separating out the curds is where this recipe gets nice and messy, but a little patience can get you some tasty homemade cheese. I like to use the finer-mesh cheesecloth I got from New England Cheese Making Supply Company, which I highly recommend. The more usual cheesecloth that is easy to find at grocery and hardware stores will also work. I just make sure to use 3 or 4 layers to keep the curds from going down the drain with the whey.
Well, I don’t really wash the whey down the drain anyway. Instead I set the cheese to drain into a large container and save the whey. I then use at least some of it to replace the liquid in bread recipes. (It works well in this bread and this bread and probably would be good in this one as well.) The original recipe calls for draining the cottage cheese for 30 to 60 minutes to reach the desired moistness, but I found that most of the whey had drained from my cheese in less than 10 minutes, so I recommend paying pretty close attention to determine how fast your cheese is draining.
This cottage cheese is wonderful, rich and creamy with a greater taste of fresh milk than I’ve ever found in commercial cottage cheeses. I also put very little salt in my cheese, so the taste of the creamy dairy proteins, sugars and fats were not dominated by over salinization. The recipe makes quite a bit of cheese (I’m betting you could make a half recipe), so it’s a good idea to have a few recipes ready or some other plans for finishing it off. Personally, I like black olives, herbs or tomatoes mixed with my bowl of cottage cheese, but a retro spoonful in a peach half might be just fine as well.
Thanks to How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, it looks like I’ll be adding cottage cheese to my made-from-scratch repertoire. With a refrigerator full of curds and whey, Little Miss Muffet ain’t got nothing on me!
Homemade Cottage Cheese
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
I used half 2% milk and half whole milk, simply because that’s what I had. You could use any milk with at least 1% milk fat depending on how rich you want your cheese.
½ gallon (about 2 liters) milk
1 quart (about 1 liter) cultured buttermilk
salt to taste (I used a large pinch of kosher salt)
1. Line a large colander or sieve with 3 to 4 layers of cheesecloth (or 2 layers of finer-mesh cheesecloth). Place the lined colander in a sink. Place a large bowl or pot under the colander if you wish to save the whey for baking.
2. Heat the milk in a large pot over medium heat just until it begins to boil. The milk should just be gently bubbling under the surface. Try not to let it come to a heavy boil. (Many recipes that involve bringing milk just to a boil will tell you to heat the milk until bubbles form along the edges of the pot. I’ve found that if I stir the milk –ever- there are always bubbles on the edges, and, even if I wait for more obvious boiling bubbles, the milk is already bubbling away nicely in the middle of the pot. So, I’d say just listen to the milk. You may be able to hear it boiling before you see it boiling and if you do see it boiling on the edges or otherwise, move on to the next step.)
3. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir constantly until the mixture separates into white, opaque curds and yellowish whey. Remove from the heat.
4. Carefully pour or spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Let the whey drain away for 5-15 minutes or as long as it takes to get the consistency you desire. Stir salt into the cheese (to taste - I used a large pinch, which resulted in a very non-salty cheese) while it is still quite loose. Spoon the cheese into a container. Cover and refrigerate.
I clean and reuse cheesecloth many times. Rinse out as much of the clinging cheese as possible. Machine wash, preferably in a mesh bag such as those used for delicate washables. Use a mild detergent and no fabric softener. Line dry.
Other recipes I’ve adapted from this book: Black Beans with Beets and Oranges, Homemade Seitan, Mediterranean Vegetable Salad with White Beans
Two years ago: Hot and Sour Lettuce Wraps with Pork