Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Overlooked Joy: Farmhouse Chèvre
"Cheese?" you may say.
"Doesn't that need a dedicated refrigerator, and take weeks, if not months of curing?"
"Won't it smell bad?"
"Don't I need rennet, and powdered acid, and all sorts of complicated equipment?"
Fear not, dear readers. While it's true that making a well-aged Gouda might require a bit more in the way of preparation, there are many "fresh" cheeses -- mozzarella, ricotta, queso fresco -- that take only a few hours of forethought and can be made with supplies found in your local grocery store.
Best of all, they're incredibly delicious -- far better than their heavily processed and rubbery store-bought bretheren.
With no cheese is this more true than that western French delight, Chèvre. Even the cheapest goat cheese has a delightful tang; but when you make it at home, nuances germane to only a recently-made product -- lush creaminess, a delicate texture -- emerge in all their glory.
This is probably one of the easiest recipes we've posted here, and, certainly, one of the more impressive. Let's get right to it.
Makes eight to twelve ounces of cheese
1/2 gallon Goat's Milk (but not "ultra pasteurized")
2 Lemons (enough for 3 Tablespoons fresh juice)
Garlic, herbs, spices, salt, to taste
Cheesecloth or Muslin
[Editor's Note: I'm aware that goat's milk isn't available in every grocery store. That being said, it's been consistently growing in popularity, mostly because it's easier to digest and has a higher protein level than cow's milk. My local grocery store caters to a large West African population, and, when looking for it, I suggest searching out markets that cater to cultural groups more familiar with sheep and goat as an everyday food product. If you can't find such a store (or if you're too lazy to look), any Whole Foods market will carry it; just be prepared to pay out the nose. Still, it's still cheaper than buying the finished cheese.]
Start by measuring out your lemon juice. Three lemons will yield the half-cup needed. DO NOT USE BOTTLED JUICE. Skim out the pits, and place aside for the moment.
Next, pour your milk into a large, heavy bottomed pot. Attach a candy thermometer, and place it on a burner raised to medium heat.
As the milk warms, stir it constantly to ensure that it does not stick or burn to the bottom of the pot. A flat-topped wooden spoon is best for this; plastic spatulas may melt.
Once the milk reaches 175 degrees F, remove it from the heat immediately. Pour in your lemon juice, and stir until just mixed. Set the pot off to the side to cool. As the milk returns to room temperature, the curds (what will become your cheese) will set.
After about 30 minutes (the curds/whey may still be a little warm), it's time to strain and form the cheese.
If you're going to flavor the cheese with any additions (for this batch, I incorporated some herbes de provence, a little cracked black pepper, and one-half of a clove of microplaned garlic), add them to the pot at this point.
Next, pour your curds and whey through a strainer lined with either cheesecloth or a muslin bag (both should be available at your local kitchen supply store or homebrewing shop, and they're dirt cheap).
[Editor's Note #2: If you save the whey, you can heat it again, this time bringing it back up to a rolling boil. From there, remove it from the heat, add in an additional three Tablespoons of lemon juice, follow the straining process and -- voila -- goat's milk ricotta.]
Now, once a decent amount of whey has leeched out from the emerging Chèvre (this should be after about one hour), you'll want to tie the four corners of the cheesecloth or muslin into a knot and remove the strainer. This will provide a common point from which to hang the parcel. Using a very large bowl (or a wide-mouthed vase) and a wooden spoon, construct a method by which you can suspend the parcel in the air while fitting it in your refrigerator, as shown below.
After about eight hours, more whey will have leeched out. Feel the parcel; it should be firm, but not stiff. From here, dismantle your apparatus, and unwrap your cheese from its cloth. Feel free to shape the round into a fairly attractive shape, crack some more pepper on it, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve immediately.
The final product:
If you're going to only try one or two recipes from this site, make this one of them. The basic technique that you'll learn can be appropriated for many different styles of fresh cheese, and the taste -- well, the taste is so remarkable I highly doubt you'll be tempted to go back to the packaged stuff. Besides, if you really get bitten by the cheese bug, who knows? A dedicated refrigerator, bacterial cultures, and homemade Roquefort may be in your future. It seems worth a try. We'll see you again next week.
Music: The Mountain Goats -- "This Year"