Making cheese can be simple, or complicated. Getting started is really pretty easy, if you have milk and vinegar or lemon juice. Make sure you have all the equipment that you need. You’ll need a pan, and good sized bowl, preferably stainless steel, but they don’t have to be. You’ll need a fork or slotted spoon, a measuring spoon, a colander and a piece of muslin. Commercial cheesecloth isn’t really very helpful, as the weave is too big, and the curds fall through. But if you can get some simple unbleached muslin, that will work. It shouldn’t be too fine, or the whey won’t pass through it. Make sure that all the equipment is very clean, sanitizing it is a good idea.
Since I keep goats, I use goat’s milk, but you can use cow’s milk perfectly fine. Just don’t use milk that has been Ultra High Temperature pasteurized, UHT, as it has been so cooked by the pasteurizing that nothing will grow in it. I’m assuming that you are using storebought milk, so that it is already pastuerized. Please note, most organic dairy farms use UHT processing, so don’t bother with organic milk, just use the regular stuff.
Heat 1 gallon of milk in a big pan directly over low heat to 180 degrees F. Stir often to avoid scorching. Keep it at 180 for 5 minutes. Pour the milk into a bowl and slowly add 1/4 cup vinegar of slightly less lemon juice. This is your acid which reacts with the milk to make cheese. As you stir, the milk will begin to separate in clumps of curd sinking in a pool of thinner whey. Once you see the separation start to happen, stop pouring the juice or vinegar, but continue to stir occasionally.
Line your colander with muslin and set on top of your bowl. Poul the liquid through the cheesecloth, and the whey will drip through the muslin and colander, collecting in the bowl. You can either tie the muslin together as a sack and hang it, or just let it rest in the colander. Let it sit for 3 hours, Scraping the fabric with a clean spoon occasionally, to keep the curds from plugging the weave in the muslin.
After 3 hours have passed, and the cheese has stopped dripping whey, add a little herb or seasalt and stir in, or leave it plain. Either way, you have a very mild soft cheese now, which should keep, if refrigerated for up to a week. Queso blanco can be used in place of cream cheese, or for cooking.
Other cheeses can be made using rennet and a starter culture. Rennet originally comes from a calf’s stomach, but there are also vegetable forms available. There are mesophilic cultures, which use cooler temperatures, and thermophilic cultures, which require that the milk be heated to higher temperatures.
Cheese is a living thing, and the temperature, humidity, age of cheese, time of aging, all affect it’s flavor. But nothing’s better than a homemade cheese, and you don’t have to have your own cow or goat to do it.