My hubby has recently decided he wants to make wine/beer at home after reading an old book on brewing. Personally, I think it looks fun! There’s an awesome recipe in the book for making blackberry wine, which I really want to do this summer! After all, we picked 2 quarts of this stuff last summer to make preserves, and you only need a gallon to make wine!
But anyway, I had heard about a local brewing store on NPR called Homebrew Emporium, and suggested to K that we take a drive there so he could buy this special brewing yeast. But I admit I had some selfish reasons for wanting to go as well. They carry New England CheeseMaking supplies!
For those who might not know, New England Cheesemaking is the place recommended by Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’ve wanted to try my hand at cheesemaking ever since I read the book, and now I’m kicking myself for finally getting into it now that the weather is getting better and we’ll be in the garden nearly full time soon. I should have done this over the quietness of the winter! Oh well.
So while he looked around his dream store, I went in search of this!
This book is known as THE cheesemaking bible. I hurriedly flipped through it for something easy to try, so I could buy the necessary ingredients before we left the store. I settled quickly on cream cheese. Let me repeat – I was going to make cream cheese!
The uncooked-curd method of cream cheese (which gets a slightly wetter cheese and isn’t as firm as the blocks you can buy, but still tastes the same!) is SO easy to make! To make one pound of cheese, you need:
- 2 quarts pasteurized light cream or pasteurized half-and-half
- 1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
- cheese salt (optional)
- herbs (optional)
Cheese salt is basically non-iodized salt, so kosher salt will work as well. Really, the only thing I had to buy at the store was the mesophilic starter.
It comes in packets that are kept in the freezer. They have expiration dates on each packet, but the store told me you could keep them in the freezer forever and they’d be fine.
The next day, I bought half-and-half at the farmer’s market. They only had 2 pints (1 quart) so I had to make half a pound of cream cheese instead. That was fine!
To make this “soft” cream cheese, you bring your cream or half-and-half to room temperature. Then, add your starter and mix it thoroughly.
Cover your bowl and let it set at 72F for 12 hours. It’s wintertime here and I wasn’t quite sure where I could put the bowl in a place that would remain around 72F for that long, so I decided to place it in the boiler room.
That’s right, it found a home with the ginger ale that was fermenting! It was a little warmer than 72F, but it was fine. The next day, I took the bowl out, not sure what I would find.
Can you tell the difference between this pic and the previous bowl? If you look carefully, it’s formed a solid curd. I really didn’t think it would work, for some crazy reason. I was so excited when I found it really did!
Once your cream has curdled, you need to pour your curd into a colander lined with butter muslin. You’re supposed to use butter muslin instead of cheesecloth because most cheesecloth bought in regular stores has too big a weave and allows curd to escape. Butter muslin has a tighter weave. But I didn’t own any so I just used regular cheese cloth.
Once the curd is in the muslin, tie up the corners into a knot and hang the bag to drain for another 12 hours, or until the bag stops stops dripping and the cheese has reached the desired consistency. You’re supposed to change the bag a couple of times to aid in this process but I only own one cheesecloth so I didn’t have that option.
I was so excited about getting cream cheese that I didn’t leave it to hang as long as I probably should have. But finally, I dumped the cheese into a bowl and looked at what I had created!
Looks like cream cheese! Tastes like it too! I salted it with 3/4 tsp of salt, then separated it into two bowls and added some of my strawberry preserves to make strawberry cream cheese.
Just swirl a few tablespoons of jam or preserves into your cream cheese and set it to firm in the fridge. It will last 1-2 weeks, but I’ve noticed because I didn’t let it hang for as long as I should have water started separating from it after a few days. Next time I’ll make sure to do 12 hours or even a little longer.
Finally, I had some of my fresh, local cream cheese with my strawberry jam on some local bread. Delicious! And so easy to make. I’m going to try my hand at making ricotta next. Can’t wait!