Monday’s Guests – Curds + Whey = Cheese

We are honored to have a guest blog from Linda Conroy of Moon Wise Herbs. She teaches classes in Wisconsin on all sorts of self sufficiency topics from how tomake soaps and lotions, to cheese, to brooms. This week she will be discussing our favorite food here at Dog Island Farm. Cheese!


Many of us have heard the story of little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey. This wonderful image has helped me to keep the process of making cheese simple. All cheese is the separation of curds and whey, basically the separation of solids and liquids. Cheese is made with this simple concept, yet each resulting variety is unique depending on what techniques are used to create this separation. How and when the curds are separated results in a wide variety of textures and flavors.

Milk is mostly water. Cows milk, for example, contains over 87% water by weight. The remaining solids contain fat, protein, lactose and minerals. The cheese maker begins removing water from milk in number of ways. The simplest method is to add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar directly to the milk. A second method uses bacteria to create an acid in the milk. This is the preferred method for making cheese that will be aged, because the bacterium also provides flavor and character to the finished product. In both methods the acid causes the milk protein to coagulate into curd, which is the solid protein of milk.

At this point you may be asking what is rennet?

Rennet is an enzyme, which acts on protein and causes it to coagulate. There are two sources of rennet enzyme. Animal rennet was historically extracted from the fourth stomach of calves. Today it is produced in a lab. Vegetable based rennet is the result of an enzyme that exists in plants.

Vegetable based rennet contains no animal products and has the same coagulating ability as animal rennet when used in milk that has been ripened (acidified) by cheese starter bacteria. There are many plants that contain enzymes that have the capacity to curdle milk. A few of the wild plants are: thistles, stinging nettle, cleavers, wood sorrel and goat’s rue.

I tend to purchase vegetable rennet, but have tried my hand at making nettle rennet as a curdling agent for goat cheese and it was effective. I made a decoction of fresh nettle, combined with salt and added it to warmed milk (86 degrees). This was quite some time ago and so I would like to work more with this and refine my skills. I have read accounts of simply pouring milk over the fresh plant letting it sit, until it separates. The milk for a simple soft cheese, would be either used fresh from the milking animal, or warmed to 86 degrees.

Culturing Milk and Making Cheese

Making cheese in your own kitchen is easy and fun!! Since the domestication of animals making cheese and culturing milk has been a common way of preserving milk. Today in the west we enjoy cheese from around the world, yet few people make cheese and cultured milk at home. I began making cheese in my kitchen close to 15 year s ago and have taught classes for the last decade. It is always fun to encourage new cheese makers to try their hand at this traditional art. The following are recipes that you can easily make at home

Paneer Cheese

This cheese is sometimes called lemon cheese because it is clabbered or curdled using lemon juice. This cheese is traditionally added to savory dishes in East Indian recipes. This recipe is adapted from the cookbook Sundays at Moosewood.

-Slowly bring one gallon of milk to a boil: stirring regularly to prevent the milk from scorching

-While milk is heating juice and stain 3 lemons

-When milk comes to boil take it off the heat and quickly add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

-return to low heat: continue stirring and add lemon juice (one tablespoon at a time) until white curds separate from the yellowish whey.

-scoop the curds into a cheesecloth-lined strainer

-let it drain until cool enough to handle

-When it is cool wrap the cheesecloth around the curds and from into a square or rectangle.

-place a heavy weight on top (a large pot or jar filled with one gallon of water works well). Leave it in place for 30-60 minutes.

-unwrap paneer and cut it into small cubes-add to savory sauces or eat plain.

*for a more flavorful paneer add herbs, garlic and/or salt to the curds before pressing. Use within four days for a fresher flavor. This cheese is tasty added to savory dishes as it absorbs flavor from the dish. This is delicious made with both cow and goat milk.

*Queso Blanco is a similar cheese common in Mexico and is created by adding through a similar process but using vinegar for the curdling agent.

Farmer Cheese

This is a simple cheese that is quickly crafted and delicious to eat!! I prefer to make this with goat milk, but it can easily be crafted with cow, sheep or whatever milk you have on hand. This recipe is adapted from one that was offered to me by herbalist Susun Weed.

-Warm 1 gallon of milk to 80-90 degrees (you can add fresh whey from your previous batch of cheese as a culture-for every gallon of milk you can add 1 quart of whey. This is not necessary, but if you are using raw milk it will add flavor to your cheese)

-Once the milk has reached the proper temperature add 7 drops of rennet to each gallon of milk plus a squirt for good luck!

-With the lid on the pot let stand until the entire mass is solid. This will take approximately 45 minutes to one hour)

-cut the mass all the way through in a grid pattern (blocks should be approximately ½”)

-slowly heat to 100 degrees (increase heat 2 degrees every 5 minutes) This will take approximately ½ hour. Turn the curds occasionally. The curds will shrink noticeably as you turn. The whey will increase in quantity as the curds shrink.

-separate the curds and whey and place the curds in a bowl. Add salt (slightly over salting to taste-as much of the salt will be lost while draining. At this time you can also add garlic and/or herbs)

-Pour the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander, which is over a bowl or bucket to catch the whey.

-Tie the cloth cross ways twice. And hand the bag of curds to drain for one hour (I often hang the bag above of my sink on a hook or with a wood spoon over a large pot or bucket). If you are making 5 gallons worth of cheese you will hang your cheese for 12-24 hours and this will be sufficient pressing.

-for 1-4 pounds of cheese-after one-hour pour the drained curds into a bowl, break them up gently into walnut size pieces

-place curds into a clean cheesecloth and place into a press. If you do not have a cheese press-you can place the cheese on a plate tie a bandana around the cheese and place between two plates. Place a heavy object/s-clean bricks, containers of water, cast iron pot etc. on top and press for 12-24 hours.

-Eat and enjoy!! Place unused portion in the refrigerator for up to a week

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