Lemon Cheese

That is where I am right now – it is not really a physical place, more of a liminal, metaphysical place. A place with a lot of waiting – but not at all like “purgatory”, because the whole process is deeply moving to the human soul and gratifying. Making things like cheese, yogurt, fermented vegetables and preserving at home harkens back to a time that we all come from, no matter where in the world we are or where we come from. A time when people had a hand in making much of their foodstuffs and worked with their natural surroundings using natural airborne elements, like yeasts, bacteria and molds as well as more physical elements like milk and vegetables to make special foods. This is a time where people had the skills to take care of themselves and could feed their families much by their own hands or the hands of their neighbors.

There is something very meditative about making cheese, all the watching, stirring, simmering and pouring. For me, it is a combination of things – the fact that I get to pull out my special cheesemaking supplies from my special “cultured things” drawer in the kitchen. There is also the use of special elements, like culture and rennet that magically transform milk into what the Scots used to call “white meat”. Then there is all that beautiful, creamy milk, from cows that I know at Applecheek Farm, being poured into large pans and pots. Who can forget cheesecloth, that magical helpmate that strains the cheese and separates the curds from the whey? – my favorite part. Making cheese makes me giddy. Hearing about cheese and the history of cheese has me enraptured – writing about cheese, well, that is fun too!

Cheese Press and Making Petit Brie

For the past two weeks in my Value Added Products course at Sterling College, we have been making dairy products, mostly in the form of cheese. Currently I am sitting at my computer looking towards the kitchen to the cheesemaking process. I am making a special cheese for my final project – something I will share with you next week. I am really excited about this cheese, because I kind of made up the recipe myself based on all the amazing information I have gotten through the course these past weeks. It is a historic cheese, and so because of that, it was pre-rennet and pre-cheese culture. So in order to implement these items, I have had the pleasure of working with a few sources, one is Rory Stone from Highland Fine Cheeses and the other, my instructor Anne. I have been going back and forth with them with ideas for how to make this cheese, and so I have decided to make 2 versions, using two different methods and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Saint Maure, Yogurt Cheese in Herbed Oil and a huge pot of milk (Hi Anne!)
But first I figured it would make sense to share some pictures and show you what we have been making these past two weeks:

Mozzarella Curds (not the 30-minute Mozzarella)
Lemon Cheese with Dried Fruits
Yogurt and Herbed Yogurt Cheese in Herbed Olive Oil
Butter
Ricotta (lots and lots of Ricotta)
Chevre
Queso Fresco
Petit Brie
Cultured Butter and Real Buttermilk

And this is just the group I was in! While we were making all of these, the other group made:

Fromage Blanc
Panir
Crème Fraiche
Butter
Mozzarella
Reblochon
Feta
Cultured Butter and Real Buttermilk
Saint Maure

Making Butter – special thanks to one of my group members – Karen for being my hand model in these photos…

So far, we have tasted the mozzarella, lemon cheese, ricotta and butters and by far my favorite was the lemon cheese. Everyone else seemed to love it too – and the best part is that it was SO EASY to make and the smell in the kitchen when you are making this – OH WOW. I am serious, people. Here are the ingredients: milk, heavy cream, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest and dried fruits. That is it – no special cultures or rennet needed. This cheese would be great as a dessert cheese served with a little glass of limoncello, or as an appetizer – as it is not too sweet.

There are several different ways that cheese curds are formed. I am not going to get all science-y on you – I couldn’t if I wanted to, but I will just say, if you were around in the 90’s and know what a koosh ball is, you are halfway there…an inside joke for cheesemakers.

ANYWAY, curd is formed through an acid – usually in the form of lactic acid bacteria – those friendly bacteria that are in all cultured foods from yogurt to sauerkraut. In the case of lemon cheese, you use lemon juice. What makes cheese really different from one another is the medium you use to form the curds (and various other factors like cooking temperature, size of cut curds and whether external pressure is used) which either leads to a quick acidification or delayed acid production. For example this lemon cheese and a cheese like fresh chevre are both quick to acidify. Whereas Alpine style cheeses, like Emmentaler are not.

So I leave you with these delicious (and easy!) Lemon Cheese and Yogurt Cheese recipes and the knowledge that the students, faculty and staff at Sterling College eat really really well – check out the beautiful platter of lemon cheese that went to the dining hall for lunch!

Lemon Cheese with Dried Fruit
From Garde Manger by the Culinary Institute of America

INGREDIENTS:
3 quarts whole milk – we used cows
1 quart heavy cream
10 fl oz lemon juice, strained and chilled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
4 oz chopped dried fruit (apricots, cherries, cranberries, raisins, etc)

METHOD:

Day 1:

1) Heat the milk and cream in a double boiler to 100F
2) Remove from the heat and add lemon juice. Stir very gently and briefly until milk and cream mixture starts to curdle and thicken
3) Rest at room temperature for about 3-4 hours
4) Drain the cud for 8-12 hours under refrigeration in a cheesecloth-lined colander or in a cheesecloth or muslin bag set to hang over a bowl

Day 2:
5) Transfer cheese to a bowl and work in the salt, lemon zest and dried fruits
6) Press into a cheesecloth lined mold, top with a weight and allow to rest overnight under refrigeration. (If you don’t have a mold, I would put it back in the cheesecloth lined colander – you will have a round ball shape and the cheese will be more spreadable – as you won’t be pressing any more liquid out, but just allowing it to drain a little more naturally).

Day 3:
7) Unmold and serve. Can be kept wrapped under refrigeration for up to 4 days.

YOGURT CHEESE

An even easier recipe is for yogurt cheese – just get any kind of yogurt and strain it, in the refrigerator, in a cheesecloth lined colander for 12-24 hours. Then you can mix it with salt & herbs and use as a dip for veggies or to spread on bread or crackers!

Oh and if you want to see what our fermented and cured meats are up to, check it out!