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homemade simple cheese

July 17, 2010

:it’s been a while since i spoke about a food recipe, hasn’t it?  this week i got a little creative.  all that fresh food at the market has inspired me.  i have a few other things to blog about later in the week.  but today, i’m going to talk about homemade cheese. 

:: this is the simplest form of cheese you can make.  some refer to it as a farmer’s cheese.  others call it ricotta.  there are many variations and recipes.  i had first heard about homemade cheese at the Angry Chicken.  i wanted to get the book, but i didn’t.  then, this morning i was listening to everyday food on the martha stewart living sirius radio channel.  sandy gluck actually made a similar cheese in studio during the show.  i was impressed.  imagine that.  cheese in less than an hour.  how is that possible? 

:: first, this is soft cheese.  the softness is controlled by the amount of water or whey you allow to stay in the cheese.  in the end of the process, you need to drain and separate the curds from the whey.  the longer you let your cheese drain, the stiffer a mix it becomes.  if you want to make hard cheese, you need rennet tablets and citric acid.  this seemed complicated for a first timer.  if this is your first time, this recipe couldn’t be simpler. honestly.  so, you can have fresh cheese in under an hour.  and there are so many ways to use it.  sub it for ricotta in lasagna.  make a ricotta cheesecake.  dress is simply with blueberries and honey.  the possibilities are endless. 

And now, for the recipe:

Soft Farmer’s Cheese

– 1 half-gallon of preferably whole milk (you will notice i used 2%. it was all that was available at the store.  also, the less pasteurized, the better.  there is milk that is pasteurized, and then ultra pasteurized.  stay away from the ultra.  if you have access to raw, and feel comfortable with the risk, use it.)

– 1 cup of cream (ideally heavy cream.  i only had light cream on hand.  still, it adds a creamy rich texture to the curds.)

– 1 teaspoon of salt (this adds flavor.  this cheese is fairly simple.  it won’t taste like any cheese you can find in the store.  it won’t have the big flavor we’re used to with feta and sharp cheddar.  it’s subtle.  without the salt, it will almost be tasteless.  you can add herbs later if you want more flavor too.)

– 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (fresh lemon juice is the best. i didn’t have any on hand.  but i had a lot of bottled lemon juice.  i also have vinegar.  it doesn’t matter whether you use lemon juice, or any type of vinegar, whatever you have on hand.  it’s not for flavor.  you need the acidity to curdle the milk and separate the curds from the whey.)

first, things can move quickly.  so, prepare.  get all your supplies together first.  the tools you will need are as follows:

1 four quart or larger pot with a thick bottom (the thick bottom helps prevent scalding of the milk)

1 fine mesh strainer or sieve (i have seen demos using regular strainers too.  i have also seen demos using only the strainer if it is very fine mesh.  most importantly, you want to be able to separate your curds and whey.  if the holes are too large, the curds will come through with the whey.)

cheese cloth (i used one large sheet that i folded into fourths.  this was incredibly useful later in the process.)

spatula (you must stir constantly and a gentle nonstick surface helps keep scalding off the bottom of the pan and skim from forming on the top of the milk as it heats up)

a large bowl (this helps with the initial straining, in which the whey is saved in the bowl.  do this for several reasons.  the whey can be used in soups and such.  there is a lot of protein in the whey.  most of the nutrients and protein drain from the cheese into the way.  also, if this was NOT a ricotta recipe, you could save the whey from the cheese to CREATE ricotta, basically getting two cheeses from one batch.)

water pitcher (later, it will be easy to hang the ball of cheese inside this for further draining)


Next, nest your strainer inside your large bowl. 

Then, place the cheese cloth inside the nested bowls.

Place this setup next to your stove if possible, as once the milk curdles, you will need to immediately separate the whey and curds by sieving through this setup.  you will want it close.

Then, measure your ingredients – 1 cup of cream, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Pour your entire half-gallon of milk into your thick bottomed pan, and place it on the burner.  Add the cup of cream and the teaspoon of salt. mix together and heat. 

stir constantly to prevent skim from forming.  this is where the recipe could become a little more complicated.  if you have a thermometer that you can use, heat the milk until it reaches 190 degrees F.  If not, watch for steam and bubbles to form on the surface of the milk.  use medium high heat to bring the milk up to a simmer.  do not let it boil.  once it reaches a simmer, simultaneously very slowly pour in the measured lemon juice and continue stirring.    while you do this, within 30 – 60 seconds, the curds should start separating from the whey.

stir the mixture for 1 minute, letting the separation occur fully.  then, pour the mixture, carefully, into the strainer/bowl setup, allowing the whey to drain into the bowl.  once the majority of liquid has drained, you can take, again carefully, the four corners of the cheese cloth and tie them together.  then slip the handle of your spatula through the gap and hang the cheese inside the pitcher to drain further.  this allows gravity to work out more of the whey.  the longer you let it sit like this, the more whey that drains and the stiffer the cheese becomes.  this is especially good for molding, if you would like. 

i would not let the mix sit longer than an hour.  at that point, it should be cooled enough to handle and ultimately refrigerate.  you can mold the cheese, add herbs to the mixture, or use it immediately.  the choice is yours.  because this is fresh cheese, it will not last more than a few days in the fridge.  There are no chemicals or preservatives to keep it longer.  So, make it and plan on using it soon for something yummy.


:: i know this was a little long.  i hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  look for a few more to come this week.  and if you got inspired and made your own creation, let me know about it.  i’d love to hear about your adventures too!  send me your photos of your creations and i will post them.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sagesweetgrass permalink
    July 18, 2010 10:48 am

    Being a person that loves details, how did you use your cheese? Also, does the lemon juice make it yellow? Or would it still be yellow if you used vinegar?
    Love ya!

    • lolocreatives permalink*
      July 18, 2010 2:59 pm

      this is a good question! lemon juice does not make the cheese yellow. it has a yellow cast in the photos because of the lighting. in fact, the cheese is white, just like the ricotta you would find in the store. neither acid, whether vinegar or lemon juice, would affect the color or the taste of the cheese. it is simply meant to separate the curds from the whey. i haven’t used the cheese yet. i need to today. and i am planning on a simple dessert to go with dinner. i’m going to create something with peaches and honey and serve it over the cheese. i’ll let you know if it’s any good.

  2. sagesweetgrass permalink
    July 19, 2010 7:31 am


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