Dip your toe into intermediate cheese-making by turning fresh milk into cultured cheese curds at home.
I recently started doing some freelance work for a cheese-maker that’s involved boning up on the wonderful world of cheese — an enjoyable but also daunting task, as it’s a large body of knowledge. I’ve previously tried my hand at homemade ricotta and mascarpone, but now I get to learn all about more complex cheeses.
Homemade cheese curds are a good introduction to intermediate cheese-making. Unlike their simple milk and acid brethren, cheese curds are cultured. They also rely on cheddaring — a process of stacking and turning slabs of curd — to release whey and reduce acidity. Technique aside, there’s nothing quite like a fresh, squeaky cheese curd, perfect for snacking on fresh or after a trip to the deep-fryer.
In the recipe below, adapted from Culture magazine’s DIY cheese curds, I simplify the process as much as possible for the rookie without skipping any necessary steps. Here are some tips to accompany the instructions:
- Don’t skip the calcium chloride, a firming agent. It’s possible that you could get by without it, but you don’t want to risk a gallon of milk on it.
- I scaled down the original recipe from 2 gallons of milk to 1 to make it feasible using typical kitchen equipment.
- Your stove may not have a setting low enough to maintain the temperatures indicated in the recipe. If this is the case, use the lowest setting and pull the pot on and off the heat to maintain roughly the correct temperature. Liquids retain heat very well, so you won’t need to move the pot terribly often.
- The recipe calls for kosher salt — if you do not have a coarse salt and are using a fine grain salt instead, use half the amount called for.
- Have fun! Amateur cheese-making is about learning new skills and enjoying the process. Even if your results aren’t perfect on your first try, you will most likely still end up with a tasty cheese.
Homemade cheese curds recipe
Allow plenty of time to complete the recipe, which takes an estimated 6 hours but can vary based on factors such as the quality of the milk, the type of water, and how close to the correct temperature you can keep the mixture.
Adapted from Culture
- 1 gallon whole milk (we used DairyPure®)
- 1/2 packet mesophilic culture from New England Cheese Supply
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- In a large pot over the smallest burner on the lowest heat setting, add the milk. Check the temperature, stirring occasionally, until the milk reaches 90 degrees F. If the temperature continues to rise, you will need to remove and add the pot to the heat throughout the process to maintain roughly the correct temperature. Stir in the mesophilic culture, cover, and let sit at 90 degrees F for one hour.
- Stir in the calcium chloride, followed by the rennet. Cover and let sit at 90 degrees F. After 45 minutes, begin checking the curd. Slice into the curd, then pull it upward using the flat side of the knife. If the curd has a clean break — that is, it separates cleanly into two semisolid pieces that pull away easily from a relatively clear whey — slice the curd into 1/2-inch strips, then cut 1/2-inch strips on the diagonal. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Slightly increase the flame or burner temperature to bring the temperature to 100 degrees F. If your flame was already too hot, you may not need to increase the temperature. Cook 45 minutes, stirring often, then stop stirring for 5 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to move the curds to a fine mesh sieve, leaving the whey in the pot. Press the curds together to form a solid mass, place the sieve over the pot (removing liquid as necessary so it does not touch the whey), cover, and let sit for 15 minutes. The burner flame should still be on.
- Cut the curd mass into two pieces, placing one on top of the other. Fill a 1-gallon zip-top bag halfway with the warm whey. Place the stacked curd on top of the pot and place the whey-filled bag on top of the curd. After 15 minutes, flip the curd and move the bottom layer to the top. Repeat this stacking process with the whey-filled bag on top 7 more times, for a total of 2 hours.
- Cut the curd into 1-inch x 2-inch pieces. Toss in the sieve with half the salt. After 10 minutes, stir in the remaining salt. Continue stirring occasionally until the curds come to room temperature and all the salt is absorbed. Store in the refrigerator. Serve plain or fried.
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