Cottage Cheese Recipe (Dry Curd) Instructions
Making Dry Curd Cottage Cheese at Home
This is truly a cheese like your grandmother might have made on the back of the wood stove and just as easy to make in todays kitchens with very few ingredients required.
This recipe will work well with store milk but fresh from the farm raw milk will give your finished cheese an extra layer of complexity.
Acidify & Heat Milk
Begin by heating the milk to 72°F (a rather warmish room temperature). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.
Note: This is at the very low end of the bacteria working scale but will assure a more complete fermentation.
Once the milk is at 72°F the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
Coagulate with Rennet
If using the Chevre culture the rennet is included with the culture, if using the Buttermilk culture there is no rennet so add about 2-3 drops of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk now needs to be kept at the 72°F temperature until it is time to cut the curd and increase temperature for cooking the curds. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 24 hours (this is a long lactic fermentation) to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.
The process temperature is close enough to a traditional room temperature however in todays homes a warmer environment may need to be found. I will leave the 'HowTo' on this one up to your imaginations.
The coagulation for this cheese comes primarily from acid development (lactic) and very little rennet contribution (enzymatic). The small amount of rennet is there simply for a slightly firmer Curd.
A I have mentioned, the process happens very slowly at the lower temperature. If using milk that has not been homogenized (raw, cream top, etc.) there will be a tendency for the cream to rise over the long time before coagulation begins. I find that here, it takes about 12-16 hours before the milk begins to thicken. I can gently top stir the cream back down until I see a change in the surface tension (first signs of coagulation). Never stir after seeing the milk surface thickening. Let experience be your guide.
If your curd has not formed well at 24 hours, there is no problem in allowing it to rest a bit longer. When ready you will begin to see a few small to largish pools of whey at the surface or even cracks forming in the curd (due to shrinkage).
Cut Curds & Release Whey
Once bacteria has done its work and the curd has formed well it is time break the curd into smaller pieces to allow more whey to be released. Begin doing this with 1/2 cuts vertical and then the same vertical cut spacing at 90 degrees. The result should look like a big checkerboard in the top of your curd. Allow this to sit for about 5 minutes while the cuts heal slightly. Then using a spoon cut the curd strips horizontally the best you can to end up with about 1/2 inch curd cubes. Then rest again about 3-5 minutes while the cuts heal.
At this point you can gently begin stirring the curds from a bottom to top motion VERY GENTLY to avoid breaking them. Do not allow the curds to consolidate, keeping them separate is important to a lower lactose cheese.
The cut and slow stirring is very important to removing the lactose. Continue this gentle stirring for about 10-15 minutes until the curds show a bit of firming on their surfaces.
Cook the Curds
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 116°F. The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3-5°F every 5 minutes at the beginning and then held at the final temp until the curds have dried out well enough.
To do this I place the pot of cut curds into a sink or basin of hot water from the tap running about 120°F. As the cooler curds are heated the water temperature will cool and needs to be replaced periodically. I find that having another pot of water simmering on the stove is an easier way to increase the temperature of the water bath with periodic additions.
The total heating/cooking time will be about 30-40 minutes and may be extended to 60 min. if the curds are still soft.
The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.
A curd dropped from counter height should bounce and not go 'splat' on the floor. I know, kind of messy but almost as much fun as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if its done.
When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey.
The point of all of this is to make sure that as much whey (contains lactose) as possible is cooked out of the curds.
Once the curds are firmed up well and the curds settled on the bottom. Ladle as much whey off the top as possible, then the dry curds can now be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for 10 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.
After the curds have drained, the Butter Muslin can be removed to prepare the curds for a cold wash in the next step.
Once the curds in the colander have drained and cooled somewhat it is time for the next step, washing in cold water, to assure as much lactose is removed as possible.
Note the final curd size and texture in the photo above.
A cold water wash will not only remove any residual lactose on the curd surface but will slightly rehydrate the curds with water and dilute (thus squeeze out) more of the whey inside.
Note: Curds washed in cold water will cause the water to flow into the curd and is just the opposite of adding warmer water to curds. This causes the moisture to flow out and thus drying the curd as in the process of making Gouda cheese.
By the time the curds have drained, the temperature has likely dropped from the cooking temperature down to the mid 90°F range.
For washing you want to use a Non-Chlorinated water that is not too alkaline, so if you have a very soft water it would be best to use a bottled water for the washing.
The water should be as cold as possible because that will help bring it down to the fridge temperature much faster. The goal is to wash and chill the curds as quickly as possible.
The cold water should be changed several time to dilute the lactose that is being washed off the curds as well as keep it from being warmed up too much by the warmer curds.
As shown above I find it easier to wash the curds by submersing the colander with curds into the cold water. I find my tap water here cool enough for this but commercially they use refrigeration cooled water in a downward cascading and ending with the final water at just a few degrees above freezing.
Drain all of the curds in the colander when they have been well washed and cooled sufficiently.
Finishing the Cheese
After the final draining cheese is ready to use and should have had most of the lactose removed except for trace amounts.
You may have noticed that no salt has been added to the cheese. Isn't it needed?
Well, its all about the process here. Salt is optional and can be added to taste or not at all.
The reason is two fold:
No salt is needed to stop the culture from working because the culture did all of its work before the curd was cut. At that point the culture is pretty well exhausted and the final acid of the curd is also an inhibitor.
The final cook temperature wiped out most any remaining living bacteria that was added because they were Mesophilic in nature and began to die off as soon as the temperature increased above 102°F.
Because of the lack of salt though, the final cheese must be taken down to fridge temperatures and kept there until use.
Pressed Cheese (Optional)
There is another option for storage and one that also reduces even more lactose and produces a drier curd. This would be good for adding to baked dishes, salads, etc.
This is to press the cheese into a form and has become known as Farmers Cheese, a very unfortunate name because wouldn't any cheese made by the farmer on the farm possibly be called farmers cheese? It makes for some confusion in the cheese world.
This is simply a matter of moving the curds to a Basket Cheese Mold (M222) and adding enough weight to squeeze out the last of the moisture and consolidate the curds. This can be done with either just a heavy weight on top (if your good at balancing things) or using a cheese press as shown above.
In commercial production, they often run the curds through a blending mixer before running into bags to be pressed (I think that this is really what is called 'Bakers Cheese'). I do not find this to be needed.
Do remember that this is to be considered a fresh cheese and needs to be kept cold. It should have a life of 10 days to several weeks depending on process sanitation.