Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homemade Fun Vol. 3 -- lessons in cheesemaking

January 9 - Day 6: Buttermilk Cheese Experiments
Okay, so I am totally in the groove of making our own butter, and I've been left with lots of buttermilk. So last night I decided to make some buttermilk cheese. This is a soft spreadable cheese, kinda like cream cheese. It's super yummy, too, and can be doctored up with herbs and spices (or honey and cinnamon) to make a nice spread for crackers or slices of baguette.

Take the leftover buttermilk, and heat in a pot until 160 degrees. At 160 degrees, the curds and whey will separate. Pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the four corners together, and hang to drain for a couple of hours. This can be stored a week or two in the fridge.

Warning: science lesson ahead

But here is the thing about butter milk cheese... it assumes you have allowed the cream to ripen before making butter. This produces a mildly acidic buttermilk. It's the lactic acid in the buttermilk, when combined with heat, that precipitates the solids. Recently, however, I have been making sweet cream butter from unripened cream. This means I didn't let the cream sit and sour. Sooooo.... there was not enough lactic acid in the buttermilk to do much of anything. It just did, well, nothing. So, by the time my buttermilk reached 180 degrees, I realized what had happened and threw in a few tablespoons of cider vinegar. I think what I made was buttermilk queso blanco. Either way, it tastes pretty good.

Now, for the science lesson part two.

Now when you make cheese, you end up with lots of whey - the watery stuff left behind when the solid cheese stuff clumps up. You can do lots of things with whey, one of them being to make ricotta. Unlike the ricotta I made, traditional ricotta is a whey cheese... you heat fresh whey from cheesemaking to 200 degrees, add cider vinegar, and strain. The cider vinegar helps to precipitate out the albuminous protein left behind after the rennet precipitates the casein.

So you can only make ricotta with whey from rennet cheeses. You can't use whey from making queso blanco to make ricotta, since the cider vinegar will have already precipitated everything out.

Are you following me here?

I didn't put all of this together until I tried making ricotta last night with the whey left from my buttermilk cheese. It just did, well, nothing. As a last ditch effort to salvage the time I spent heating the whey to 200 degrees, I poured a few glugs of milk (how scientific is that? I think it was probably about a cup of milk) right into the hot whey. I ended up with some kind of soft, melty, cheesy stuff... I'm not even sure what you'd call it, but it is pretty tasty.

Gotta love the kitchen science!

Lesson Learned, Class Dismissed


  1. I officially welcome you to science geekdom.

  2. oh, i'm so already there, baby! i used to have a sticker on my desk that read "trust me: i'm a scientist" :)