This is the simplest approach I have found to making curd cheese, otherwise known as farmer cheese, bakers cheese or (if you are Slovenian) as skuta.
For some background on this homestyle delicacy, see my previous post. I arrived at this simple recipe after reviewing many sources on the Internet. Later on, I discovered another recipe, virtually identical, in Janez Bogataj's The Food and Cooking of Slovenia (2008.)
These recipes appear under a variety of labels. Curd cheese and farmer cheese seem to have given way to Indian paneer or Italian ricotta in popularity. But they are all variations on a theme: simple, unripened cheeses, in which an acid is used to separate curds from whey.
The recipe below can easily turn into paneer, if enough moisture is pressed out. Technically, it is not really ricotta, although it makes a decent substitute. Ricotta means "re-cooked" and is based on the whey that is left after making a rennet-based cheese.
This is an approach more than a recipe. You can experiment and adjust. The only absolute no-no is ultra-pasteurized milk, because it won't work.
A helpful and amusing comparison of the various approaches to making this style of cheese can be found on Serious Eats, in a Food Lab article, here. (Yes, the writer refers to his cheese as Five Minute Ricotta and then admits in the small print that it's not really the same thing!)
Ready? As the Serious Eats article says, it's simple: Heat milk, add acid, drain, enjoy!
Homemade Curd Cheese
8 cups (or use 2 litres) fresh milk (see note)
2-4 T. fresh lemon juice or white vinegar (I have used both)
colander or strainer
Note: Any variety of fresh cow's milk should work, as long as it is not ultra-pasteurized. Check the label to be sure. I use organic milk.
Before you begin: Rinse two layers of cheesecloth in cold water and line a colander or strainer. (In the old days, when salt was sold in a cloth bag, my grandmother used that instead.) Place strainer in large bowl.
Pour milk into a large nonreactive pot or kettle. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until milk is just below the boiling point. Be careful that bottom doesn't burn.
Turn off heat. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar into the milk and stir gently until the curds form. (The curds are the white lumps. The whey is the greenish-yellow liquid.) If curds do not appear, turn the heat back on and slowly drizzle in more lemon juice or vinegar until the curds and whey separate.
After curds form, let the mixture sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Ladle the mixture into the lined colander and allow the whey to drain into the bowl, pouring off as needed. (Save the whey for another use, like bread-making.)
Here we come to a choice point. How to drain the curds.
The easiest and simplest approach is to let the curds drain for 5 minutes in the colander, remove, and use immediately or refrigerate. This results in a soft texture that probably resembles cottage cheese or ricotta. (I have never done it this way because I am not setting out to make five minute ricotta!)
I recommend the more traditional route: Draw the corners of the cheesecloth together, squeeze to remove even more whey, and tie the cheesecloth with twine (or simply tie up the ends of the cheesecloth) to make a firm package of cheese. You can drain it by simply letting the cheese rest in the colander. Or you can suspend it from a kitchen faucet or from a spoon placed over a pail. Some sources (like that Slovenian cookbook) suggesting rinsing the curds in cold water before draining.
How long to drain?
The Slovenian cookbook suggests several hours of draining, before unwrapping and refrigerating. This will give you a semi-solid mass that can be crumbled and used for cooking. It has a mild, fresh, slightly sweet taste that is perfect for desserts. It is also ideal for making simple appetizer spreads, like Pumpkin Oil Cheese Spread or a new one I just discovered: Curd Cheese with Onion, or Koroška skuta s čebulo. (Recipe follows.)
Here is the optional final step: Shaping and pressing, which creates the equivalent of paneer.
After an initial draining, twist and squeeze the cheesecloth-wrapped curds into a round, flat cake. Set it on a rimmed plate. Top with another plate, and place a heavy weight (like a large can) on top. Leave in the refrigerator overnight.
When you unwrap the next day, you will find a nice, firm round of white cheese. When cut into slices, it resembles fresh mozarella and can be used in the same way. For a delicious appetizer, slice the round of cheese and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil leaves.
Are you wondering about the absence of salt?
The salt is omitted in many, if not most, of the traditional recipes for curd cheese and paneer. Others, like that Five Minute Ricotta recipe, do add a little. But even if you are not trying to cut down on sodium, you are better off leaving out the salt, until you figure out what to do with the finished product. If the cheese will end up in a sweet dessert, the salt is unnecessary.
That's the beauty of this recipe. You are fully in control of what goes into it. It's just milk. Raw or organic, homogenized or not. Full fat, low fat, or fat free. Just make sure it's not ultra-pasterized.
And do stick to cow's milk. I got the bright idea of trying to make a salt-free goat cheese, but I couldn't get the milk to curdle properly. So I rescued it by making a sort of grainy yogurt, which I then drained in a coffee filter to make yogurt goat cheese. It was good, but way too time-consuming.
Below are photos of the cheese-making process, start to finish.
Stay tuned for more recipes using this tasty home-style cheese.