Would you look at that!?
Okay, it doesn't look all that special. In fact, if you hadn't read the title of this post, you would be safe in assuming it's cream cheese, or maybe ricotta.
But it's not.
It's goat cheese. My first batch of goat cheese. And it's yummy.
First thing you need to make goat cheese is the milk. A gallon of it. From, of course, goats. And you need to pasteurize the milk.
How does one do that? Well, according to the directions I followed, in the booklet that came with my Goat Cheese Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company (where I want to live, if this whole bedroom renovation project gets to be too much for me), you put your goat milk in a big stainless steel pot, heat it to 145 degrees F, and then keep it at that temperature for 30 minutes.
So I did. Here's the milk in the pot, and you can see the metal probe of my thermometer over on the left.
This is probably the longest and, yes, least exciting part of the job. The waiting. And waiting. You don't want it to heat too fast and scorch the bottom of the pot (so if you've got a nice heavy-duty pot that's what you'd want to use here). So you stir and check the temp and stir and check the temp. At least that's what I did.
I know. A watched pot of goat's milk never reaches 145 degrees F. I tried to look away from time to time, but what if it all suddenly surged up to the boiling point and bubbled over the side of the pot and set my kitchen on fire????
This is the sort of thing you have to think about. It's tough work.
Anyway, at last, my thermometer hit the 145 mark and then came the fun of keeping it at that temperature for half an hour.
I kept it at that temp, or slightly above at times, by constantly adjusting the flame under the pot. And yes, I pretty much stayed glued to the pot and my thermometer for the whole half hour. I didn't want to ruin a whole gallon of fresh goat's milk.
Actually, I have to correct that – it was half a gallon of fresh, and half a gallon I'd frozen from the week before. Goat's milk freezes very nicely.
(And you can see a bit of the frozen chunk in the picture above, actually. It's the part of the milk that looks textured all around where the light is hitting it.)
Okay, so you've brought your milk to temperature, and you're keeping it there.
While you do that, with your third arm (because one has the thermometer and the second arm is controlling the flame), reach over to your sink and fill it about half way with cold, cold, cold water.
And get out your little packet of Direct Set Chevre culture. It came with the kit. I think I got four of them. Plus culture to make my own starter, but that's for another post. I haven't done it yet. I'm waiting for our house to be free of sawdust and joint compound dust and paint.
So here's the little packet.
Now. When your milk has been at 145 F for half an hour, plunge the pot (plunge is an action word! it makes this post exciting!) into your sink of cold water, and stir, stir, stir the milk to bring the temperature down, now, to 86 degrees F.
When you get the milk to 86, remove the pot from the cold water, add in your direct set culture, stir well, and then put the lid back on the pot.
And now? Just leave it alone. I know. So anticlimactic, huh? But that's what you do. You leave it all there, inside the pot, covered, "for 12-20 hours or until firm."
You also need to keep the milk/cheese-to-be at a temperature of at LEAST 72 degrees F in order for the starter culture to work properly.
I think part of the fun, for me, of making cheese is that it flies in the face of everything you're supposed to do to prevent bacterial growth.
There's a part of me that feels rather rebelious, leaving that milk out at room temperature. For 12 or more hours!
You WANT that milk to change. You don't want it to just sit there and remain milk. You WANT that transformation to take place.
Or at least, I do.
Anyway, even though it's June and it's way above freezing, even at night, I worried that my precious milk would get chilly. So I bundled it up in a blanket and a towel before putting it to bed on the back of my stove.
I kissed it goodnight at about 8:30 pm, knowing I couldn't check on it until at least 8:30 the next morning.
Oh, the anticipation!
So the next morning I was up at my usual time of somewhere between 5 and 7…way too early to check on the milk/cheese-to-be…so I sipped my coffee and tried not to stare at the bundle on the stove.
As the unveiling approached, I started getting things ready for the next step.
I got some of the butter muslin that came with my kit (it's like cheesecloth, but has a tighter weave) and lined a collander with it, and set the collander over a pot to catch the whey.
And then, gently, gingerly, I removed the towel and the blanket from the pot.
And then I remembered I needed a big slotted spoon of some kind to ladle the curds out with, so I grabbed that and put it in the muslin-lined collander. And then…
I removed the lid from the pot and peeked inside.
VICTORY IS MINE!!!!
But look! Look around the edge of the pot – you can see that separation has occurred! I have curds, and I have whey!
(And with those baby spiders that were in my back yard recently, I really COULD be Little Miss Muffet at this point!)
Anyway, that's what I was waiting and hoping for. For some reason I worry that I've done something wrong with the preparation…maybe I let the milk go a little TOO high over 145? Dipped a degree lower than 86 before I put the culture in? YOU JUST DON'T KNOW!!! And the suspense was killing me.
But there was no need. Everything set up just the way it was supposed to. Hee hee!!!
So now it's time to ladle the curds into the collander.
I took a big scoop – left-handed, so I could take a picture at the same time. Here it is:
Isn't it lovely? At this point it reminded me of yogurt. Kind of silky and smooth. I scooped out what I could with the big spoon and then poured the rest of the whey through the muslin-lined collander to catch every little bit of curd.
And then I covered it again and let it drain for about an hour.
Just to get rid of the majority of the whey. See? It's thicker now.
Next, I took the corners of the muslin and tied them together….
Hung the muslin on a wooden spoon above the big pot I'd orignally cooked the milk in….
Sort of covered it again, and let it sit.
For 12 hours. Yep. More waiting.
You can let it hang and rain for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, depending on the consistency you want. I wanted it rather dry and firm, so I left it for most of the day.
And then I untied the muslin and – at last – tasted a bit of it.
And you know what? It tasted like goat cheese!
Now at this point you can add salt to it, if you'd like. I sprinkled a little kosher salt over the top and mixed it in with a spoon. Not too much salt – it really didn't need it, in my opinion.
Then I divided it into some ramekins, covered them with plastic, and stuck them in the fridge.
I also weighed the cheese, just to see if I'd matched the yield given in the recipe.
Now, the thing is, I also have a book, put out by Ricki Carrol, the Cheese Queen, who heads up the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and gives workshops (which would be SO COOL to attend), and I was kind of referring to both the book AND the little pamphlet that came with the cheese kit.
Everything's the same, except that in the book the yield is a pound and a half of cheese, and in the pamphlet it says 2 pounds.
I got a pound and a half, and I'm perfectly fine with that! That's a lot of goat cheese, not that I'm complaining!
I gave some to my friend across the street – she loves goat cheese too, and I wanted her opinion on the taste. I'll be bringing some more to a little family get together tonight, and that leaves the rest for us.
And then…sigh…I guess I'll just have to make it again!