Cheesemaking · Learning from Mistakes

Cheese Failure

Just letting you know I've had one.

And it's mainly because I was…well, let me back up a bit.

I have this bad tendancy to get great ambitious ideas and try to implement them at bad times.

For example.

We were having a small dinner for some of my husband's college students.  Long story, and I'm skipping that part.

Anyway.  We'd decided to do fajitas, tamales, guacamole and salsa, rice, etc.  Very simple and basic stuff.  (Well, okay, the tamales take some time to put together, but still.  They're yummy so it's worth it.)

The dinner was last night.  Wednesday.  On Tuesday morning, with two days of prepping and cooking and cleaning and the normal every day stuff ahead of me, I had the bright idea that Hey!  I should make Queso Fresco!  That would be so Great!  And Clever!  And Appropriate!  And it would be another cheese under my cheesemaking belt!  Great idea!  Sure, I can fit that in!  No problem!

So I needed 2 gallons of milk, a packet of mesophilic starter, rennet, and salt.

Oh, and TIME. 

Needed to warm the milk up, add the starter and rennet, let it gel, cut the curds, let them sit, warm it slowly, drain the curds, hold them at some temperature for however long, then pack them in the mold and press them under 30 lbs of weight for 6 hours.

And during the day on Tuesday I thought No problemo!  I can do all the preliminary stuff, which should take until oh, ten or eleven at night, then pack them and press them and then after 6 hours, get up and unwrap them and put them in the freezer and voila!  Queso Fresco!

Only, I didn't.

I was tired.  I was weak.  I didn't feel like staying up. 

So I thought, well, I'll do something LIKE that.  I'll add the starter and rennet and let the whole thing sit overnight, then I'll pick up where I left off and finish the whole thing in the morning.

(Please keep in mind that though I have typed "I thought" a bunch of times in relation to the Queso Fresco, I wasn't really thinking as I was blindly following ridiculous ideas as they burst open in my head.)

Anyway.  That's what I did.  I put the lid on the pot and wrapped it in a towel so it would stay cozy, and then I went to bed, confident that somehow, despite my relatively limited experience in cheesemaking, I could make this work.

My first mistake in the morning was to cut the curds.  I unwrapped the pot and removed the lid and saw that the curd had set up nicely into one big mass that floated in a small sea of whey. 

I started slicing through it with abandon (or abandonment of my senses), and let it sit.  The whey got all milky as I cut through the curds, but I thought (or didn't think) it would sort itself out as I warmed the curds.

Well, no, Jayne, that's not gonna happen.

I think what I should have done was to warm the curds back up to 90 BEFORE cutting them.  That's a guess, of course.  Maybe that wouldn't have helped at all.

OR, I should have just scooped out the curds, drained them in cheesecloth, and left it at that.

But of course, I didn't.

I cut them all up, and then started warming everything up again.  It didn't help.  The contents of the pot looked like slightly lumpy yogurt.  I put the pot on the stove and warmed it over more direct heat, brought it to somewhere between 90 and 95, shut off the flame, put the lid on, and let it sit for an hour, basically hoping to reverse time.

But no.  The curds were still yogurty.

After a few "well maybe I could…" splutters, I gave up.  And yes, I am loathe to admit it, but I poured the yogurty milk down the drain.

Waste waste waste.  I know.  It still bothers me.

But I knew if it was still there in the pot, I'd keep messing with it, trying to make it work.  And I had too much else to do, like assemble and steam a double batch of tamales, and I was going to need that pot for the tamales, too…so I dumped it.

Now, a more experienced cheesemaker probably could have either figured out what to do.  At this stage of the game, I am not that person.

So that's my cheese failure story.  Not going to dwell on it, because there's no point.  I'm just figuring I've learned that I don't know enough yet.  And that's fine.

Onward and upward.

2 thoughts on “Cheese Failure

  1. Ohhh. I’m sorry about your lost cheese. It sucks when a project goes awry like that– not that I’ve evr made cheese, but I can analogize and definitely sympathize.

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