Curds and whey

by Diane Duane
Homemade cottage cheese with chives

There are these ten pounds that I keep getting rid of and that keep coming back. It’s sheer carelessness on my part: I get unconscious about what I eat for a few months, and whammo, the jeans stop fitting. So it’s time to make cottage cheese again.

Yes, I said “make”. It’s not that they don’t make cottage cheese in Ireland. They do. But it’s nowhere near as tangy as the small-curd cottage cheese I grew up on back on Long Island (Breakstone’s. Sigh…), and it’s very wet and sloppy. For this reason, some years back I went looking for a good from-scratch cottage cheese recipe, and the kindly Jonathan White of Bobolink Dairy, out in rural New Jersey, gave me one. It’s here.

This stuff is not hard to make. (People in cottages made it, after all. With very basic equipment, and without thermometers. It’s getting so that I don’t need the thermometer either: after a fair amount of practice I can judge heats and times by ear.) It’s a great way to make use of extra milk: it’s a great way to control the fat content and sodium content of your cottage cheese. You can also do it as a dessert cheese, sweetened. (This is the way the above-vaguely-referred-to Miss Muffett would have eaten it. Some people of a century or two ago liked the sweet/sharp contrast of sugared curd against the whey that had drained from it. I know, some of you will go ewwwww. But if you’re a buttermilk drinker, you’ll probably be able to guess at the effect I’m thinking of here.) And this cottage cheese makes the Best Cheesecake Base (for curd-based cheesecakes) EVAR. It’s fantastic.

Anyway, for reference purposes: five liters of milk makes about two pounds of small-curd cottage cheese. The method’s simple. You pasteurize some milk (cleanliness is the only thing that’s really important about this whole process), let it cool down to about 90 degrees F, inoculate it with buttermilk, stir well, and then cover it and put it somewhere with a slightly warm and even temperature. The friendly lactobacilli in the buttermilk, and its acidity, will set the milk fairly solid within 36 hours. When this has happened, you cut the curd and let it sit in its whey for a few hours — overnight if, like me, you prefer a tangier cottage cheese. (This is what’s going on in the image to the left.)

The next day you heat it gently and hold it at the target heat for about an hour and a half: then pour the curds into a dishcloth- or cheesecloth-lined colander, let them drain, rinse them gently (or make a bag of the cloth and dip them in a sink full of cold water, if you’re obsessive about preserving the structure of the curd) and hang them up to drain over a sink. Or out on the clothesline.

That’s it. Take the stuff out of the cloth, stick it in a Tupperware-or-whatever container, and eat within a couple/few days. Delicious. Hmm, it’s Wicklow strawberry time… I could get some of those in the next grocery delivery… Yeah. YUM.



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