You may think cheese is best made at plants processing millions of gallons of milk a day or in caves that are centuries old. David Asher begs to differ. In his new book “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking,” Asher lays out basic instructions for how to make complex cheeses from good quality milk, rennet and salt. The book is right up my alley. I spent part of the day caring for bottles of homemade vinegar and have magical transformation on the brain.
Asher suggests beginning your cheesemaking journey with a soft yogurt cheese because it will be easier and less labor-intensive than a harder cheese. He told me to use a du-rag to strain the whey from the yogurt instead of the very fine large handkerchiefs I usually use. Let the magic begin…
David Asher’s yogurt cheese
For this recipe, you can use any type of natural yogurt made from cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk. Asher says that homemade yogurt from fresh, non-homogenized milk always tastes best, but you can also use commercial brand yogurts. Avoid ones that contain artificial thickeners and choose a yogurt made solely from milk and bacterial cultures.
Yield: Makes ½ pound (220 g) of fresh cheese (less if using low-fat yogurt)
1 qt (1 L) natural yogurt, whole milk or low-fat
1 tsp (5 mL) fine sea salt (or pickling, kosher or cheese salts)
Fresh or dried herbs, finely chopped (optional)
Du-rag or other good quality, fine-mesh cheesecloth
1 tbsp (15 mL) baking soda
Large stainless or ceramic bowl
Clean and deodorize your cloth: Place your cheesecloth or du-rag in the bowl, and pour boiling water and baking soda over it to remove any odors. Then rinse the bowl and the cheesecloth in cool water.
Prepare the yogurt: Line the bowl with the cheesecloth or du-rag and pour the yogurt into the cloth. Pull the corners of the cheesecloth together and tie them into a topknot. Slide a wooden spoon beneath the topknot. A du-rag, which has two long ties, makes tying the cheesecloth to the spoon handle much simpler.
Hang the yogurt: Suspend the wooden spoon with its load of cheese over a large pot. Cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep flies and other critters away from your cheese. Allow the cheese to drain for 12 hours to a full day — the longer you leave it, the firmer it will be. Be sure that the cheese is suspended well above the level of the whey that will pool in the pot below. If the cheese hangs too low, consider retying it so that it hangs out of contact from the whey. The cheese will eventually lose up to three-quarters of its water volume as it hangs.
Salt the cheese: Remove the wooden spoon from its perch and transfer the cheesecloth or du-rag full of cheese to the large bowl. Unwrap the cheese and have a look. By now, it should have nicely thickened to a cream cheese-like consistency. Pour in 1 teaspoon of salt and roughly mix it through the thickened curd with a spoon. Pull the sides of the cheesecloth back together and retie it to the wooden spoon.
Rehang the cheese: Allow it to hang for 4 more hours. The addition of salt will draw even more moisture out of the cheese. This step of rehanging your cheese is essential for preservation, as it allows the extra moisture to drain.
Optional: Once your cheese has finished draining, you can enjoy it as is or mix in fresh and/or dried herbs. Simply transfer your cheese in its cloth to a bowl. Open the cloth and thoroughly mix in finely chopped herbs. Cover and allow the herbed cheese to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld.
To store: Yogurt cheese can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It can also be preserved in olive oil or aged into a rennet-free blue cheese, recipes for which can be found in “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking.”