Cheese is not really that expensive, so I can't really say that I made some to save money, although it is a little cheaper to make your own. It is nice from a Real Food standpoint to make it yourself and not have to worry about artificial preservatives, dyes, or whatever else going in there. Mostly, I just did it because it seemed like something that would be cool to make.
I actually tried making cheese several years ago, and it didn't turn out very well. I just recently found out that this is because apparently I had written down half of the recipe for cheese and half of the recipe for yogurt, which is how you end up with something that is only half edible.
I decided to try it again, now having the correct recipe and also being inspired by my mom, who made a delicious batch recently.
This is way easier than you think it is. It takes three ingredients that you most likely already have in your kitchen right now. It takes a little time, but it's not terribly labor intensive or complicated. It makes a basic cheese: It's soft, and almost crumbly like feta, but with a very mild taste.
Step 1) Heat milk.
Put a half gallon (8 cups) of milk in a saucepan and heat until it just starts to boil. I used whole milk. You can try it with lower fat milk, but I don't think it would work as well.
Stir this with a whisk pretty much constantly because you don't want it to burn on the bottom. Once it starts to bubble, move to step 2.
Step 2) Add lemon juice.
I measured out 4 tablespoons of lemon juice into a little cup so I could pour it all in at once. Keep stirring with your whisk as you pour all of it into the boiling milk.
At this point, you should have curdled milk, (curds and whey of the Little Miss Muffet variety).
It happens pretty much instantly. One second, it's boiling milk, the next, it's chunks of cheese in a pale watery liquid. Mmm! Sounds delicious!
Turn off the heat, and let it cool for a while in the pot I let mine sit for a couple of hours so the curds separate completely, but you can do less time if you want.
Step 3) Strain it.
This is where cheesecloth gets its name, although I don't actually prefer to use it. I love the flour sack towels at Walmart. They come in packs of two and they are the perfect thickness. Put one in a strainer or bowl to drain your cheese.
I scooped most of it out with a slotted spoon first, and then poured the rest in. This is because if you try to pour it into your towel all at once, the water will pull the towel down and you will pour half of your cheese down the drain. Ask me how I know.
Step 4) Drain it.
This is the most time consuming and important part. You have to get out as much water as you possibly can for it to be good cheese. Start by letting it sit in the strainer for a minute.
Stir it to get out more water. Then gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze gently but firmly on the ball of cheese to get rid of more water. (This is why I don't like cheesecloth. It's too loose a weave, and when I squeeze it, the cheese squirts out of the cloth, which is failtastic.)
Step 5) Season it.
Add about a tablespoon of salt, more or less depending on preference, and any other seasonings you care to add at this point. I used less than a tablespoon of salt and I added some Italian seasoning. It was delicious.
At this point, you are welcome to eat it if you want. It's just the curds, but it's really good. Brian and I found a place in Seattle that specialized in selling cheese curds. They squeak on your teeth, which is fun and weird. However, if you like your cheese to be more spreadable and less musical, continue to step 6.
Step 6) Hang it up.
You are still in the process of getting out all the water. Squeeze it into a tight ball again and, using a piece of string or yarn, tie your cheese in your towel. Then hang the towel from something so it can drip into a sink or a bowl. I used an eye hook above my sink, but I have also used a cabinet handle in the past.
Let it hang for a couple of hours. Squeeze it every now and then.
(Stop laughing. It's important, and there's no other way to say it.)
Step 7) Refrigerate it.
Once it's really dry, take it down and wrap it in a new dry towel. Put it in a bowl in the fridge overnight so it can dry out some more.
If it's not dry enough in the morning, like if it's still pretty crumbly in the middle, wrap it in a new dry towel and refrigerate it some more. Keep doing this until it's the consistency you want, but don't do it too much or it will get gross.
It should have a consistency similar to cream cheese, but maybe a little more crumbly.
Once it's dry enough, put it in a sealed container, a Ziplock bag, or wrap it with plastic wrap.
Step 8) Eat it.
It is delicious spread on crackers or on a baked potato. My favorite way to eat it, though, is with sliced tomatoes and basil from my garden.
It makes a good bit. Try not to eat it all at one time.