I spent my pre-teen years entirely obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books. I was enchanted by everything that Laura did, including feeding chickens, knitting woolen stocks and helping Ma with the mealtime chores. I longed to be trusted with similar levels of household responsibility. My one dinner-time charge, a nightly assignment to set the table with plates, plastic cups and paper napkins, hardly satisfy my fledgling pioneer spirit.
When I got older and had a kitchen of my own, I started pursuing cooking projects that started from the scratchiest scratch. I begged a bit of sourdough starter from a friend and learned how to make a respectable loaf using nothing but wild yeast to give it lift (though I’ve yet to grind my own flour in a coffee mill). I started canning (and we all know how that turned out). And I’ve even dipped a toe into the world of homemade cheese.
When I say I’ve made cheese, I don’t mean that I have a wheel of pressed cheddar, patiently aging in my coat closet. I’ve found that the quick cheeses are more my style. Ricotta, mozzarella and goat cheese are the trio you’ll find me making most often.
Now, living in Philadelphia means that I don’t have to make these cheeses. Just a few miles away, there are artisans who have worked for years to perfect their fresh cheeses and they are more than happy to sell me a slice or a scoop for a fair price. However, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as channeling your inner Laura and doing it yourself. And so, when I have the time, I like to perform a little culinary magic and make my own cheese.
Goat cheese is shockingly easy to make. The first time I tried it, when I was done, I looked around at the empty kitchen and said, “That’s it? Really?”
At its most basic, there are three ingredients required, goat’s milk (look for a brand that hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized), lemon juice, and salt. You pour the milk into a saucepan and slowly heat it until it reaches 180°F. Once it hits that temperature, you pull the pot off the stove and stir in some lemon juice. Left to sit for a few minutes, the milk will separate. Once those curds have formed, you pour the milk through cheesecloth-lined sieve (set over a bowl to catch the whey) and let it drain. Ten minutes or so later, you’ll have two cups of the prettiest, freshest-tasting goat cheese you’ve ever eaten.
Homemade goat cheese keeps for about a week in the fridge, which isn’t as long as commercial brands, so plan to eat it up. (Note: You can use the whey in baking or cooking, in place of water.)
Once the cheese is done, you can jazz it up with chopped herbs, fancy spices, lemon zest and a slick of olive oil. I will frequently make goat cheese as a pre-meal nibble when I have friends over for dinner. Served with baguette rounds, my guests are mightily impressed.
Fresh Goat Cheese
- 2 quarts goat’s milk
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
Pour milk in a saucepan and heat it to 180°F. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, to allow the curds to form.
When time is up, set a colander or sieve over a large bowl and line it with a length of cheesecloth or a thin tea towel (clean, please). Pour the separated goat’s milk through the cloth and let it sit so that all the whey drains out.
When the cheese looks quite dry and has finished dripping, scrape it into a bowl. Stir in the salt and taste. Adjust, if necessary.
Store the cheese in the refrigerator in a jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid. Eat within a week.
Makes: 2 cups