Feb 25, 2015

Making Farmer's Cheese in a Crock Pot - a From Scratch Recipe

In 2013, I posted about how I was going to learn to make cheese. I bought a bunch of specialized
ingredients and a few tools, and attempted to make mozzarella - supposedly a good choice for beginning cheesemakers. Well, it was awful. Terribly grainy and rubbery. I figured it was probably the milk I chose to use (which I think was ultra-high temperature pasteurized, even though it wasn't labeled as such), and planned to make another attempt with a different brand of milk. It never happened.

But it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to give it another go...even though I thought that meant buying all new rennet and other specialized cheesemaking ingredients. Then I saw the March/April '15 issue of Backwoods Home magazine. In it, Leah Leach writes about making a type of cheese I'd never heard of before: Farmer's Cheese. The recipe was instantly appealing to me because it required only ordinary, everyday ingredients: milk, butter, and lemon juice.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

It's fun, for one. And it's always satisfying to make something from scratch. But my main motivation is the high cost of cheese, and avoiding preservatives used in grocery store cheeses.

What Does Farmer's Cheese Taste Like?

I Googled this question before I attempted to make Farmer's Cheese. Most people seem to think it tastes something like cottage cheese or ricotta or a mixture of both. I think it's a bit more like mozzarella. When made with lemon juice, there is certainly a mild lemony flavor. (Fresh lemon juice has a milder flavor than bottled.)



 How to Use Farmer's Cheese
Farmer's Cheese on pizza.

* As a substitute for mozzarella cheese
* On pizza
* In casseroles or other dishes where you want a nicely melting cheese
* Crumbled over salads
* On crackers
* Added to omelets or scrambled eggs as they cook
* Added to mashed or baked potatoes
* In place of cream cheese in dishes like jalapeno poppers
* In macaroni and cheese (use along with other cheeses)
* Sliced (and perhaps pan fried) and put on toast or bread
* In this amazing-looking Farmer's Cheese Chocolate Cake (oh my!)

The Versatility of Farmer's Cheese

There are a lot of variations that change the way this cheese comes out. (But don't worry! That doesn't mean this cheese is tough to make! It's SO easy, and once the milk is heated, takes just minutes to complete.)

Ingredients for Farmer's Cheese. (I prefer to use vinegar instead of lemons.)
Type of Milk

Nor surprisingly, the type of milk you use will change the flavor and texture of this cheese. Goat, sheep, or cow's milk are most commonly used for Farmer's Cheese, but assuming you don't have a source for farm fresh milk, it's fine to use ordinary, grocery store, pasteurized cow's milk. But you do not want ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT) milk! This is milk that's pasteurized at a very high temperature, killing all the good stuff that helps you make cheese (or yogurt). Unfortunately, as I learned back when I tried to make mozzarella, not all UHT is marked as such. All shelf stable milk is UHT, and some refrigerated milk is, too. A hint that it's UHT? It has an expiration date that's considerably farther out than other brands, or it lasts an extra long time in your refrigerator.

Type of Acid

The Backwoods Home recipe calls for fresh lemons. You could also use bottled lemon juice. White vinegar is also a common choice. Some recipes call for part buttermilk (often leaving out the butter); others call for rennet. Each of these choices will affect the flavor of the cheese. (Personally, I lean toward simple, inexpensive ingredients that I can easily find locally. For me, that means lemons or white vinegar.)

Other Factors

How much whey (liquid) you squeeze from the cheese affects the texture of the cheese greatly. Squeeze every drop out, and you'll have a dry, crumbly cheese (but it will still taste good). Squeeze too little out, and your cheese will be very soft and spread-able (and still yummy). Most Farmer's Cheese is somewhere in between.

In addition, how long you leave the curds (bumpy parts) and whey on the stove before you drain the whey affects the cheese texture and flavor. Some people insist on leaving the curds and whey undisturbed for at least 20 minutes; others don't wait at all. Some recipes also call for heating the cheese extremely slowly over low heat; this is mostly about flavor.
Farmer's Cheese on a salad.

Finally, Farmer's Cheese is sometimes seasoned with herbs, citrus zest, or garlic. These can be stirred into the cheese before it's shaped into a loaf, or you can roll the loaf in them before chilling the cheese.

How to Make Farmer's Cheese

So knowing these things, I decided to try the Farmer's Cheese as exactly laid out in Backwoods Home. I used store bought, pasteurized whole milk, fresh lemons, and a minimum of seasonings. When I got to the stage where the curds and whey separate, I thought I'd failed. I couldn't really see that the milk had separated. I continued with the process of cheesemaking, however, and ended up with a tasty - though quite soft - cheese.

The next time, I took a slightly different route. I used white vinegar in place of the lemon juice, and remembering how well my crock pot made yogurt came out, decided to use the crock pot for heating the milk. Success! The curds and whey almost instantly separated, and I had yummy cheese - and more of it than when I used the Backwoods recipe. So, here's my method. (If you don't have a crock pot, that's fine. Just heat the milk in a heavy, stainless steel saucepan.)

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar (or 2 - 4 lemons, juiced; put the juice from 2 lemons into 1 bowl; put the remaining juice in another bowl)
1 tablespoon butter
Salt
Pepper

Crock pot
Stainless steel spoon
Cheesecloth or flour sack dish cloth
Colander
Large bowl
Small bowls
Plastic wrap or air tight container

1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover and place over high heat. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. How long this takes depends upon your crock pot. Mine took about half an hour. (Incidentally, I didn't use a thermometer and that's fine for this type of cheese. Just keep checking the milk without lifting the lid of your crock pot. When it just barely begins to have bubbles, it's ready.)

2. Turn off the crock pot and remove the lid. Lift the crock out of the metal shell of the crock pot. Stir the milk.

3. Add about half the vinegar (or the lemon juice from two lemons - which you have in one bowl). Stir. If the curds (the white, lumpy parts that look like cottage cheese) and the whey (the liquid) don't separate, add the rest of the vinegar or lemon juice.

Curds.
4. Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth (unless you have the high quality stuff that's woven very tightly, in which case you can use two layers) or a flour sack dishcloth. Place the colander over a large bowl. Carefully pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Take up the edges of the cloth, turning it into a sort of bag. Use a large spoon to press down on the cheesecloth bag, making the whey stream out and into the bowl beneath the colander. Be careful; the curds and whey are hot!
Taking up the edges of the cheesecloth.
5. When you're satisfied that most of the whey is separated from the curds, empty the curds into a small bowl. Add the butter, and, using the back of a spoon, press and mix the butter into the warm curds until the butter is melted and well blended. At first, the mixture will probably feel rubbery, but just keep mixing and soon the cheese will soften.

The whey is now strained from the curds.
6. Season with salt and pepper, then shape into a loaf. Cover with plastic wrap or place in an air tight container in the fridge.

The cheese will last at least one week - perhaps two. It is fine to double this recipe.


What to Do With The Whey

Whey.
They whey from Farmer's Cheese is called "sour whey" or "acid whey" because you've added acid to it. Whey is packed with protein, vitamins C, B, E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, copper, selenium, and manganese.

Whatever you do, please don't dump it down the drain. Whey changes the acidity of water, which can be a huge issue for nature. Whey can also cause problems with septic and sewage disposal systems. Instead, do one of the following:

* Give it to your chickens or pigs (the traditional thing to do)
* Add it to soup
* Use it as a substitute for milk or water when baking (I hear it makes fluffier pancakes!)
* Use it to fertilize acid-loving plants, like tomatoes and blueberries (Use sparingly and don't place in the soil before seeds have sprouted or it may prevent germination)
* Add it to smoothies
* Use it in place of water to reconstitute fruit juices
* Use it, along with spices, as a meat marinade
* Add a few tablespoons to the water you soak beans in
* Use some in place of water when making stock
* Use it to make lemonade
* Use it for fermenting
* Freeze it for later use

Related Posts:

Failproof Yogurt in the Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)
The Easy Way to Make Butter
Butter in a Jar



This post was featured at the Homestead Blog Hop.

4 comments:

  1. I am so excited to read this post, because I've been so intimidated with making cheese and this sounds like the perfect thing to try out first! I love your step by step directions and have put this recipe on my to do list for next week!

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  2. Don't throw out whey is right! You can use it to make 2 more batches of delicious cheese.

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  3. thanks so so much I can't wait to get to the store and do this ..

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  4. Great way to use up milk that is at or just past it best buy date and starting to turn

    ReplyDelete