Easy Quick Cheeses

Easy Quick Cheeses

Lord John Marshall Atte Ford, OM


The discovery of cheese appears to predate recorded history:


“Archaeologists have discovered that as far back as 6000 BC cheese had been made from cow's and goat's milk and stored in tall jars. Egyptian tomb murals of 2000 BC show butter and cheese being made, and other murals which show milk being stored in skin bags suspended from poles demonstrate a knowledge of dairy husbandry at that time.

“It is likely that nomadic tribes of Central Asia found animal skin bags a useful way to carry milk on animal backs when on the move. Fermentation of the milk sugars would cause the milk to curdle and the swaying motion would break up the curd to provide a refreshing whey drink. The curds would then be removed, drained and lightly salted to provide a tasty and nourishing high protein food, i.e. a welcome supplement to meat protein.

“Cheesemaking, thus, gradually evolved from two main streams. The first was the liquid fermented milks such as yogurt, koumiss and kefir. The second through allowing the milk to acidify to form curds and whey. Whey could then be drained either through perforated earthenware bowls or through woven reed baskets or similar material.”  - From the article “Cheesemaking in Scotland”, by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) available on the East Kingdom Arts and Sciences Page.


Here is a recipe from ancient Rome, which I found on the SCA Cook’s List:


Cheese Round with Herbs

 Recipe by Appendix Vergiliana, Moretum

Servings 104


65 each garlic clove

1/4-cup celery

1/4-cup rue

1/2-cup coriander

3/8-cup salt grains

6 1/2 pounds soft cheese (ricotta)

1/2-cup olive oil

7/8-cup balsamic vinegar


In a mortar grind the garlic, then the fresh soft cheese, and finally the herbs (use celery leaf or parsley), so that these ingredients are thoroughly blended.  The mixture can be moistened with olive oil, followed by a small amount of strong vinegar. Form the mixture into a round and chill.


Smaller serving:


10 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp of celery leaf

1 tbsp of rue (or parsley)

2 tbsp of fresh coriander

1 ½ tbsp salt

1 lb soft cheese

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp vinegar (balsalmic or red wine)


Mince the garlic and them blend into a paste with some of the salt.  Add the garlic paste, celery leaf, rue (or parsley), coriander, remainder of the salt to the bowl of a chopper or food processor, process until finely chopped.  Add cheese and blend.  Add olive oil and vinegar if the cheese is too dry.  Form into a round and chill.


Redacted by Minowara Kiritsubo from directions in "A Taste of Ancient Rome", translated from the Latin.

Notes: Recipe is from a poem whose protagonist was a farmer, Moretum. From A Taste of Ancient Rome.

Types of Cheese:


There are many types of cheese; Soft cheeses - like Cottage Cheese and Cream Cheese, Hard cheeses - such as Cheddar, Whey cheeses - Ricotta, Goats Milk - Cheve and Feta, Mold Ripened cheeses - Blue and Stilton and Quick Cheeses - such as Queso Blanco, Yogurt Cheese and Lemon Cheese.  Due to time constraints, we will be concentrating on this last type today.


Milk is approximately 98% water.  Making any kind of cheese begins by getting the milk to separate into its solid (Curds) and liquid (Whey) components.  Little Miss Muffett has, of course, immortalized these two components.   Separating them involves two steps.


The quick cheeses we will be looking at today are made either by coagulating milk and draining off the solids from the liquid, or in the case of Yogurt Cheese, draining an already coagulated product.  [Then for the demo point out that you’re just doing the one kind, but for a full length class you look at both.]


Quick Cheeses – The Basic Method


The first step - Coagulation:


Coagulation of milk, the actual process of separating the curds from the whey, can be achieved in several ways.  One method is the introduction of acid into the milk, (acid coagulation) – the method we’re using today.  This acid can be vinegar, lemon juice or introduced by a 'starter'. 


Starters can be Mesophilic or Thermophilic. Mesophilic means "moderate temperature loving" and is used to make hard cheeses such as Cheddar, which are not heated to temperatures about 102 degrees during the cheese making process.  Thermophilic means "heat loving" and is used in the making of Swiss and some Italian cheeses, which cook the curd up to 132 degrees.  Both of these types of starters contain bacteria, which consume lactose (milk sugar) and produce lactic acid.  When the lactic acid reaches a high enough level, it will, like any other acid, cause the milk to coagulate.  Starters are available from various cheese making operations (see the links at the end of the last page).  For today's demonstration, we will be using acids introduced directly into the milk. 


The second method of achieving coagulation is by using Rennet (rennet coagulation).  Rennet is an extract from an animal stomach or from a plant, which causes milk to coagulate.  It is available in liquid or tablet form.  Disagreement reigns over whether "Junket" tablets can be used successfully in cheese making. [Thought, if you’ve tried it, say how it worked out]


There is one other way to let milk coagulate - let it go sour.  If you buy a container of milk and just let it sit on the kitchen counter for a few days, it will "spoil" and start to separate (curdle).  If you then drain this soured milk, you will get cheese.  The milk “spoils” because naturally occurring microbes in the milk will be able to multiply at room temperature and will, just like the starters, consume lactose (milk sugar) and produce lactic acid.  When the lactic acid reaches a high enough level, it will, like any other acid, cause the milk to coagulate.  This can, of course, also happen in the refrigerator, it just takes longer.


The second step - Draining:


Once the milk has coagulated, the curds (the solid part) have to be separated from the whey (the liquid).  For these cheeses, this is done by draining the curds in cheesecloth.    We will be using cheesecloth.  (Do not try to use the material sold in the grocery store as “cheesecloth”.  It is just too coarse.  Real cheesecloth can be purchased over the Internet – or at Pennsic).  In the past, perforated bowls and woven baskets have been used for this.


Once the milk is sufficiently solidified, place a colander lined with cheesecloth either into a large bowl or the sink (depending on whether you want to save the whey).   After the whey has drained out, sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over the curd, stir it up, then pull the four corners of the cheesecloth up, forming them into a bag and hang the bag to drain further.  You can hang it from the sink faucet overnight, or over a broom handle suspended between two chairs (put a bucket underneath.  Once it is well drained, add a little bit more salt and it's ready. 


I do not recommend leaving out the salt.  Without it the cheese will not expel enough liquid and it will not keep well. 


Once that is done, the cheese is ready to season and serve (or age).


Some Specific Quick Cheeses


Soured Milk Cheese:


This soft cheese is made by allowing milk to go sour and then draining off the solids.  Buy a bottle of milk, set it on the counter and let it go (I would put it in a bowl, it’s not usual, but I’ve had ones pop their top and spill).  DO NOT open the bottle until you are ready to drain off the curds, this will prevent unwanted yeasts and bacteria from getting into the milk and introducing off flavors.  Once the milk is sufficiently solidified, follow the procedure above to drain and salt it.


You can eat it as is, or use it as a spread on crackers; you could thin it with a little milk, season it with herbs and use it as a dip.  It would probably work very well as a substitute for Ricotta in pasta dishes.  You can keep this covered or wrapped in the refrigerator for over a week.  Yes, this makes the Food Police shutter and lawyers cry, but I have never gotten sick from eating this.


Queso Blanco or Panir:


This is another easy cheese to make.  You basically heat the milk and add vinegar.  The acid of the vinegar will cause the milk solids to coagulate.  One of the interesting properties of this cheese is that it does not melt, even when deep-fried.  This makes it very handy for cooking.  It is also easy to make when the weather is hot.  One suggestion in "Home Cheese Making” is to cut it into small cubes and substitute it for tofu in Chinese cooking.  They also suggest using it in soups or spaghetti sauce.  You can vary the taste of the cheese by using different types of vinegar.  (Bear in mind that different vinegars may have different levels of acidity and you may need to use more or less depending on the acid level.) 


1.  Heat one gallon of milk in a large, heavy bottomed pot to a temperature of 180 degrees F.  Stir often to prevent scorching. 


2.  Once the milk reaches 180 degrees F, add 1/4 cup of vinegar.  The curds will begin to separate from the whey.   If the whey still looks very milky after a few minutes, add a little more vinegar.   Turn off the heat and let the pot sit for several hours while the curds and whey separate.


3.  Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth lined colander either placed in a large bowl or the sink (depending on whether you want to save the whey).   After the whey has drained out, pull the four corners of the cheesecloth up, form them into a bag and hang the bag to drain further. 


4.  Once the curd has drained, it's cheese!  Remove it from the cheesecloth, salt if desired, wrap in kitchen wrap and store in the refrigerator.  This will keep for over a week.  You can use this cheese just like the Soured Milk Cheese, and you can also cook with it. 


Another interesting use for this product is Casein Glue.  If you take the curds and mix them with a strong base like baking soda (the original calls for quicklime), you will get a product that very strongly resembles Elmer’s glue and can be used in a similar fashion.  My first attempt at making this was thin, but it would hold two pieces of wood together.


I first came upon this product on the television program “The Weapons That Made Britain” in the “Shield” episode.  In the episode, they read from the writing of the monk Theophilus.  Investigation shows that “cheese glue” is mentioned several times in the book “On Divers Arts”, with instructions on how to make it in Book 1, Chapter 20, but that’s a different class…


Labneh or Yogurt Cheese:


Draining the excess moisture from yogurt makes this cheese.  The most important thing to remember when buying the yogurt for this dish is to make sure that the yogurt does not contain gelatin.  Pectin is apparently okay, but gelatin is not.  If the yogurt does contain gelatin, it will not drain.  Finast (Giant house brand) and Dannon both work fine for this.  Recent experimentation shows that pectin as an additive does not appear to affect the draining.  Of course, you could make your own yogurt and then make the cheese, but that’s a different class…


1.  Mix a teaspoon of salt with 1 quart of yogurt.


2.  Pour this mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander.  


3.  Pull the four corners of the cheesecloth up, form them into a bag and hang the bag to drain further. 


4.  After the bag has drained for 12 to 24 hours, the cheese is ready.  The longer it drains, the thicker the result.  Add herbs and/or salt to taste and serve.   Also makes a yummy dip if it's not too thick.


Lemon Cheese:


This is very similar to Queso Blanco, but with a lemony flavor. 


1.  Heat a quart of milk to 170 degrees F.  Add the juice of two lemons and stir well. 


2.  Let the milk sit for 15 minutes.  If it does not set up, add more lemon juice.


3.  Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth lined colander either placed in a large bowl or the sink (depending on whether you want to save the whey).   After the whey has drained out, pull the four corners of the cheesecloth up, form them into a bag and hang the bag to drain further.


4.  Let the curds drain for 2-4 hours or until they stop draining.  Salt, if desired, and wrap and store.  This should keep for about a week. 


"What Do You Do With All This Whey?"


I have read several suggestions on what to do with the whey that is left from making cheese.  You can actually make Ricotta Cheese from Whey that is very fresh.  You can drink it, it's supposed to very refreshing.  You can use it in baked goods or as a basis for soup.  It can also be fed to pets or livestock.  Non-acid whey can be fed to plants.  If you used vinegar, you should reserve it for acid loving plants.



The Big Finish:


This barely touches the surface of cheese.  These simple cheeses are a good introduction, but there are many more complex cheeses that can be made at home.   If you want to experiment further without having to buy a lot of equipment, you could try making some of these cheeses with goat milk instead of cow milk.  I know you can get goat milk at Fresh Fields, because I have purchased it there. Avoid any milk marked “Ultra Pasturized” – it simply will not separate. Also check out Professor Fankhauser’s Web page (below) for great recipes and home-built cheese making gear, and the Fias Co web site for plans for a homebuilt cheese press.



Interesting and/or Useful Web Sites:


Cheese Wizard: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Cottage/1288/

Note: lots of popups on this site


Fias Co Farm: http://www.fiascofarm.com/dairy/


Fankhauser’s Cheese Page: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/Cheese.html


A Boke of Gode Cookery http://www.godecookery.com/how2cook/howto02.htm


Stefan’s Florilegium http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD/cheese-msg.html


Gourmet Sleuth: Cheese Recipes: http://gourmetsleuth.com/cheeserecipes.htm


Leeners: http://www.leeners.com/


New England Cheesemaking Company: http://www.cheesemaking.com/


Dragon’s Magic – Good source of Cheesecloth – sells at Pennsic: Linda Learn – PO Box 307 503 SR90 So., Tunkhannock, PA 18657-0307, fabrix@mymail.emcyber.com



Theophilus, On Divers Arts.  New York, Dover Publications Inc, 1963, 1979 p 26. 


Carroll, Ricki, Home Cheesemaking: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses 3rd Edition, Story Books, North Adams MA, 2002


Smith, Tim, Making Artisan Cheese, Quarry Books, Gloucester, MA, 2005