Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew in my self reliance experiments, sometimes I have it bitten off for me. On a whim late last Thursday night, Nick bought four litres of goats milk that were selling for 10p each - having had the brilliant idea that 'we' could try and make curd cheese.
I have seen it done when I was small and understood that it is the simplest cheese making experiment you can carry out at home. All that is required is warmed full fat milk, to which lemon juice or vinegar is added to curdle it. This mixture is then strained for a few hours through muslin, separating the curds and whey. The result is a spreadable soft cheese at very little cost.
The first mistake I made was to think it a good idea to process all four litres at once. I started out following these basic instructions, deviating when it became apparent I was way out of my depth. The milk warming went well, I used a preserve making thermometer and a large stock pot. So far so good. I added the juice of a lemon that had accompanied the milk home from the shop. Nothing happened. No worries, I'll juice another. There were no others. OK, I'll use bottled lemon juice. I haven't kept bottled lemon juice in the house for at least two years. Oh.
It was with great scepticism that I poured in several tablespoons of red wine vinegar, the scepticism only increasing when I realised that cup volumes were obviously what was called for. When that had run out, I was all ready to give up, but as it was impossible to make the concoction any worse, I persevered and poured in a spoonful of malt vinegar. Finally the curdles began to appear.
Next came the straining. I keep a quantity of muslin for wine making, so placed a huge square of it doubled up in a colander (thankfully this is huge, comprising the steamer basket of an old pressure cooker). After half an hour, enough whey had drained that I could tie the muslin into a bundle, to be suspended from - where exactly? The bundle weighed the best part of 4 kilos! In the end we placed two dining chairs back to back, tied the top of the bundle with some spare shoelaces and tied the laces around the top rungs of the chair backs, suspended above a basin to catch the whey. In tying the knot we managed to squeeze a fair amount of the contents of the bundle over the chairs and hallway carpet. Several hours later it hadn't finished dripping, so I left it overnight and hoped for the best.
I needn't have worried. The cheese has an acidic tang to it, but is not vinegary, and is deliciously creamy. The only thing that the vinegar has added is a slightly pink tinge to the curd. I estimate that we ended up with over a kilo of curd, some of which is sitting in the fridge and some of which has been frozen into portions for stirring into pasta dishes. A quick survey suggests that ordinary curd cheese retails for around 40p per 100g, curd cheese from goats milk would be higher than that. The milk in this instance cost 40p, the lemon and vinegar a grand total of about 60p, the sea salt pennies.
Unfortunately, whilst scouring the Internet for curd cheese recipes, my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of real home cheese production. I have seen wondrous shops selling rennet and spores and waxes and molds and other stuff I don't yet know what to do with, but would like to one day. Another year perhaps...