- Old friends are best. John Selden
Purchase cheese-making cultures
You might find these in a grocery store, but more likely you'll have to order it online from a cheese-making supply store. For this recipe and most other cheeses, use any mesophilic culture. These bacteria thrive in temperatures below 102ºF (39ºC). Their job is to acidify the milk and get it ready for the rennet. These "good" bacteria also make it more difficult for harmful bacteria to take hold in the milk. As a last resort, you can use a dash of buttermilk instead. However, store-bought buttermilk is an unpredictable source of cultures. The cheese could fail to form, or the flavor could be affected.
Traditionally taken from animal stomachs, rennet is now available in vegetarian forms as well. You may use any type to form your cheese. The rennet will separate the acidified milk into curds and whey. This is also available from cheese-making supply stores. If using dry rennet, follow the label instructions to convert drops of liquid rennet into tablet amounts. Make sure the tablets are 100% rennet.
Heat the milk in a non-reactive pan
Use an infrared thermometer to measure the milk, heating until it reaches 86ºF (30ºC). Non-chipped enameled pans or stainless pans are your best options. Stay way from copper and aluminum, which leach chemicals into your cheese due to the cheese's acidity. You may use raw milk or pasteurized milk, although cheese made from pasteurized milk may have trouble holding together. Ultra-pasteurized milk will not work. You can use milk with any fat percentage. Whole milk typically has a richer flavor than low-fat or skim milk.
Add the bacterial culture
Let sit for two minutes. After two minutes, stir with an up and down motion to mix it into the milk.
Cover and let sit. Leave the milk in a warm room away from light
The label on your starter bacteria may specify the length of this step. If it does not, or if you are using buttermilk, continue after two to four hours. The milk should still look like ordinary milk. If it thickens, you've used too much acid or left it too long. (This is easy to do, since it's difficult to predict exactly how active the bacteria will be.) You can still use it to make cheese, but it may have trouble staying together.
Warm the milk and add the rennet
Heat the milk up again to 86ºF (30ºC). Dilute liquid rennet in ¼ cup (60 mL) cold water, or dissolve dry rennet in cold water according to label instructions. Stir just as you did with the culture, in an up and down motion. Filtered water is less likely to interfere with the cheese-making.
Cover and let sit for 4-12 hours
Leave it at room temperature, and completely undisturbed. You're ready to continue once the cheese has formed a thick, custard-like curd. Ideally, a clean finger poked into the cheese should come out clean, and a clear, liquid whey should fill the hole. If it sticks to your finger, cover and try again in 30–60 minutes. If it's still not set after 12 hours, continue anyway. Your cheese may have trouble draining, ending up soft and wet.
Drain some of the whey
Cover a colander with butter muslin cheesecloth. Place the colander over a pot to catch the draining whey. Spoon the solid curd into the colander. Stir gently with long, slow movements for about fifteen minutes, to allow excess whey to escape. Fabric sold as cheesecloth is not always fine or thick enough to drain this cheese. You can experiment with other options, but butter muslin is your best bet.
Cut into cubes and heat
Gently cut the curd into roughly equal cubes, without squashing it. Place these cubes in a double boiler (a raised pan inside a pan of hot water). Heat over very low heat, stirring frequently, until the curds reach about 100ºF (38ºC). This may take a full hour. Don't stop heating until most of the liquid is gone. The curds should hold their shape, but fall apart in your hand when you pick them up.
Finish the cheese
When you are happy with the consistency, stir in the salt to halt the acidification and preserve the cheese. Optionally, you can shape the cheese, and/or mix in herbs, fruit, or nuts. You can eat it soft, or allow it to dry a little if you prefer. Store the cheese in the refrigerator or another dark, cool location.