We will begin with a simple, fresh cheese, chèvre, which is one of the most basic of cheeses and a classic from France. Chèvre is only made from goat milk, so make an acquaintance with your local goat farmer. Chèvre is French for “goat.” According to my French auntie, Elaine, the proper pronunciation is “chev.”
This cheese is commonly produced in France by farmstead cheesemakers. It can be made with a minimum of skill, ingredients, and equipment, which makes it a perfect project for the beginning cheesemaker. A few purchases will be required to begin cheesemaking, so plan ahead to have the necessary equipment on hand.
Draining bag, cheesecloth, or muslin
1 gallon pasteurized goat milk
1/8 teaspoon Mesophilic DVI MA culture
2 drops of liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup nonchlorinated water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon noniodized salt to taste
Optional: Herbs, such as fresh chives, lavender blossoms, or a blend, such as herbes de Provence; other ingredients, such as black pepper, green peppers, or olives
Pour the goat milk into a cooking pot. Heat milk slowly to 86ºF (30ºC). Remove from heat.
Sprinkle the culture over the top of the milk and gently stir, making sure the culture is dissolved and well integrated into the milk. Allow this mixture to sit for about 45 minutes, so the culture has time to develop.
Add the rennet mixed in water and stir, coming up from the bottom of the pot, until the culture and rennet are well integrated into the milk. Let the mixture rest, covered with a cloth, in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours. The gel will thicken to the consistency of yogurt while it is resting.
When the gel has thickened, it is time to ladle the mass into a draining bag. Line a colander with the draining bag, cheesecloth, or muslin. Place the colander in the sink. With a slotted spoon, gently transfer the gel mass, now called the curd, into the lined colander. Keep ladling until all the curd is in the colander. The leftover liquid is the whey, which is a waste product. Once all the curd is in the colander, gather the draining bag and tie it with the string. Hang it over the sink, and the whey will drain, rapidly at first, then more slowly.
Two things are happening while the curd drains: Acid is developing, so the flavor of the cheese is coming to life. And the moisture ratio of liquid to solid is dropping; therefore, the consistency and the stability of the finished product are changing. Chèvre is meant to be soft, so the moisture level will remain high. But this high moisture makes chèvre less stable than other aged or hard cheeses, so it should be consumed within a few days of the make. (In the language of cheese, the process of creating the cheese is called “the make.”)
Allow the curd to drain for about 12 hours. Then remove the curd from the bag, place it in a bowl, and work in the salt. Salting has a number of purposes in the cheesemaking process. It adds flavor, promotes the shedding of moisture, and retards bacteria growth. Salt can be added directly to the curd, used to develop the rind on the cheese with a direct rub, or added to water to create brine, which the cheese can be placed in.
Flavor with herbs or other ingredients. These ingredients can be added to the cheese to make a spread, or the cheese can be rolled into logs or rounds and then rolled in the herbs. Chèvre is somewhat bland, so it will take on the flavors of the condiments or herbs added to it.
To store, place in a covered dish. Best served at room temperature.
Excerpted from Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheeses from Artisan Cheesemakers by Janet Hurst
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