When a cookbook claims you can make fresh cheese at home in just minutes, I’m intrigued. And when that same cookbook rates its own recipes as either Easy, Easier, or Easiest, I’m ready to stir the curds.
There is a magical alchemy in making fresh cheese. Claudia Lucero’s book One-Hour Cheese (Workman, May) assures cooks that her method is foolproof. Illustrated with step-by-step photos, the 16 basic recipes use remarkably similar equipment and techniques: warm the milk to the desired temperature, add the acid, stir the coagulated mass, pour into a strainer with cheesecloth, wrap, drain, and mold into shape. The science is ironclad. If I master one cheese recipe, I just might master them all.
I select two recipes, both rated Easiest. Fromage Facile promises tangy, smooth, ricottalike cheese in the “Creamy and Spreadable” section of the book, while the goat’s milk Chivo Fresco is of the “Firm and Chewy” type. I follow Lucero’s advice on milk: “The closer the milk was produced to your home, the better.” So I buy local, thick, yogurty buttermilk “straight from the churn.” The goat’s milk is from the farm down the road, and the cow’s milk, bottled in glass, is from the dairy of my childhood.
For the Fromage Facile, I heat milk in a nonstick soup pot. Given Lucero’s warnings about scorching, I’m taking no risks. When wispy steam clouds appear and telltale bubbles simmer around the milk’s edge, my grocery store meat thermometer confirms the required 175º temperature. In go two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. I’m on curd alert. In a voilà moment unlike any I’ve experienced in cooking, instant coagulation produces a host of creamy nuggets swimming in golden whey. Success.
For the Chivo Fresco, I use a Le Creuset pot, and to the goat’s milk/whole milk mixture (heated to 200º), the addition of apple cider vinegar produces the miraculous curds in seconds, once again. Pouring off the curds for each batch, I note slight differences in softness and size, and after briefly draining each bundled cheesecloth, the fun begins.
The sky’s the limit for flavorings and molding. Lucero has no shortage of creative suggestions for dressing up and serving fresh cheese. With the creamy Fromage Facile, I divide the yield, making a savory garden dill-garlic-chive combo in a tiny cake mold and a sweetened version in a ramekin with a garnish of crystallized ginger, chopped apricots, pine nuts, lemon zest, and honey. I serve the zingy spread on crunchy Ines Rosales orange olive oil tortas. The fetalike Chivo Fresco with kosher salt and red pepper flakes produces a crumbly slice, great on simple white crackers.
If ever there ever was a happy accident, I think the discovery of cheese was it. Lucero captures the creative, versatility, and fun of this ancient culinary process and brings it home.
1 quart (4 cups) whole cow’s milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon flake salt (or to taste)
Medium colander or mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant bowl (optional, for whey-collection)
2 quart stockpot
Large mixing spoon
1. Line the colander with cheesecloth, wet or dry. Place a bowl underneath if you want to collect the whey, or place the lined colander in your clean sink.
2. Pour the quart of cow’s milk into the pot. Then heat the milk at medium to 175° F.
3. Stay close and monitor the heat, stirring every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming on the surface of the milk. Check too, for sticking milk at the bottom of the pot. (Reduce the heat if you feel any milk sticking.)
4. When the milk temperature hits 175°F, add the buttermilk and lemon juice and stir thoroughly. You should start seeing some coagulation!
5. Once you’ve completely stirred in the buttermilk and lemon juice, take the pot off the heat. Leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.
6. Return to the cooling pot. You will clearly see a separation between curds and whey now. Stir the curds gently for a few seconds just to check out the change in texture. Pour the curds and whey into the cloth-lined colander.
7. Allow the curds to drain until they resemble thick oatmeal—it should take just 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the salt.
8. Your Fromage Facile is ready to eat! Pack the cheese into a dish...
9. ... to form it into a wheel.
One-Hour Cheese: Ricotta, Mozzarella, Chèvre, Paneer—Even Burrata. Fresh and Simple Cheeses You Can Make in an Hour or Less! by Claudia Lucero. Workman, May. ISBN 978-0-7611-7748-7