Making cheese is an ancient tradition that has been practiced by cultures throughout the world. It’s a relatively simple process that requires nothing more than a few ingredients, a bit of patience, and a smidgen of kitchen know-how.
Homemade cheese, often referred to as farmer cheese or queso fresco, is lower in fat than many of the alternatives such as cream cheese, and is higher in protein than many meat alternatives due to the inclusion of whole fat milk.
The trick is to avoid burning the milk as it simmers and to use an acid such as lemon or vinegar to coagulate the cheese. Note that vinegar will impart a more neutral flavor than lemon juice. Farmer cheese is comprised of the curds resulting from the separation process, but don’t discard the whey. It’s packed with healthful properties such as calcium and protein and is excellent as a meat tenderizer, a smoothie ingredient, or a marinade. Use it instead of water when preparing grains such as barley or amaranth for extra nutritional punch, or drink it as-is for a tangy and nutritious pick-me-up.
Farmer cheese is good in virtually anything it’s incorporated into such as omelets, sandwiches, pizza, tacos, and desserts. It’s wonderful drizzled with honey or even on its own. Making homemade cheese is also sure to impress your dinner guests who might not be aware of how simple and easy the process actually is.
- You will need two quarts of whole fat milk, freshly squeezed lemon juice (or distilled white vinegar), and a pinch of salt to prepare your cheese. Add the milk to a heavy-bottom pot with a cooking thermometer attached to the side. Warm it slowly over medium heat, stirring almost constantly to avoid scorching the milk and to prevent it from boiling over.
- Once the temperature reaches 185°, remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice or vinegar, one tablespoon at a time, while stirring gently with a wooden spoon. This step will separate the curds from the whey. It will not happen instantly, but keep stirring and eventually the separation will occur virtually all at once. Keep adding an additional tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar every few minutes until the separation takes place. Once it does, stop stirring and let the liquid rest, separate completely, and cool down for about 20 minutes.
- Line a colander with a triple-layer of cheesecloth or a clean, doubled-up linen side towel. Carefully pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Depending upon the consistency of cheese you are aiming for, let the curds and whey separate for between twenty minutes to an hour.
- Season with salt by gently stirring it into the curds and then bind the cheesecloth up around the them. Spin the cloth up at the top to form a tight ball around the curds and squeeze hard to remove the residual whey. Reserve the whey, refrigerated, for another use.
- Transfer the cheese in its cheesecloth to a plate and top with a weight, such as another plate or a skillet, and let it rest for a few hours to enable it to fully cool down and firm up. If you are looking for softer cheese, skip the weights but still let the cheese cool down at room temperature.
- Refrigerate in a covered container for up to one week.
Here are six ways to use your fresh farmer’s cheese:
1. Classic Macaroni and Cheese
There’s nothing more comforting than mac and cheese, especially when it includes homemade farm cheese. In this recipe, swap out one cup of the cheddar for farm cheese that will make this dish creamier and even more addictive than it already is. Get our Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
2. Thyme and Garlic Cheese Dip
Adding garlic and thyme to farm cheese and tangy sour cream perks up a dip that is perfect for raw vegetables or toasted pita bread. Get the recipe.
3. Grilled Egg and Cheese Sandwiches
Gently-fried eggs ooze between slices of crunchy grilled bread and a tangy layer of farm cheese. Get the recipe.
4. Zucchini Lasagna with Farmers Cheese
Summertime is the perfect time for this lasagna recipe that celebrates this season’s bounty of fresh zucchini and the many virtues of farmers cheese. Get the recipe.
5. Farmer’s Cheese with Honey, Raisins and Cinnamon
A comforting dish with a pleasing texture of creamy cheese and crunchy walnuts, this recipe is as welcome at the breakfast table as it is at the end of a meal. Get the recipe.
6. No-Bake Farmers Cheese Cheesecake Desserts
There is no baking involved in this easy deconstructed cheesecake recipe that is all about the mellow flavor of farm cheese and the summer-sweetness of strawberries. Get the recipe.
— Head photo: The Kitchn.