One of the best parts of having plenty of raw milk is that I can experiment with making various types of cheese. Sometimes I have found that experimentation leads to disaster. (Thank goodness for pigs and chickens that eat my mistakes and help me feel like I am recycling rather than being wasteful!) Many times my cheese making failures have spurred me to use the ideas from that particular project and come up with something new. Technically, there is nothing new under the sun, but these "new" methods at least get me out of a rut and help me to think outside of the box I have made for myself.
Such was the case when I attempted to make a particular cheese that I saw on the internet. The recipe called for using either vinegar cheese or lactic cheese as the basis for this particular recipe. I tried it first with vinegar cheese and didn't care for the results at all. So, I tried it with lactic cheese. Although I still didn't like the final product, it was much better than the first made with the vinegar cheese. Making the lactic cheese was so easy that I decided to make some and try it for cheese spreads/dips. Still not completely satisfied, I decided to alter the recipe just a bit and try it again. The resulting cheese was not too strong and was perfect for making the cheese spreads. In addition, I decided that the cheese would also make a great sour cream and was very delighted with that as well.
After all my experimentation, I ended up with more cheese spreads, sour cream, etc. than we could possibly use and needed a way to use up these products (other than eating massive amounts of crackers, chips or even dipped vegies.) That's when I came upon the idea of making twice baked potatoes.
I am going to provide the original recipe for lactic cheese, my modified version and then instructions for making the twice baked potatoes and several dip/cheese spread ideas as well.
From Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making:
1 gallon milk
1 packet direct set mesophylic starter or 4 ounces prepared.
3 drops liquid rennet dissolved in 1/3 cup cool water
* Heat milk to 86 degrees and add starter. Mix thoroughly.
* Add 1 teaspoon of the diluted rennet and stir gently with an up and down motion. cover and let set undisturbed at room temperature at least 72 degrees for 12 hours or until a solid curd forms. The curd will look like yogurt.
* Slowly pour the curd into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and hang the bag to drain for 6-12 hours or until the cheese has reached the right consistency. A room temp of 72 degrees will encourage proper drainage. If you want the curds to drain more quickly, change the muslin periodically.
* Place the curds in a bowl and add salt to taste.
Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If the cheese is too hard and rubbery, add less rennet next time. If the cheese is too moist, add a little more rennet.
Yields about two pounds.
While this recipe was very good, I found that the cheese was a bit more "tart" than I really wanted. So, the next time I made it, I didn't add the mesophylic culture. I believe with the milk sitting overnight, it became naturally cultured, much like when I make clabber. However, the addition of the rennet to the milk made the curds firmer and easier to work with to make the lactic cheese.
Then, I remembered that I had a recipe for making a similar cheese that did not use the mesophylic starter. (See, my idea was not so original after all!) Sure enough, when I began digging I found it in another cheese making book entitled Cheese Making at Home put out by Center for Essential Education.
Here is the recipe from that book along with some interesting history behind the cheese:
Cuajada is pronounced kwa-ha-la, is a Spanish word meaning "to set up". This recipe came from a friend in Nicaragua. He uses the milk right from his cows and makes Cuajada in five gallon buckets. The cheese is finished within an hour, and his children sell it on the streets for 75 cents a pound. The Nicaraguans love this cheese in tortillas with re fried beans or sliced and fried in hot oil.
1 gallon milk (straight from the cow or 80 degrees or warmer)
1/8 tablet of rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
salt to taste
*Take one gallon of warm milk from the cow and add dissolved rennet.
*When the curd is firm (approximately 1/2 hour) cut it into approximately 1 inch cubes and stir for five minutes gently.
*Pour into a strainer or colander and move it around to expel the whey. Get out most of the whey and then salt the curds. Leave the curds in the colander or put them in a cheese mold and let them drip until firm. (approximately 45 minutes)
Now here is my version. I make things in large quantities:
4 gallons of milk straight from the cow or warmed up to between 88-98 degrees
Stir in 1/8th teaspoon of rennet that has been dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
Let set overnight
Strain through cloth until thick
Salt to taste
Ok............now that you have all of this cheese, what do you do with it? I admit that it's pretty boring by itself. First of all, the cheese makes perfect sour cream just like it is. Or, if you want to get a little fancy with it, throw is some fresh chives! (Now we're talking!) I had plenty of fresh chives from the summer that I chopped and froze to throw into some of the cheese.
Some additional ideas for making great cheese spreads:
Ranch (4 tablespoons dried parsley; 1 teaspoon minced dried onion or grated fresh onion to taste;1 rounded tablespoon of minced garlic;1/2 teaspoon salt;1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper). You can make this thick and use it as a dip or make it thin and use it as a salad dressing.
Jalapeno (Process seeded fresh jalapenos in the food processor and mix in cheese. Salt and pepper to taste)
Garlic, onions and bell peppers run through the processor and then mixed in with the cheese also makes a good dip. Actually, the sky is the limit. Just use your imagination and make up small batches until you find the ones you really enjoy. Sometimes I mix the cheese with a bit of Mayo. This gives it a slightly different flavor than just the cheese alone. Either way , it is good. (A tip about the cheese spreads: They are better after they have set for 24 hours and even better after several days.)
Now, all of these dips and spreads that you have made lend themselves perfectly to making twice baked potatoes.
Twice Baked Potatoes:
* Bake your potatoes until done. I usually bake a few extra so that I can have "extra" filling for my baked potatoes. In other words, I may bake six potatoes, but only use the skins of four of them but the insides of all six.
* After the potatoes have cooked and cooled down to a manageable temperature so that you don't burn your hands, scoop out the centers. Because our potatoes are homegrown and newly dug, they don't have thick skins on them. I simply leave some of the "meat" in the potato to hold it together rather than scooping all the way down to the skin.
* Take the potatoes you have scooped out and place in a kitchen aid (or similar) mixer of food processor. Dump in your sour cream and chives mix or even your ranch mix of cheese to taste. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix until smooth and creamy. You can add butter, milk or cream to bring potatoes to the desired consistency. This is phase one of your twice baked potatoes. You can now refrigerate until you are ready to complete the final step.
*Spoon potato mixture back into the potato skins.
*Place your prepared potatoes in the oven at a temperature of around 350 degrees. You will know the potatoes are warmed through when they begin to get golden on top.
*When potatoes begin to get a pretty gold color, sprinkle with Mozzarella or any other cheese of your choice and bake until the cheese is melted.