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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cottage Cheese Revisited ~ Recipe


When I first began making cottage cheese, I really couldn't find a recipe that explained how to make it the "old fashioned way" that I had heard described to me. I had a couple of "Seniors" in my life who looked forward with great anticipation to my learning how to make the cottage cheese they remembered from their childhood.  My father-in-law told me how his mother made cottage cheese on the back of the old wood cookstove, and then hung it on the clothes line to drip.  His cousin, Dennis, also had similar memories of his mother making cottage cheese.  It also didn't take me long to find out that those of German descent here on the east coast, referred to it as Schmierkase , which in German literally means "smear cheese".  I began my journey by talking to as many people I could who remembered cottage cheese being made "the old fashioned way".  I searched for instructions online and in books on how to make it, and I began experimenting.  I am sure not everyone educates themselves the same way that I do, but I have to read "how to" do something and then follow through with my own experimentation.  Sometimes it's a process that brings me full circle, but in the end, I have a better understanding of what I am doing.  Such is the case with making cottage cheese.

Originally, I found a recipe somewhere that explained taking raw milk clabber and heating it on the stove, carefully monitoring the temperature, until the curd had reached a particular stage.  At that point, the curd was then drained and rinsed.  While this method worked, it seemed that I frequently had over cooked curds and the whole process seemed contingent upon my carefully watching the temperature of the curds that were cooking.

Later, I found a method I liked better (details here).  I thought it was original but later found that "my" method had been previously recorded in the book Stillroom Cookery under instructions on how to make Schmierkase.  The author writes:

Start with milk clabber.  Pour off the excess whey and then pour into a pan of warm water, 120 degrees, which is hot to the touch but not unbearable.  Break curds gently.  Allow to set for ten minutes.  Drain curds in cheesecloth set in a colander  Pour a teakettle of warm water (120) over it.  Do this twice.  You may wash your cheese curds in cool water for a less acidic taste.  Let drip for one hour.  Refrigerate.  

As life got busier for me, and as I started making larger batches of cheese to share with others, I started modifying my "recipe" once again.  I found that the easiest way for me to make my cottage cheese was the method with the fewest steps (and the least amount of clean up).  I began clabbering my milk directly in the four gallon, stainless steel pot that I use to make cheese.  Once the milk was clabbered, I then took that pot and sat it on my stove top and began to heat it.  It does take a while to heat four gallons of clabber.  I can do other things in the kitchen while I am waiting for it to reach the desired temperature because I have found with experience that I don't have to just stand over the pot and micro manage it.  (There are types of cheese that require constant attention, but cottage cheese is not one of them.)  When explaining what temperature one wants to achieve (one doesn't have to always be checking with a thermometer), I tell people they want the water to feel like a very hot bath. (You know, the kind you have to inch yourself into but once fully submerged, the heat soaks all the day's stress right out of you?)  The next step is to learn at what stage to drain the curds.  This is what takes some time and practice.  Cottage cheese curds should not be hard and dry.  Neither should they be slimy.  You want them to be cooked but on the soft side.  Take into consideration that the heat from the hot curds will continue cooking them once they are drained.  With this in mind, I always strain my curds on the soft side and allow the heat to continue "cooking them" until they look just right.  Then, I rinse with cold water.  The cold water rinse does two things.  First, it stops the curds from cooking further and getting too dry.  Second, it gives the cheese a milder flavor.  At this point, one wants to drain the cheese for at least 30 minutes to an hour.  You can do this right in a strainer or by hanging it in a cheese cloth/flour sack and letting it drip.  The last step before storing your cottage cheese in containers and refrigerating is to salt.  Cottage cheese that has not been salted adequately is very bland.  The salt literally makes all the difference in the taste.

This one pot method for clabbering and cooking on the stove top makes creating cottage cheese so simple, I can do it without much thought and with little clean up.

Note:  If your clabber sets up and you don't have time to "cook" it to make cottage cheese right then, refrigerate it.  It will slow down the clabber and keep it from getting too acidic for a mild tasting cottage cheese. 

Additional Information on Clabber:

More About Clabber, Cultured Buttermilk, Curds and Whey

Clabber and Buttermilk



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