I have been thinking about making my own cheese at home for some time now.
Other than paneer (milk set with food acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to form cheese), I have never attempted to make cheese. It seemed difficult, time consuming and above all, I could not find rennet or culture anywhere in our beloved capital city.
Until recently that was. Seen that I received four liters of fresh goat’s milk as a gift, I decided that my first foray into the world of home cheese making would be Chèvre – fresh goat’s milk cheese. The process uncomplicated and straight forward (thus suited for beginners like myself) but even better: the cheese can be eaten immediately – no prolonged maturing is required.
Goat’s milk (in our part of the world at least) is an under-appreciated ingredient. Worldwide, however, the consumption of goat’s milk is far higher (about 65%) than the consumption of cow’s milk. Compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk has several important health benefits:
- Goat’s milk contains about 89% less Alpha s1 Casein, the protein allergen that causes allergic reactions to cow’s milk. Thus, those with cow’s milk allergies would probably be able to drink goat’s milk.
- Because goat’s milk has smaller fat globules and more medium-chain fatty acids (such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid) it is easier to digest than cow’s milk. It is these acids that give goat’s milk products their characteristic tart flavour.
- Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized. The smaller fat globules in goat’s milk combined with the fact that it contains no agglutinin means that goat’s milk does not ‘separate’ into milk and cream as does cow’s milk. Commercially produced cow’s milk is ‘homogenised’ a process whereby the larger fat globules in cow’s milk is broken down to remain suspended in the milk. This process causes the free radical Xanthine Oxidase.
- Goat’s milk contains less lactose (milk sugar) than cow’s milk, and as a result is considered a better dairy option for those who struggle to digest lactose.
- Goat’s milk is biochemically better suited for the human body than cow’s milk. It has greater amounts of essential fatty acids such as linoleic and arachidonic acid and significantly greater amounts of vitamin B-6, vitamin A, niacin and potassium. The latter means that goat’s milk causes an alkaline reaction in the body, whereas, potassium-deprived cow’s milk causes an acidic reaction.
As far as I know, goat’s milk is not produced on a commercial scale in Namibia. Thus, little is done by means of marketing or advertising to promote its use. Which is a shame really, given that we have a very large goat population in this country.
I, however, was determined to make the most of my precious four liters, so I decided to make some probiotic yogurt as well.
For the Chèvre, you’ll need a few things: a good thermometer, some cheesecloth, a large pot, some rennet, non-iodized salt and a few spare hours. It is important that you use non-iodized salt, because the iodine will kill all bacteria and cultures that are needed to make cheese. Furthermore, use only non-chlorinated water to dissolve your rennet.
Rennet usually comes in two varieties: animal and vegetable. Animal rennet is a collection of enzymes that occurs in the stomach of young animals that helps with the digestion of their mothers’ milk. Cheese makers use it to coagulate the milk, i.e. allow curd to form and separate from the whey. Vegetable rennets are extracted from a variety of plants that include dried caper leaves, certain types of ivy, nettles, and thistles.
In addition to rennet, a starter culture is required. These are divided into two types: mesophilic or thermophilic. Mesophilic cultures grow at lower temperatures (typically around 25 – 30°C depending on the brand) and is thus most commonly used for homemade cheeses). Other cultured dairy products such as kefir and sour cream also require a mesophilic starter culture.
I was surprised at just how easy it was to make fresh Chèvre. First, I heated the milk to 25°C. Next I sprinkled a very small amount of mesophilic starter into the milk and left it for about 5 minutes to rehydrate. Next, I dissolved the rennet in a small amount of water and added it to the milk. Stirred for about 1 minute, and left it to stand at room temperature overnight covered with a lid.
The next morning the curd was set so I spooned it into cheesecloth (if your are fancy, you could spoon it into a special cheese mold) and hanged it from the cupboard door for day to dry. After drying the cheese is salted and additional flavourings (such as fresh herbs) are added, and the cheese is ready to eat.
I must admit, I could not wait that long. I spooned some of the fresh curd into a bowl, added some hibiscus pollen, maple syrup and pistachio nuts and enjoyed a most delightful, healthy breakfast. The curd had the texture of silken tofu and tasted like panna cotta.
Yogurt requires a special starter culture, and no rennet is used. Probiotic cultures are best. These cultures work at higher temperatures (somewhere near 42°C) and the milk should be kept at that temperature until the yogurt is formed. This could take between 12 and 24 hours, so most home yogurts are made with a special incubator. If you do not have one of these (I don’t) you could use a cooler box filled with water and change the water as often as required to maintain the temperature.
Also, a thermo flask might be useful. I used a thermo-circulator and a water-bath set to 42°C and this worked fine. Once the milk has set, it has to be refrigerated for a few hours. To turn the ordinary yogurt into “Greek” yogurt, the yogurt is added to a fine muslin or cheesecloth to allow more liquid to drain.
The whey left over from your cheese making is useful too. To make ricotta (recooked) cheese, the whey should be allowed to ferment for a further 24 hours to allow it to become more acidic. Thereafter, it is heated to close to boiling point. At this high temperature, the remaining proteins will coagulate into a very soft curd that could be harvested by passing the mixture through fine cheesecloth. Ricotta is a popular dessert ingredient, but can be used for savoury dishes too.
Unfortunately the ingredients for making your own cheese are not easy to find in local stores. They are best bought online – unless of course we could convince someone to start stocking even the most basic starter kits. If you can lay your hands on some culture and rennet (a very small amount goes a very long way), and you can convince someone to milk a goat for you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how good a Chèvre you can make at home.
I have used Mad Millie starters and rennet. Different manufacturers will have different directions on how their products should be used. Please follow the appropriate instructions for your product.
If you are sure that there are no harmful bacteria in your milk, you could use raw milk. If not, please use pasteurized milk, and make sure all your equipment is sterilized.