What are Soft Fresh Cheeses?
Different types of cheeses are classified partly according to age. Soft fresh cheeses are un-ripened cheeses which are relatively low in fat and salt. They are ready to eat when you have finished making them and have a fairly short shelf life of around 1 to 2 weeks. For these simple cheeses, milk is curdled with an enzyme or acid causing the milk proteins and fat to coagulate and form a curd. Once the milk has curdled, the curds are separated from the liquid whey. The curds that remain are drained under gravity, and sometimes lightly pressed, before they are molded into cheese.
Soft fresh cheeses are typically white in colour with a smooth, creamy texture and have fairly mild flavours which may be described as tangy, milky, tart and buttery. Different types of soft fresh cheeses have a wide range of uses and some ideas as to how you can use your cheese can be found in the recipe section.
Milk is milk …right?
The key to great cheese is the quality of the milk; milk with a higher fat content will produce more cheese with a fuller, richer flavour. As an approximate guide, 8 pints (1 gallon) of milk will yield approximately 2lbs of soft cheese. Traditionally cheese was made with raw, unpasteurised and un-homogenised milk and some cheeses are still made from unprocessed milk. However, milk available in the supermarket is processed, it is the mixed milk of herds of cows (or goat’s) from different farms. The butterfat content has been adjusted by separating off excess cream and it is pasteurised to destroy potentially harmful microorganisms. Milk is also homogenised, this means the fat globules are broken down so that the cream (fat) does not rise to the top of the milk when it is left to stand. If you are not pregnant or someone with a compromised immune system, try to seek out raw (unpasteurised) milk at your local farmers market, or look for organic, un-homogenised milk. Although it is preferable to use un-homogenised milk for cheese making it is not essential for these recipes.
Just add milk!
Standard whole (full-fat) pasteurised and homogenised cow’s milk works in all of our Italian cheese recipes. Use the freshest milk that you can. Do not use UHT (ultra-heat treated) milk; this milk is exposed to super high levels of heat to kill off every scrap of bacteria making it impossible to make most types of cheese.
For Goat’s cheese you will need to use goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is readily available in most supermarkets. Use the freshest whole goat’s milk you can find, organic and milk with a short shelf-life works best. Pasteurised and homogenised milk works in all of the recipes. Do not use UHT (ultra-heat treated) milk, this milk is exposed to super high levels of heat to kill off every scrap of bacteria making it impossible to make most types of cheese.
Goat’s milk is drunk by more people around the world than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk contains slightly less lactose than cow’s milk and the amount of lactose than people can tolerate varies. Goat’s milk is also more similar to human’s milk than cow’s milk. These factors may explain why some people who are sensitive to lactose find goat’s milk and cheese more easily digestible.
Before you start ensure your equipment is clean by washing it in hot soapy water, rinse and dry. Give your kitchen surfaces a wipe down with an antibacterial cleaning agent. Although a near-sterile environment is not required for soft cheese making (as it would be for making hard cheese), a good level of cleanliness is required to prevent any unwanted bacteria contaminating the cheese and creating ‘off’ flavours.
Heating the milk
Always heat the milk slowly. If you heat the milk quickly it is more likely to scald the bottom of the pan and this will taint the flavour of the cheese. Also, the magic chemistry which turns your milk into cheese may not happen if you rush it. Be patient and as you slowly heat the milk, stir it often to help distribute the heat evenly.
Using your thermometer
For cheese making to be successful it is essential that you heat the milk to the correct temperature. Clip your thermometer to the side of the pan when you begin to heat the milk. Your thermometer has a long probe and an easy-to-read dial face making it easy to monitor the milk temperature during cheese making. The thermometer probe should be well submerged (but not touching the bottom of the pan) to help ensure you are taking an accurate reading.
Using and cleaning your cheesecloth
Your kit comes with a fine weave cheesecloth, this prevents the curds escaping and minimises wastage when you are draining your cheese. Before you use your cheese cloth soak it in boiling water for a few minutes to ensure that it is sterile. Alternatively, you can rinse it through, squeeze out the excess water and put it in the microwave for a few minutes. You can reuse your cheesecloth time and time again, just give it a rinse out after use and add it to the laundry.
Our cheese making kits contain top quality fine flaky sea salt, full of minerals and flavour to help preserve and flavour your cheeses. However, you can also add a huge variety of ingredients for sweet and savoury flavours. Try adding fresh or dried finely chopped herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, chives or rosemary. Add savoury flavours such as sundried tomatoes, olives or bacon crumbles, or fold in sweet flavours such as dried fruits like figs and apricots, or fresh fruits such as blueberries, raspberries or chopped strawberries. Alternatively you could roll or coat your cheese in herbs, chilli flakes, cracked black pepper or finely chopped nuts. Don’t be afraid to experiment, sometimes the most unlikely flavour combinations are the best!
Presenting your cheese
Our cheese making kits contain a mold (Goat’s Cheese Kit) or a Ricotta basket (Italian Cheese Kit). However, if you’re feeling creative you can also make your own cheese molds using old yogurt or dessert tubs simply by cleaning them and piercing holes in the sides. Alternatively you can shape your cheese into logs or balls by hand, or use ramekins. If you would like to turn cheese out of the ramekins, just lightly coat them with oil first, fill them with cheese and put them into the fridge to chill before you turn them out. You may also want to look at some different size and shaped molds in our ‘Cheese Making Supplies’.
Storing your cheese
Store your cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for approximately 1 week. This will help prevent the cheese being tainted by any other foods in the fridge. Discard any cheese which develops mould growth or staining.
The process of making soft fresh cheese varies according to the recipe you are following, and the type of cheese you are making. However the basic principles are similar and a look at the processes involved will help you to understand what you are trying to achieve at each step of the cheese making process.
When soft fresh cheeses are made, very simply the milk is curdled with an enzyme (rennet) or (citric) acid which causes the milk proteins and fat to coagulate and form a curd. Once the milk has curdled, the curds are separated from the liquid whey by draining. Following draining the curds that remain are hung to enable draining under gravity, and sometimes lightly pressed. Finally the cheese can be flavoured and molded or shaped before storage and eating.
Adding Rennet and Citric Acid
Depending upon the recipe you are following the rennet and/or citric acid will be added to separate the curds and whey. Rennet and Citric Acid should be diluted (as per the recipe instructions) before adding them to the milk. This will enable these ingredients to mix evenly throughout the milk, it’s also important to ensure that you stir the milk to ensure the Rennet and Citric Acid are well distributed. Rennet is destroyed by both extreme heat and cold, so although it can be kept in the fridge it must not be frozen. It is also destroyed by light and so must be stored in a dark place.
Heating the milk
Always heat the milk slowly. If you heat the milk quickly it is likely to scald the bottom of the pan and this will taint the flavour of the cheese. Also, the magic chemistry which turns your milk into cheese may not happen if you rush it. Be patient and as you slowly heat the milk, stir it often to help distribute the heat evenly. This will also help to ensure you are taking an accurate temperature reading from your thermometer. For cheese making to be successful it is essential that you heat the milk to the correct temperature.
Draining the curds
Once your curds have set (and rested if need be), you will need to drain off the whey. To do this use your cheesecloth to line a colander so that it hangs over the edge. Cheese cloth is a very fine weave cloth helps to prevent the curd escaping. Initially, use a slotted spoon to ladle some of the curds into the colander, this will help to hold the cloth in place .When you can lift your pan, carefully pour its contents into the colander so that you don’t splash yourself with hot whey. For cheeses with a lot of whey do this slowly to allow the whey to drain from the colander as you go. Ensure the whey can drain freely and that the curds in the colander are not sitting in the whey below. Once all of the curds have been transferred to the colander, gather up the corners of the cloth for hanging.
Hanging the curds
You need to hang most soft cheeses to let gravity drain out the remaining whey. Gather up the corners of the cloth and devise a way to hang the cheese. This could be from a mixer tap, a cupboard handle, or a wooden spoon balanced across the top of a bowl. It’s best to experiment and see what works for you. Make sure the bag is high enough so it’s not touching the whey in the bowl below. Leave the cheese to hang until it stops dripping, or there are very few drops per hour.
Finishing your cheese: Molds and flavours
Once your cheese has drained you can add salt and/or any other flavours that you may wish to fold into the cheese. Salt helps to draw excess whey from the curds, and preserve the cheese. Soft cheeses were traditionally flavoured with dried or fresh herbs. Finely chopped basil, thyme, oregano, chives or rosemary for example, can be folded in to your cheese, as can sundried tomatoes, olives or bacon crumbles for savoury flavours. Alternatively you could roll or coat your cheese in dried or finely chopped herbs, chilli flakes, finely cracked black pepper or finely chopped nuts. For sweet flavours, dried fruits such as figs and apricots, or fresh fruits such as blueberries or chopped strawberries can be folded into your cheese, as could a little honey. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Molding and shaping your cheese
Once your cheese is drained and you have added salt and/or flavours you are ready to shape your cheese. You can do this by using the mold in your kit. You could also create your own cheese molds from old yogurt pots or dessert tubs simply by cleaning them and piercing holes in the sides. Alternatively, you may choose to shape the cheese into logs or balls using your hands, or using ramekins. If you would like to turn cheese out of the ramekins, just lightly coat them with oil first, fill them with cheese and put them into the fridge to chill before you turn them out. You may also want to look at some different size and shaped molds in our Cheese Making Supplies.
Storing your cheese
Your cheese will be ready to eat when you have finished making it. You can store your cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for approximately 1 week. Discard any cheese which develops mould growth or staining.