Experiments With Goat Cheese: FAIL

I like to eat.  I like to cook.  Thankfully, these two affinities are tied into one another more often than not.  For example, Mike talk frequently about my “Mass Spectrometer”, or the almost uncanny ability I have to taste a food and tell you Exactly. What. Is. In. There….assuming that I’ve tried the individual ingredients before, which I frequently have because I am also as nosy as the day is long, and if I haven’t tried something new (culinary or otherwise) each and every day I almost feel like I’ve wasted it.

The Mass Spectrometer is a tool/skill that has seen me through time and time again, but there are certain situations where taste is just not enough, and you need to rely on knowledge, ability and training.  Baking and cheese making are just two such situations.  I can taste a tart and I’ll usually be able to name all the flavor elements that went in there, but I might not be able to extrapolate the ratio of flour to sugar, or whether the dough used milk or water for moisture.  Similarly, I can taste a cheese and say, “This tastes delicious!” but that’s about it.  I’ll know if the cheese is young or aged, washed rind or bloomed, and if there is a brine I’ll usually have a good idea of what it was made from.  However, I am absolutely and utterly lacking in the ability to say, “Oh yes, that is a washed rind sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque region made from ewes that only ate four leafed clovers, and it was air dried and aged for 3-5 years.  To make that you need to [step 1] and then [step 2] and [step 3], but don’t forget to [step 4] or [step 5] or you’ll end up with a mess.”  I’m sorry, because I really WISH that I could do that, but I can’t.  I’m not nearly the expert cheese monger that I wish I was, and for that reason I look to the experts……or the internet.

And oh, the internet. What a tangled web we do weave.

My ridiculous cookbook collection left no hints as to the intricacies of cheese making, so I launched a head-on battle with the interwebs to discern what best practices were from the home kitchen.  Here is what I learned:

  • Make sure your goat’s milk boils
  • Under no condition should your milk reach a boil
  • Use vinegar to coagulate the solids
  • Use ONLY cider vinegar to coagulate the solids
  • Use lemon juice and NEVER vinegar to coagulate the solids
  • Boil the milk after you add vinegar
  • Under no condition should you boil your milk after you add vinegar
  • Strain the cheese through cheesecloth
  • Press excess moisture from your  cheese
  • Eat the cheese immediately
  • Press your cheese and let it drain for 1-2 hours, or up to overnight for a firmer cheese

Let me tell you what I found out: The interwebs are full of crap.

Sure, that comes as no surprise to most of you, but I do expect SOME measure of reliability from the sites that I frequent, particularly when there are recipes and reviews involved.  The problem with goat’s cheese seemed to be that the reviews included, “I barely scalded the milk and it didn’t work”, “I boiled the milk and it didn’t work”, “I used special milk from the infamous cheese-bearing Alphanikku ewes, and it didn’t work.”  (Don’t bother with Google.  I already did.  There is no such thing as an Alphanikku goat). That’s when I started to lose faith.  I’ve used “reliable” guidelines umpteen times in an effort to make paneer, but with surprisingly limited success. That’s ridiculous, because panner is pretty much the easiest unripened cheese that you could ask for.  And yet…so it goes.  No dice. No cheese for Tina.  I think that I’ve been foiled so many times that it’s difficult to believe that any cheese making will be successful.

I tried my best, guys.  I really did.  Goat cheese, however is still eluding me.  Let me start by telling you what I want.

Perfect Goat Cheese

  • creamy
  • tangy
  • rich
  • snowy white
  • spreadable

…..and what I got.

  • tangy
  • crumbly
  • snowy white
  • vinegary
  • dry

Not a complete success.

Have you made goat cheese before?  Because if so, I implore you to show me the way.  I just want to produce a creamy and flavorful goat’s cheese that I can be proud of.  The goat cheese I made, despite my best intentions, was most definitely a  FAIL.

Let me walk you through my road to agony and self-deprecation…….

Here is what I started with:  2 liters of goat’s milk, NOT low fat or ultra-pasteurized (to the best of my  knowledge, because both can limit coagulation), and some apple cider vinegar.

Because I was in the Girl Guides of Canada for longer years than I wish to admit, I still like to always be prepared.  Casually waiting on the side I had a colander/strainer lined with a double layer of cheese-cloth, and it was sitting in a deep heat-proof mixing bowl.

I heated the goat’s milk on medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until it was just cresting a boil.  If you look closely you can see that there was a foamy sheen on top of the milk, and in the lower left you can see how bubbles were just starting to break the surface.

It was about at this point that my kitchen started to smell a lot like…..goat.  Really.  Boiling goat’s milk is a good way to get every cat in the neighborhood all hyped up as your partner starts to question his/her good judgment in choosing you as a potential spouse.  It was rangy and not entirely pleasant.  I almost wished that I had a stem of hayseed to suck between my teeth, because if nothing else it would have made me feel more generically farm-y and therefore I would have felt entitled to the barnyard smells that were emanating from the stove and soon swirling throughout the neighboring rooms.  I’m not a farmer, and I have no entitlement to a farmer’s imperturbable character, ergo this was not an entirely uncomfortable sensation and Mike complained for days that our house smelled, “Like goats”.  He was not wrong.

Leaving the pot on the heat I quickly added 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and gave the mixture a stir.  I had read a lot of recipes and reviews on goat cheese, but in terms of the acid ratio it was most frequently 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar or lemon juice to 1 liter of milk.  Thankfully, the milk started to separate almost immediately.  I started to relax and feel at ease, like this was some kind of a cheese-making cake walk.  After all, the biggest problem that I’ve ever had with paneer is that the milk wouldn’t separate and I sorrowfully tried to strain out milky whey and lackadaisical solids which were in no way interested in becoming cheese.  Goat’s milk?  WIN. At least, that’s what I told myself.

I stirred the milk regularly for about 2 minutes while it was on the heat and continued to separate.  After that,  I took the milk off the heat and let it sit and cool for 3-4 minutes while the super cool coagulation took place, and the solids visible distanced themselves from the whey.

This step had also made me nervous.  After reading so many reports that said, “DON’T LET THE MILK BOIL WHATEVER YOU DO OR IT WILL TURN OUT LIKE SH*T {no sic}”, I was hesitant to trust this much heat.  However, it seemed to work.  Or so I thought. You can see that the whey was clear and slightly yellow while the solids were a cool milky white, which is obviously a good thing…..right?

The mixture was poured through my cheese-cloth lined sieve so that the solids would be collected.  I usually don’t discard the liquid whey as it’s full of protein and flavor, but because I know that I’m not making soup or doing too much cooking in the next few days I sadly had to bid it adieu.  It looked granular and thick, but as a goat’s cheese ingenue I was hardly one to judge.

The solids were stirred within their cheese-cloth shell for a minute or two to bring them together before I added salt and any other flavor modifications.  I’ve been feeling the dill lately, so about 1 teaspoon of dried dill entered the mix.

After stirring the seasoning into the cheese base, the suspiciously crumbly mixture was gathered together with cheese-clot and tied at the top.  I used a wooden spoon to press out any additional liquid which might have still been lurking in the creamy depths.

Following directions again, I put a small plate down on top of the wrapped goat cheese parcel with a light weight. The weight continued to press out moisture so that the cheese could drain for another 60-90 minutes.  The damage may have already been done, but I fear that this was still too long.

Et voila. Goat cheese.  A totally anticlimactic goat cheese, as fate would have it.  This was less creamy than crumbly, and it held together almost like a queso fresco or pressed cottage cheese. That’s cool, but not really what I was going for.

Was the problem the “draining time”?  Maybe I shouldn’t have let the cheese rest?  Frankly, I don’t know yet.  I would also question the ratio of milk to vinegar, because there was a decided vinegar flavor to the cheese that wasn’t distasteful, but I certainly wouldn’t seek that out.

The texture was crumbly and unpleasantly dry, some might say.  “Some” being “me”.

I must hasten to say that if nothing else, this cheese-like product was absolutely delicious.  It really was.   The flavor was mild and almost sweet but just a bit gamey and most assuredly from goat.  What was more of a concern was the texture.

Therefore, I consider Goat Cheese V1.0 a failure.  The taste was almost true, and the coagulation was apparent, but we got neither the creamy and spreadable character or the irreplaceable tang that makes us reminisce about goat’s cheese.  I tried to shmear it on a cracker, but that was a mistake.  I just need to figure out The Right Way, so that my goat’s cheese will be silkily spreadable and unbeatably tangy. However, until I do, at least you can take a look and let me know what you think I did wrong so that hopefully other people won’t repeat these mistakes.

xoxo

Tina


  • http://Thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    Cheese is HARD to make, and I consider all goat cheese to be a fail, so I’m not disappointed in you at all. But please, please, please try making burrata. You buy the mozzarella curd and the mascarpone filling, and then you stretch it and shape it and dip it in salty scalding water and it turns into this masterpiece of delicious, and then you feel like you made cheese, and it’s incredibly impressive, and you didn’t have to coagulate jack or shit.

    I”ve made it once a week for the last 5 weeks. It’s a “thing” right now, I guess. I want you to enjoy it too.

  • http://laurenrjacobs.blogspot.com Lauren

    It looks pretty in pictures 🙂

    I’m glad it tasted good though. What will you try next to get it right? Or will you never try it again? :p

  • http://www.eatatburp.com lo

    I do think that cheese is a definite challenge, so I’m going to give you complete kudos for trying it in the first place… especially since I haven’t.

    Which is something I need you to know before I make my next suggestion: try using non-homogenized milk.

    A friend of mine noticed a vast difference in the quality and texture of homemade ricotta cheese after switching to a non-homogenized variety of cow’s milk — so I can’t imagine the same wouldn’t be true for you & your goat cheese adventure.

    Of course, if you do try it, be sure to let me know if it works so that I can do the same 🙂

  • Roger A. Blizzard

    It’s an art, not a science. Even people who make cheese regularly have bad batches.

    Take a look at youtube.com and there are videos of dozens of people making goat cheese. I think something like this might be what you are going for: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J01mYJfds2U

    Most people are visual learners so if nothing else, you might pick up some pointers on technique for something you’re missing.

    Let us know how it turns out.

  • Kate

    Ran across this on MetaFilter, maybe it would be a interesting/helpful read?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/jan/05/science-cheesemaking-cheese

    I hope you keep trying so you can give us the definitive goat cheese recipe.

  • Jason

    “Blessed are the Cheese Makers”

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Kristie – even the thought of burrata makes me weak with WANT. I don’t know of anywhere that sells the curds around here, but you got yours from Whole Foods, right? There actually *IS* a Whole Foods in Toronto, in the most ridiculously inconvenient location, so maybe I should try my hand at that…..

    Lauren – are you kidding me? I have a second attempt draining right now!

    Lo – did you mean non-homogenized or unpasteurized? For the latter, we have no hope at all of finding it, because you cannot buy or sell unpasteurized milk in Canada. For non-homogenized, well….hm. I’ll take a look in the natural foods section. Thanks for the tip!

    Roger – I watched that video (among others) before starting!! He is one of the reasons that I boiled the milk (shakes fist at screen) and decided vinegar was preferred over lemon.

    Kate – thank you so much, that was a wonderful and entertaining read! Of course I’ll keep trying at this. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever get the *definitive* recipe, but you know that I’ll try.

    Jason – no, blessed are the people who have to eat their mistakes……..

  • Jason

    Hi ho Tina! I was loath to make a reference, but really suggest you email Nancy at The Beverage People, the local homebrew supply shop I use for beermaking, but who also does a lot of business in cheesemaking (info@thebeveragepeople.com). They were featured in a recent Sunset Magazine article on making fromage blanc at home (http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/techniques/fromage-blanc-cheese-making-00400000062628/) and are always ready to share technique.

    • Jason

      Tina, I just finished making Fromage Blanc myself and Chevre with a friend; both cheeses turned out well, but the Chevre took a few days longer. As a yogurt maker, you’re already basically doing Fromage Blanc, but instead of a starter, you use a combination of culture, calcium chloride, and veggie rennet… oh, yeah, and the milk only needs to be raised to 85 F. You let it sit in a warm place for 12 hours then pour it into the cheese cloth lined collander to sit for antother 12-24 hrs, then voila!

      I also tried to use the whey for making Ricotta, another yogurt-like process, but a cheese maker friend told me the general acidity of the fermented fresh cheeses was likely too acidic (as compared to the whey from mozarella and cheddar) to make ricotta, which had been exactly my experience and why I started drinking an hour before he showed up.

  • http://homeindisarray.blogspot.com Laurel

    To combat the vinegary-ness of it, you may consider using powdered citric acid. I get mine from a homebrew shop for hardly anything. It’s also nice to have around for apples and whatnot when you don’t want to waste money on lemon juice or impart the flavor of anything other than apple.

    When I made mozzarella, I turned off the heat before the boil after adding the citric acid and let it sit for several minutes for curds to develop and then pulled the curd out. Dunno if that’d work for goat cheese.

  • Paula

    I have a couple of friends on FB that have goats (and sheep) & make cheese..
    I’ll forward this post to them.

    One friend (Maggie) says you can feed failed cheese to chickens if you have any. If not, perhaps you can set it out for wild birds?

  • karen

    While in Thunder Bay being a maid of my sister-bride, you should try to pay a visit to the Thunder Oak cheese farm. the owners are a lovely dutch family who make award winning Gouda from the milk of their own cows. You can watch the whole process and sample and buy many flavours of gouda as well as the curds. Yum. Yum.

  • Mari from McMinnville Or

    Okay, so after reading Kessler’s “Goat Song” I have been absolutely OCD about making goat cheese. Sadly, it’s been difficult to find a vendor who is willing to sell a gallon of goat’s milk, even though we live in one of the richest and fertile farming valleys in the world.

    So, last weekend, I finally received a fresh gallon of goat’s milk, and per your observation, I was frustrated by the conflicting Internet recipes. Because I chose to use Junket rennet tablets, I followed both a recipe from an Internet site and Junket recipes religiously. I used a candy thermometer to bring the milk up to 100 degrees Celsius, took it off the burner to cool down to 82 degrees, added a tablespoon of Brown Cow Organic plain yogurt and a half table of Junket and waited overnight for inoculation and results. I swear, I ended up with something that was like the Flarp we used to make with cornstarch, fabric softener and water that had the consistency of snot.

    After draining in a cheese bag that I bought from a goat cheese farmer from our local market that still smelled of “real” goat cheese, I still didn’t see a difference…just Flarp. I washed and bleached the bags again and will try to drain the Flarp, but at ten dollars a gallon, I’m motivated to figure out some recipe that will benefit from my error. Maybe Flarcheesecake?

    Nonetheless, if anyone reads this post and can give me some feedback on the Flarp, I would truly appreciate the advice!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Jason – ooh, I LOVE fromage blanc! What an interesting idea to reuse the whey in another cheese. I had never thought of using the discarded fluid to provide the acidic element for separation! Great idea! And hey, if I can use it at least once more than I’ll feel less compelled to use it as a tangy soup base…again and again…..

    Laurel – Huh..I like the purity of adding just citric acid without watering things down. Also, you have reminded me that I really, REALLY want to try making mozzarella…….. thanks for the tip!

    Paula – No chickens, sadly. I set the cheese out for Wild Mikes instead.

    Karen – we went to Thunder Oak last time we came up! What a lovely place. I can still taste their gouda with cumin seed…ooh, or the roasted garlic gouda. *contented sigh*

    Mari from McMinnville – DON’T THROW IT OUT!!! Okay, so I tried making goat cheese again using advice from a man who is a commercial cheesemaker. I followed a really similar process but only used yogurt (no rennet). It came out like a really loose yogurt and at first I was gutted, but then remembered that it had to strain and hang. I used some old thin cotton to make a bag and hung it to drain for 12 hours. A REMARKABLE amount of fluid was lost, but it was still loose. All in all I let it hang and drain for about 2 days, and it was PERFECT. The flavor was mild but still a bit tangy and goaty, the cheese was creamy and smooth….oh, just JOY. I’ll be doing a write up soon on my experience, which I’m sure can be improved but is pretty good right now….Don’t lose hope!

    • Mari

      Thanks for the encouragement. It’s hanging from my cupboard door right now. If I pasteurized it, do you think I need to worry about bacterial growth? Should I hang it somehow in the fridge?

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  • Francine

    I used the same method roughly as Tina and ended up with about the same consistency until….I kneaded in the salt and the spices (like Tina says the methods vary widely). As I was trying to get everything homogenous I probably spent ~10 minutes at it while adjusting the flavor. This changed the texture considerably. I would say it is almost like the consistency of some of the chevre that I have bought at the grocery store. Some tasty stuff. Cheers!

  • Mo

    Hi there,
    Oh DO tell the yogourt method. I made my own goat cheese last night. I used 2.66 litres of Liberty 2% goat’s milk. Mine came out a bit gummy (I think I stirred mine more than you did yours perhaps) and I agree that it was delicious but was not tangy. (I wouldn’t call mine vinegary either though). I used the whey to make bread that night and man-o-man that is some yummy bread. Apparently this is traditionally what whey was used for by the cheese-makers family. So HOW did you get the lovely tang? Was it by ripening the milk first? Using yogourt to get the acidity instead of vinegar, if so, how much was stirred in and when? Or was it by allowing the cheese to hang for two days?
    Mo