Experiments with Goat Cheese: WIN!!!!!
One would think that after my last glib waltz across the edge of failure with homemade goat cheese that maybe I would be hesitant to try again. After all, I had done the research as best I could, used what I thought was common sense in the cheese making process, and I ended up with an unpalatable mess of crumbly, vinegary, dry curds. It was like the Ghost of Goat Cheese Past when I unwrapped that cheesecloth, and to say that I was disappointed doesn’t really do the situation justice. However, I am nothing if not tenacious.
Within a week I was determined to get back on that goat and ride it into cheese-dom, the only question was….well, how? Trial and error has taught me what NOT to do, but techniques for making perfect, creamy goat cheese still eluded me. People were kind enough to write in many suggestions, some of which I had tried in the past and others which were just not possible. For example, a rule of thumb for success seems to be using fresh, unpasteurized goat milk straight from the farmer’s bucket. This is problematic, because raw and unpasteurized milk or milk products are prohibited for sale in Canada. Other people nudged me towards some of their favorite purveyors of cheese making supplies, but I didn’t want to have to rely on fancy enzymes, cultures and chemicals. I wanted to know how to make goat cheese with the goat milk I was able to buy in Ontario, and using equipment, tools, and ingredients that were readily available. This was proving to be frustrating, to say the least.
At that point, I got a message from one of our fabulous readers (who I am dying to meet, especially after receiving a sample of her ToDieFor venison sausage earlier this year). She’s a hilariously charming, bright, hellcat of a woman, and every now and then we start Twittering to each other about cheese I just can’t stop. Let me tell you, this girl knows her cheese. In fact, she hails from a history of cheese, considering that her father was a cheese-maker for one of Ontario’s more pride-worthy companies. She brought my query to her father, and the advice I got was direct, succinct, and usable:
First off, he said you’ll never be able to get a true creamy goat cheese unless you add stabilizers. He also said not to boil the milk, as that denatures the proteins.
Heat the milk to 161ºF and hold it there for 16 seconds. Immediately cool to 90ºF. Add about 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt and return to 90ºF for a bit. Remove from heat and allow it to coagulate, which could take 12-14 hours. Strain through cheesecloth.
So that’s what I did. When I started this process, I was pretty clear about my goals. I wanted:
Perfect Goat Cheese
- snowy white
…..and this time, what I got:
- snowy white
I’m telling you, there are certain people that everyone should make friends with. I have always held firm that your nearest and dearest should always include an electrician, plumber, farmer/gardener, lawyer, teacher, artist, carpenter and medical doctor. However, I am now certain that I need to add cheese-maker to that list. Preferably soon. If there are any cheese makers out there who are dying to be ‘besties’ with a slightly histrionic and indiscriminate woman in Ontario, let me know. The friendship deli is open for business.
Goat Cheese: How To Avoid Humiliating Failure
Have on hand:
- 2L fresh goat milk (preferably 3.25% m.f. or higher)
- 2 tbsp yogurt with active bacterial culture *
- 1.5′ x 1.5′ square clean chemical free muslin or cotton
- large colander
* I used a yogurt made from goat milk, but a cow milk yogurt with active cultures is fine.
I am capable of following instructions (once in a while), so in a clean and sterilized pot I heated up the goat milk to a temperature of 161ºF, stirring it regularly so that it did not scald on the bottom of the pot. I held it at that temperature for about 30 seconds instead of 16 (I get distracted easily) and then took it off the heat. The temperature almost immediately started to drop.
Considering how quickly the temperature of the milk started to drop, I felt optimistic about the next steps, more than willing to wait 5-7 minutes for the temperature to drop to 90ºF. Sadly, those minutes came and went. Still, I waited.
After about 20-25 minutes the temperature was at 92ºF, which I like to think of as “Close Enough Accounting”. I ladled a spoonful of the warm milk into a small bowl and whisked in the yogurt. This mixture was then poured back into the rest of the milk and stirred to combine.
The next step was to allow that small amount of active bacterial culture from the yogurt to act on and stabilize the milk. Exactly the same as if we were making homemade yogurt, a tight fitting lid was placed on the pot before it was wrapped in towels and placed in a warm and draft free spot to rest for about 12 hours.
After resting, the milk had “set” but it was still much looser than I was used to for yogurt. Perhaps this was due to a weaker and more submissive bacterial culture from the goat yogurt, but either way it still had some body.
I lined a clean and sterilized colander with a swath of thin cotton. My cotton was harvested from an ancient white sheet which was clean, rinsed and left to air dry before use. You could easily use 3 layers of cheesecloth to line the drainage, but muslin or cotton are easier to scrape and clean.
The mixture was poured into the large colander set over a large mixing bowl (or in the sink) to begin draining.
An exceptional amount of liquid will leech from the mixture as it drains, so if you are doing this in a bowl be sure to discard the water before it creeps up to high and licks the bottom of your bag.
After 4-6 hours, the volume should have decreased by 20-30%. Carefully gather up the cloth into a little purse and tie it tightly with twine. Leave the ends on your twine quite long so that you can use them to hang the bag.
When you’re aging any dairy or meat product, you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a relatively dry, temperature controlled environment with adequate air circulation. As far as air circulation goes, that doesn’t mean that your best bet is to leave it outside and free to the elements, but rather that you don’t want the bag to be propped up against anything or snuggled into a corner. You also don’t want it too hot, which will build bad bacteria, and you don’t want it too cold because the cultures will not have an opportunity to grow.
Our house has erratic temperatures as well as two curious cats, so the best place for me is inside a cold oven. I simply moved one rack up to the highest position and tied the bag so that it was hanging down. A large bowl was placed in the bottom of the oven under the sack to catch the drips.
After 12 hours of draining, I eagerly unwrapped the goat cheese. Around the exterior the goat cheese had firmed up, but the inside of the bag was still a bit loose, more like a labneh (yogurt cheese) than goat cheese. A quick taste also revealed that the flavor was very mild and creamy, but didn’t have that evocative tang reminiscent of goat cheese.
After scraping down the sides of the cloth I mashed and mixed everything back up to a uniform consistency, tied the bag back nice and tight and left it to hang for another 12 hours.
After years of having food safety hammered at us from all ends, it is understandable to feel a bit squeamish about leaving dairy products outside of the refrigerator for almost two days. Look, I get that, and as the person who shrieks to see someone stick a mustard crusted spoon into the mayonnaise jar, I empathize with your discomfort. All sorts of things could grow or change in the milk during that time, right?
Well….yes. That’s exactly right, and that’s what we want. Cheese doesn’t make itself, you know. It’s a careful process of fermentation and bacterial growth that actively works to alter the taste, texture, and composition of dairy. So, hey, fermentation is pretty delicious, huh?
After the stirred cheese had been rehung for about 12-15 hours, I unwrapped the final bundle.
This was goat cheese in all it’s glory. The creamy cheese clung together in a tight ball, but was still easily coaxed away to be smoothed creamily onto a whole grain cracker. The additional hanging time also enhanced the flavor of the cheese, lending it a richer, tangier flavor which was unmistakably that of a goat cheese. The color was a pure, virginal white, and there wasn’t a grainy, crumbly or granular bit to be had.
My one concern is that I kept doubting myself. Was this really goat cheese? Because technique would indicate that it’s more like goat-labneh, or a strained goat yogurt than a soft cheese. However, then I nibbled on a wee little spoonful, swiped a fresh cherry across the top, and slathered it on yet another cracker, before realizing that I don’t care. If it looks like goat cheese and it tastes like goat cheese, I’m not going to kick it out of bed in the morning.
Verdict: Goat Cheese – WIN!!!!
I’m like the King Solomon of dairy. If I could have 700 cheese in my kitchen at any given time, and another 300 in line, just waiting to be taken and enjoyed, I would die fat(ter) and happy. Goat cheeses are no exception to this. I like a smooth, creamy, spreadable goat cheese like this one, the texture of which was similar to cream cheese. However, I also get all weak-kneed for a firmer goat cheese that can be sliced into logs (before getting dredged in ground nuts and broiled, of course). If you want your goat cheese firmer, let it hang for a longer period of time, however you may want to put it in the fridge to finish hanging just in case any household spores were getting funny ideas.
What a glorious thing it is to make your own cheese! Soft, unripened cheeses are so easily yours when you have a good guideline to follow, take proper care of hygiene and sterility where necessary, and have just a little bit of hope and patience in your bag of tricks. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that the worst that can happen is a spoiled 2 liters of milk….and that’s certainly not worth crying over.