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

  • creamy
  • tangy
  • rich
  • snowy white
  • spreadable

…..and this time, what I got:

  • creamy
  • tangy
  • rich
  • snowy white
  • spreadable

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
  • twine

* 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.

And 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.

  • elsewise

    WOOOO!! Congratulations on your successful cheese making. @Hellcat13 AND her dad know their cheese (even though he’s all about cheddar). He’s been giving us tips to try to improve our attempts at your homemade yogurt, too — our ovens are unreliable in their heat retention, so we’re thinking of maybe doing the programmable crockpot thing. We’ll see.

    Hey, while I have the attention of your cooking-genius brain, I have a dish in need of a recipe. Stephanie and I ate a truly phenomenal side dish of southwestern black beans (at Candeleros, in Manchester VT), and I need to know how to recreate them. They were super rich and buttery without the sheen or oiliness of buttery dishes, with some definite garlic and some sort of warm spice that was probably ancho chile powder. Maybe some cumin? All the waitress could tell me was that they were cooked in chicken stock. Ideas? I keep coming up with recipes for Cuban frijoles negros that don’t seem quite right.

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

      Hi Elsewise! I love black beans in all of their iterations. If they were really rich tasting the beans were probably fried with some pork fat (fat back or bacon) before getting slowly braised in a rich stock that reduced over time. If the texture was thick, it either means that they were braised for a long time so that some of the beans broke down, or that a small bit was pureed and added back in. Why don’t you try making them similar to frijoles negros but without all of the added meats? Sometimes a bit of bacon fat is enough to mimic the flavor, especially if there are a lot of additional aromatics (bay, garlic, spice, etc). Good luck!

      • elsewise

        The restaurant took pity on me and let me in on some of its process and ingredients. My rough approximation (tried, tested, and yummy) is as follows:

        Step 1:
        1.5 cups dry black beans
        4.5 cups water
        1/2 tsp dry epazote
        1.5 tsp salt

        Place dry beans in a large stock pot. Cover with water. Add epazote and salt. Bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and let stand 20 minutes. Return to simmer and cook until tender (about 2 hours). Drain. Cool.

        Step 2:
        1/4 cup chopped mexican onions (I have no idea what they mean by this. I used yellow)
        1/4 cup chopped red onions
        1/3 of a poblano pepper, diced
        1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced
        2 teaspoons vegetable oil
        1 teaspoon garlic powder
        1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
        1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
        1 teaspoon black pepper
        1 1/2 teaspoons salt
        3-4 cups chicken stock (enough to cover the beans)
        4-5 cups cooked black beans (SHOULD be the approximate yield from the recipe above)

        Heat oil to smoking point in a large pot. Add onions and peppers; toss. Add spices; toss. Once spices are toasted (about 5 minutes), add beans; toss. Add chicken stock to come 3/4 of the way up the beans and reduce by half (around 20 minutes).

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

          Thank you for the recipe!! I ADORE beans, particularly black beans, so I can’t wait to try this recipe that you guys loved!

  • Nanco

    YAY, SUCCESS! I’m so proud of you – that goat cheese looks delicious!
    @elsewise – I think many kitchens use animal lard to help make their bean dishes smooth and creamy. Not the most appetizing idea but that’s what I’ve encountered.

  • Hellcat13

    Awww, you’re the sweetest. We’ll hook up eventually 🙂

    And I’m so glad it worked! Can’t wait to tell my dad. To which he’ll respond “BLECH. Goat cheese” and then shudder. Sigh. He is a cow man. But a cow man who knows his cheese!

  • Jason

    Congratulations Tina! I’ve been making chevre with a friend using the bacterial cultures with cheese molds and agree that simpler is better, especially when you can eliminate specialty ingredients/utensils. One thing I love about your site is knowing/reading someone who’s actually doing it in a real kitchen under the conditions of a real life.

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

      ….even if those ‘conditions of a real life’ mean that during my most recent batch I forgot about it for 4 days as it hung from my oven rack (it was a busy week with more pizza and frozen -but homemade – pot pies than I would like to admit) and it grew a foamy black fungus? Because that happens too, in my real kitchen. Goddamn this real life!!

  • carol

    How does this compare to storebought goat cheese in terms of cost?

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

      Carol – Comparative prices where I live mean that it is cheaper. How much cheaper would depend on the quality & brand of goat cheese that you’re used to buying. The 2L of goat milk was about $5.50ish (CAD), and the yield of goat cheese was just under 3 cups (approximately). I’m used to buying cheapy-cheap goat cheese (to use in a dish where texture & flavor aren’t AS important) for $3.50ish for a 6-8 oz log, or $5-7 for an equivalent log of higher quality.

      For you, it will depend largely on accessibility of ingredients. If you can find affordable goat milk, you’re singing! Better yet, if you don’t live in Canada and you’re able to buy fresh goat milk from a farmer (or at an open market) the results would likely be even better.

      • Kelly Mahler

        luckly missouri allows the sale of raw dairy

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

          Kelly – thank you for your comment!!! Good luck with the goat cheese, and please let us know how it goes!!!!

  • Rachel

    I’m sitting here eating some delicious but a bit expensive at $1 (US)/ounce, local herbed spreadable goat cheese. Thank you, thank you for the detailed instructions on how to make my own. All I need to do is mix in the rosemary, chives, and lavender and I’ll be set.

    • Kelly Mahler

      Lavender nice idea.

  • Mo

    Thank you SO much for posting this. I am totally trying this after I eat my first batch which was made using the vinegar method. I make my own homemade yogourt and I knew it had something to do with letting the lactic acid ripen. I can’t WAIT!

  • Kelly Mahler

    I love this idea. Read your page earlier and ran to the health food store to purchase goats milk. I’ve been making my own yogurt and wanted to try cherve. I’m so excited it’s, working! The worst part is the waiting. Thanks for the great tip. I’ve also heard of making it 1qt milk 1/4 cup buttermilk bring to 180 degrees remove from heat stir in 1/4 cup fresh lemon juices and stir until it curdles then the same straining process. I plan on trying that one too. Thanks a million 24 hours to go.

  • Nigel

    I have been following this recipe to a letter, but don’t seem to be able to get the milk to move beyond almost cream in consistency.
    Is this all I need or can you suggest something to progress it a bit and get to the consistency I will need?
    I left the latest batch this morning, before leaving to work, having added the contents of an acidopholous capsule in it to see if that would help!!!
    Any ideas would be great.
    Thanks from sunny Scotland.

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

      Nigel – hello, our new Scottish friend!! Adding acidophilus is an interesting idea, and I’d love to hear how that worked for you! My first thought is that perhaps your yogurt did not have active bacterial cultures (many purchased yogurts don’t), and that bacteria is essential in breaking down the sugars and creating lactic acid.

      A few other thoughts;
      – When I was a child and my father made yogurt, he’d always put a big warning sign saying “DO NOT TOUCH! NO TOUCHING! STAY AWAY!” on the outside of the pot. This process for goat cheese is essentially a slightly more fermented thick goat yogurt. When you’re setting/thickening dairy, you want to leave it undisturbed and avoid jiggling or moving the vessel or it won’t set tightly.

      – temperature and humidity will always play a role. Do you have it in a fairly dry and relatively cool (room temperature 21C or below) environment? If the air is humid that can slow the setting process, and warmth will speed the set but for the fermentation your goat cheese could mold (yeech!) before it sets.

      – The pot you use should be non-reactive (enamel or stainless steel). If you’re using a copper, aluminum or cast iron pot you will end up with a tinny taste and there could also be a chemical reaction going on.

      – The higher the fat content in your goat milk, the better. If there is a lower fat content it will set up very loosely.

      – The dairy industry in Canada is very regulated and we cannot purchase raw or unpasteurized milks. However, they are your best option for yogurts and cheese products. If you can get fresh unpasteurized milk in Scotland, not only will I be super jealous but you’ll also have better results.

      Finally, as a last act of desperation if it still refuses to set, change your plans. Julia Child used to talk about kitchen magic, and how it’s only a mistake if you tell people that you messed up. Sometimes we need to change the rules halfway through the game. If it still hasn’t set after 24 hours and still looks like thick cream, warm it over low, gentle heat until it is body temperature (warm, but you can comfortably insert a finger for 10 seconds without feeling pain). Add 1/2 tsp of liquid rennet or crush 1 rennet tablet and dissolve it in a small amount of the warm milk before stirring it back into the rest. Let this sit in a warm place for 3-4 hours before breaking up the curds and straining it through a mesh lined with muslin or cheesecloth to remove the whey. Tie it up in cheesecloth into a ball and let it hang for another 4 hours to firm up. You will have an semi-firm unripened goat cheese which can then be packed in saline water, similar to packaged feta or what the Lebanese call ‘jibneh’ (aka “cheese”).

      Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!!

  • Abigail

    Hi, i tried this but am having a problem. After i wrapped the pot in towel and let it rest for 12 hours, it was not thick enough to be strained. What should i do?

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

      Hi Abigail,
      Make sure that the pot is in a warm-ish place. Being winter, my kitchen is pretty cold right now, and if yours is the same than the temperature will retard the bacterial growth which the goat cheese needs to stabilize. Make sure the temperature is not at all cool (I sometimes turn on the oven to 200F for 2 minutes, turn if off for 10 and then put the pot o’ dairy inside when I’m making this or yogurt) and let it set for another 6-12 hours. After 12 hours if it STILL hasn’t set, blame your yogurt which needs to have active bacteria, and (in case I didn’t mention it in the post) the low fat stuff won’t work because it relies too heavily on stabilizers.

  • Abigail

    Thank you for your suggestions! My kitchen may be to cold so next time i will be sure to choose a warmer place. And i am not sure if you are familiar with the yogurt brand Chobani, but that’s is what i used (the plain flavor of course) and it said it had live and active cultures.