Last February we joined a goat milk co-op. That statement stands on it’s own, as there was no real reason for it other than a friend asked us if we wanted to. Prior to joining, we didn’t even drink milk. And we weren’t crazy raw-food fanatics either. Someone just asked, and we said yes.
Now we get 1-3 gallons of goat milk every week. Everyone wants to know if it’s funky. It’s absolutely not. It’s fresh, creamy, and odorless. In fact I would rate it as way more palatable than any store bought cow’s milk I’ve had. That said, I still prefer soy milk on my cereal, and attempts at making goat ice cream have come out more like goat ice milk. That leaves me no where to go but cheese and yogurt.
If you’ve been thinking about making cheese, or are even curious about the process, Chevre is the place to start. Chevre is the soft, fresh goat cheese, usually sold in round logs wrapped in plastic. Occasionally a slightly drier version is available in a crumble.
Chevre is not only the easiest cheese to make, it is possibly the easiest thing to make; ever. For a $10 investment and about 10 minutes of effort (spread out over 24 hours) you will have possible the most delicious and impressive thing ever. And I mean impressive. I have literally spent thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours learning to and brewing beer. I make good beer. Solid beer. When people drink it they say, “Yeah, this is good beer. I really like this beer.”
But spend just 10 minutes on some Chevre and you are elevated to instant folk-hero status. “You MADE THIS?!?!?”, you friends will exclaim. “WOW! This is amazing. This is the best cheese I’ve ever had.” And you will be forced, unwillingly, to accept their praise and adulation, ever mindful of the ridiculous ease of the process.
For gear you will need a thermometer, a 2 gallon pot, a colander, and a wooden spoon. For the milk, I am obviously using fresh, raw goat’s milk. My friends pasteurize theirs (heat to 150 F). Whatever, just get some milk. If you want to use cow’s milk the process is the same, but the resulting cheese is called Quark (the physicist in me approves). Cultures and butter muslin can be purchased online, but in San Diego we are fortunate to have the good people at Curds and Wine. This process actually takes about 26 hours, but only about 10 minutes of activity.
1 gallon goat milk
1 packet chevre cultures
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 square foot of butter muslin
Heat the milk to 86 F. Start by leaving the milk on the counter for an hour. Then add to the pot and on low heat bring to 86, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, add the cultures and stir in for 1 minute. Cover, place in a cool dark place, and let sit for 24 hours. I do this the first night.
The following day (or night), line a colander with the butter muslin, 1 or 2 layers thick. Gently decant the liquid (whey) into a separate container and save for later in the fridge. When most of the whey is gone, dump the gelatinous mass (curds) into the lined colander. Install a long wooden spoon on top of the cloth and tie up the corners. Hang over the sink or other container until it stops draining and dripping, about 2 hours. Open cloth and dump curds into a bowl. With 2 spoons, stir in the salt in 3 steps. At this stage you can add awesome stuff too, Herbs de Provence, chili, fresh dill… Put it in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
That’s it! The heating is a few minutes, the draining is a few minutes, and the salting is a few minutes. If you’re attentive you’ll notice the culture pack says to “incubate” for 6-8 hours and to drain for 6-8 hours. After much trial and error, and lots of dry cheese, I arrived at the process above. Incubation time builds up acidity in the curds which gives the cheese flavor. Draining pulls liquid out of the curds, drying them out. You can’t hurt anything by incubating a little longer. And if after 2 hours of draining you find the cheese is too wet, you can always drain more. But you can never drain less. I encourage you to experiment with what times work best for you and your milk.
One gallon will make about 1.5 pounds of chevre, which is a lot. Serve on crackers with a little smoked fish with olives, grapes, and a dark Belgian ale. Or make a bagel sandwich with chevre, avocado, mustard, and some nice greens. Better yet, make a beet pie with home grown beets and homemade chevre! However you cut the cheese, it’ll be awesome!