Home-made dry curd cottage cheese

This is my third or fourth time making cottage cheese at home, but the first time since I acquired rennet and the mesophilic bacterial culture for general cheese-making. (Previously, I used an acid-set method that took much longer and seemed more error-prone).

Why bother making cottage cheese? My maternal grandmother and her sisters, who were Polish, always made pierogi with a cottage cheese & onion filling. You can’t use the “wet” cottage cheese from the grocery store, which has had heavy cream added back into the curds… the cream gives you the wrong consistency and doesn’t work well as a filling. Back when I was a kid, you could buy dry curd cottage cheese where my grandparents lived, in Toledo OH. These days, I really can’t seem to find it at all. So I make it.

Note for next time: do a bigger batch!!!

Here’s the procedure I used. First, I sanitized a 2.5 gallon stock pot using “StarSan”, which is a sanitizer that I otherwise use for brewing. It’s a no-rinse sanitizer that will kill off any unwanted bacteria that might otherwise sour the cottage cheese. I keep a few cups of StarSan handy for sanitizing anything that will come into contact with the cheese or whey, such as spoons, thermometers, etc.

Add the milk to the stock pot and gently bring the milk up to 70 degrees F, with occasional stirring, mostly to get a good temperature reading. Here’s what my setup looks like. Note I have a gigantic spoon that’s also from brewing.

Cheese making setup

Once the milk reaches the target temperature, do the following:
– add about 1/4 teaspoon of the mesophilic bacterial culture, and let sit for 5 minutes to hydrate. (See yellow spots in picture.)
– stir gently to disperse the bacteria
– add 1/4 teaspoon of calcium chloride solution (from thecheesemaker.com) diluted in a small amount of water. Mix gently.
– add 1/2 teaspoon of rennet (from the cheesemaker.com) diluted in a small amount of water. Mix gently.

Sit at room temperature or until you see that the curd has set (a “clean break”). I was worried that my room temperature was a little low (about 65 degrees F) so I warmed up the oven a bit and put the stock pot in the there for an hour. Total time for me was about 2 hours.

The mesophilic culture for cheesemaking

The mesophilic culture, hydrating

Cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes, using a sharp knife. It’s tricky to cut in the vertical direction, but you can figure it out.

Get ready to stir the cheese for about an hour while you increase the temperature slowly from 70 degrees to 115 degrees F. My burners don’t have a very low setting, so I would turn the heat on low for 1-2 minutes, then turn it off for 1-2 minutes. (Doing a bigger batch should help to prevent the need for this.) I noticed that if I stopped stirring, at certain stages, the cheese curds would start to stick together into clumps. Clumps don’t look delicious. So I decided that constant stirring was necessary.

By the time the temperature has reached 115 degrees F, hopefully your curds have decreased in size (having contracted and squeezed out a lot of the whey) and are looking good. Using a spider (a kitchen implement typically used when frying foods), remove the curds from the whey and drain in cheesecloth set in a colander. I do prefer removing the curds in this fashion versus pouring the whole mess into the cheesecloth. Rinse with cold running water, then let drain for a few minutes.

Basically your cheese is now ready to eat, although it will taste pretty bland without salt. Depending on your intended use, you probably want to salt it right away. I salted by eye, but next time I will try to do it by weight. The weight of the cheese may vary based on how much whey you eliminated during the straining step.

I got about 2 lbs of cottage cheese from 2 gallons of 2% milk.

Cooking the curds

My mom and I used all of the cheese the following day to make pierogi, which I hope to write up in the next post.

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