Make it today, enjoy it tomorrow. Photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.
What are you doing this weekend? How about making some farmer cheese? Do it today and enjoy it for Sunday brunch. All you need is buttermilk, cheesecloth and a sieve (strainer).
This recipe, from Alice Waters via Good Eggs in San Francisco, illustrates how much fun making fresh cheese can be. It’s much easier than mozzarella, so it’s a good “first cheese.”
Prep time is just 25 minutes, but the curds need to drain for 12 to 24 hours, depending on how soft or crumbly you like your farmer’s cheese. Alice Waters drains hers for 16 hours, at which point the cheese is still soft enough to spread, but dry enough to crumble onto salads.
The cheese should be flavored with a bit of salt, but can be made salt-free. Go gourmet with added chives, black pepper or other favorite seasonings. It can also be sweetened, for something like cannoli cream or ricotta cheesecake.
RECIPE: HOMEMADE FARMER’S CHEESE
Ingredients For 1-1/2 Cups Cheese
3 cups buttermilk
Optional: olive oil
Optional savory seasonings: herbs, spices
Optional sweet seasonings: agave, honey, maple syrup, noncaloric sweetener, table sugar
1. POUR the buttermilk into a 1-quart canning jar and put the lid on tightly. Place the jar in a pot and cover with enough water to keep it submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until little bubbles appear on the jar and in the water, but before the water reaches a boil.
2. TURN off the heat and let the buttermilk cool in the pot until the water reaches room temperature. Meanwhile…
3. LINE a nonreactive* sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth, or a single layer of butter muslin, and set it in a nonreactive bowl deep enough that there is an inch or two between the sieve and the bowl. Once the water has cooled, remove the jar of buttermilk and pour the contents into the sieve. You should have firm white curds. You can add a pinch of salt or salt substitute to the curds at this point.
4. COVER the curds with the tails of the muslin and refrigerate the sieve over the bowl for 12 to 24 hours, depending on how soft or crumbly you like your farmer’s cheese.
5. SPREAD and enjoy, or top it with yogurt.
*Reactive vs. Non-Reactive Cookware: Aluminum, cast iron and copper are popular for cookware because of their superior heat-conducting properties. However, these metals can react with acids in a recipe (citrus, tomato, vinegar, etc.), imparting a metallic taste and discoloration of light-colored foods. This is also true with mixing bowls and utensils. Non-reactive materials include enameled metal, glass, plastic and stainless steel.
WHAT IS FARMER CHEESE OR FARMER’S CHEESE
Farmer cheese or farmer’s cheese is a fresh (unaged), simple, cow’s milk cheese that’s the “child” of cottage cheese (see below), and a relative of paneer, queso blanco (more solid, like feta) and queso campesino (Spanish for farmer’s cheese, more like cottage cheese with curds). The texture is much dryer and the curd is tiny, such that it is molded into loaves and sliced.
It is so versatile, we could eat it twice a day!
Farmer cheese is made by pressing most of the moisture from cottage cheese. It can be flavored with herbs or puréed fruits. In fact, mixed with purée and baked, it is similar to ricotta cheesecake. Another variety is paneer, or Indian farmer cheese, which is easily made at home. It should be consumed fresh, as it goes stale if kept too long, and becomes brittle and useless with refrigeration. In Canada, the term “farmer’s cheese” refers to a different type of white cheese that does not have a rind and is firm but springy in texture. It is mild, milky and buttery in flavor. Canadian “farmer’s cheese” may be used in a similar fashion to Colby or Cheddar.
Once a staple of Middle European cuisine, farmer cheese was made in the U.S. by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants; but any cheese maker can make it; but not many do. It can be hard to find outside of strongholds of Jewish cuisine.
Here’s what the final product looks like. Photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.
WAYS TO USE FARMER CHEESE
Blintzes: first and foremost, the filling for blintzes, flavored with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla (or other flavor profile)
Dip, mixed with mayonnaise or sour cream
Green salad or roast vegetables: a crumbled garnish
Noodle kugel (noodle pudding): another Jewish delight that incorporates cottage cheese or farmer cheese
Spread on bagels, crusty sourdough bread or toast, with or without jam
Substitute for cotija, paneer or ricotta
Sandwich: in pita or on toast with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and plain or pickled sliced onions
Cottage cheese: The fresh, drained curds of slightly soured, pasteurized milk. The whey is drained from the curds, and the remaining curds are known as cottage cheese.
Pot cheese: Drained longer, cottage cheese becomes a drier-curd product known as pot cheese.
Farmer cheese: When the remaining moisture is pressed out of cottage cheese, causing it to become dry and crumbly, it is called farmer cheese.
SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT FRESH CHEESES
WHAT IS CHEESECLOTH?
Cheesecloth is a loosely woven cloth used for lining colanders and other purposes in home cheesemaking. It is used for draining, bandaging cheeses and covering air-drying cheeses.
Butter muslin is a more tightly woven cloth used for draining, pressing, and bandaging both hard and soft cheeses. It is better for holding in small, soft curds and for making fresh cheeses and soft cheeses, because the tighter weave keeps some of the necessary moisture in.
Here are more tips for using cheesecloth and butter muslin.