Chèvre is one of the easiest cheeses for a beginning home cheesemaker to try. The ingredients and equipment needed are minimal, as is the time investment, which is something that cannot be said for most other cheeses. Most homemade cheese requires a fair bit of babysitting during the “make” phase, and usually some additional pressing, brining or aging after the initial curd making and draining. Not chèvre. She is, how do you say? Easy like Sunday morning.
For those of you who may not be familiar with chèvre, it is a soft, goat’s milk cheese that, usage-wise, falls somewhere between ricotta and cream cheese. It can be used in sweet or savory dishes like cheesecakes, crumbled in salads, baked and served warm with crusty bread – you get the idea.
Are you intrigued yet?
The recipe that follows is the only one that I have ever used (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!), and it comes from the New England Cheesemaking company’s chèvre culture kit. I use raw goat milk from my own Lamancha does, but store-bought goat’s or cow’s milk will substitute just fine as long as it is NOT ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurization is a process that heats the milk to a much higher temperature than conventional pasteurization, making it less prone to bacterial contamination and spoilage, but also rendering it utterly useless for cheesemaking, or for nourishing your body, for that matter. But I digress…
The bottom line is, get the good stuff – non-ultra pasteurized, whole milk. It makes for the best cheese, without a doubt.
First things first – cleanliness. When you’re making cheese, you’re playing amateur microbiologist in your kitchen. Cleanliness and thorough sterilization are critical! I scrub the dickens out of my sink, work surfaces, pans and equipment first, then give them a good dousing with undiluted white vinegar, allow them to set a minute or two, then, rinse everything down once again with the hottest water I can manage.
Once your sink and work surfaces are clean, plug and begin to fill your very clean sink with the hottest tap water you can manage. While the sink is filling, pour your milk into your pot. **Make sure you use a stainless steel or enamel-lined pan with lid (Aluminum or uncoated iron pans can react negatively with the enzymes used in certain recipes and leach into your cheese.)
Carefully set the pot of cold milk into the sink, allowing the hot water to come up the outside of the pan to about halfway up the level of the milk.
Take your milk’s temperature, then gently stir the milk for a few minutes with a plastic or stainless steel spoon, after which you’ll take the temperature again. You are trying to reach 86 degrees on the button. It won’t take too long.
Continue to stir and temp the milk, adding a little hot water “warm up” to the sink water if necessary. It took me about 15 minutes to get my milk up to temp.
Per the instructions on my packet of chèvre culture, once the 86 degree mark is reached, the bacterial culture is added and allowed to sit and rehydrate for two minutes, before stirring the culture into the milk thoroughly but gently.
The next step is to let the heated, cultured milk to sit at 72 degrees for 12 hours. I achieve this by putting the pot on top of my refrigerator overnight. Between the ambient temperature of my home and the small amount of heat thrown off by my fridge, the temperature is maintained.
12 hours later (usually the next morning), I take the pot down from the fridge and check the curd.
Carefully ladle the curd into cheesecloth or muslin-lined molds. Hang or set to drain for 6-12 hours.
This is one that I turned out after just 6 hours of draining. It is a little on the soft side which is fine for my purposes, as I’m going to be using it as the base of a cheesecake.
If you want a firmer cheese, for use as a cracker-topping, sliceable snack cheese, etc. you would allow your curd to hang/drain longer, thus releasing more of the whey and compacting the curd somewhat. I like to serve my firmer chèvre rolled in herbs or drizzled with honey on a fruit and cheese plate.
In terms of home cheesemaking, chèvre is about as easy as it gets. No cooking, coddling, waxing or aging, just milk transformed into wholesome, versatile cheese, literally overnight.
Contributing Writer: Michelle from girl gone granola
Photos by Michelle, black & white edit by Tehlia