While August and its ricotta zipped on by, September welcomed us with another Cheesepalooza challenge... a basic chevre. A basic chevre or goat cheese is another cheese that I enjoy (well... I can't really think of any cheeses that I don't enjoy) and was excited to give it a shot at home. Goat cheese is extremely flavourful, high in nutrients, reasonable in terms of fat and calories, and easier on the tummy for those individuals that have trouble with dairy (here are some interesting nutritional facts on goat cheese). All good things!
The directions for this cheese in Mary Karlin's book seemed simple enough - C20G, rennet, and your milk. Yep, simple enough until you realize that you neglected to order the C20G (a culture that is a combination of the bacterial cultures and rennet required to produce a goat cheese). Oh Christine. You'll laugh though, I had packed up my other cultures, thermometers, and cheese cloth on my September holiday (that's on your packing list too, right?). We were off to Ontario cottage country and I figured it would be a perfect time to rest, relax, and make cheese. But, when the closest town in 20 minutes away and the nearest goat's milk supply about 45 minutes away and you lack the correct cultures, the whole idea of zen-like cheese making whilst on holidays seems a bit silly. Just a bit... or a whole lot of silly??
Thankfully, our intrepid Cheesepalooza leaders reflected multiple methods in their individual chevre posts. Ian's post described a method using Aroma B and rennet. Deb's post followed the recipe precisely, while Valerie and Addie's posts highlighted buttermilk methods. (Plus, here is some good chevre reading on cheesemaking.com.) I was determined to figure something out too.
My initial attempt was at the Ontario cottage. That lead-in alone probably indicates to you about how well it went. hahah! Well, I thought I had it right... I opted to follow the lead of Ian with his Aroma B and rennet recipe since I did have both of those supplies on hand. I followed his directions and think that I can identify my main point of failure... consistent gently warm temperature overnight.
What I learned here was that goat cheese requires a very slow curd formation... time and warmth (but not too much heat!). Leaning on the Cheesepalooza team, both Ian and Valerie provided great support and advice. I also really appreciated Simone at JungleFrog Cooking and her thoughts on chevre (she also had a less than ideal result with her first attempt but also is keeping at it with a second attempt).
For my second attempt, I opted to try with buttermilk rather than the bacterial cultures... and found much more success! I'd like to try the Aroma B + rennet method again in my own kitchen and see if I can produce a better result. I'd also like to try the Karlin C20G method... if I get it together and remember to order that one!
4L whole goat's milk
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 tablet rennet
1/4 cup unchlorinated water (I used bottled spring water)
Crush your rennet tablet into the 1/4 cup of unchlorinated water. Let that sit and dissolve while you tend to the milks.
Add your whole goat's milk and buttermilk to your stock pot. Slowly heat the milk to 86F, then add rennet water to the warm milk. Combine the two by gently stirring and using an up and down motion for twenty strokes (1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000...). In comparison to stirring traditionally - clockwise or counter-clockwise - the milk will settle faster when stirred using the up and down method. It's less aggressive on the milk and the forming curds.
Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil. I used the foil and a clean kitchen towel. Then gently place the covered pot into the oven (just a cool, empty oven... to help keep the heat in the milk as opposed to it being leached out overnight in the big cool kitchen).
In the morning (about twelve+ hours later), check your curd. You should see the separated curd mass and the whey. Check for a clean break.
What's a clean break?
A clean break is the indication that your curds are ready to cut or ... Using a clean knife or a icing spatula (which I love), cut or score the curd about an inch deep. Check that the curd separates and maintains its shape. It should have a clean edge or "break." If the curd is soft and breaks into pieces, it has not fully set yet and needs a bit more time to form. You can also get an indication of the state of the curd by checking that the curd has come away from the sides of the pot and maintains its shape.
If you have your clean break, then you can ladle the curd into a mesh sieve that is lined with cheesecloth. Don't forget to collect that whey as it drains! Tie your cheese-filled cloth and leave it to drain until it reaches the desired consistency. (If you don't have a clean break, leave it alone for a while longer then check again. Give it time. Resist the urge to warm it. I learned that lesson.)
After about five hours, I portioned out half of my goat cheese, added about a teaspoon of salt, then transfered it into a pretty weck jar. I left the remainder in the cheese cloth and left it to drain for another five hours or so. As you may have deduced, the cheese will continue to release whey and lose moisture as it is hung. So, a cheese that is hung for five hours will have a creamier and wetter texture than a cheese that is hung for ten or more hours.
A few thoughts:
- Basic chevre or goat cheese requires patience! I threw the baby out with the bath water with my first attempt but I really feel that I learned so much with that attempt... and more than ever appreciated being able to connect to these other food lovers for their help and expertise. I am also going to have to work on my patience as these cheeses increase in complexity and the investment of time... we'll be working up to the point where I won't find about whether I was successful or failed at a particular cheese for months! Patience will become more important than ever...
- That failed attempt has completely reinforced to me that cheesemaking is such an art and I feel as though I have that much more respect for the work of cheesemakers.
- It is so important for the milk to maintain its warmth over the curd-forming time. In my first attempt, I did not quite realize how important this was and understand (now) how I ended up with a yogurt/cream cheese like product versus a chevre.
- Covering the pot tightly with tin foil to trap the heat and placing the pot into a smaller contained space, like the oven, allowed the curds the time and temperature that they required in order to properly form.
T A S T I N G N O T E S
- Appearance - Very white and smooth.
- Nose (Aroma) - Subtle tang. Very "goaty."
- Overall Taste - Creamy. Pleasantly mild but flavourful.
- Sweet to Salty - Slight goat tang. One taster even described it as "alkaline" versus acidic in flavour... I am still trying to put my finger on that.
- Mild to Robust - "Modestly flavourful." "Would be even better in combination with other flavours."
- Mouth Feel - Fluffy and light for the five hour cheese. Drier, would be good for crumbling, but still smooth for the ten hour cheese.