It’s been awhile, and I am looking forward to writing some more posts for Paladini Potpie, but for today I’m proud to introduce a special guest blogger: My very own daughter-in-law, Amanda Paladini! After you read her post you can click here to find out how Amanda came into our family.
But for now, enjoy her writing and then later enjoy her cheese. (I love them both!)
We Like Cheesy Dates
by Amanda Paladini
Like most couples with children, it can be hard for my husband and me to find time to spend together. But it is important for couples to continue dating after they get married. This is healthy for their relationship (and their sanity) to spend a little time as a pair rather than letting the kids take every ounce of their time and energy.
But, how do you date without breaking the bank, or having to pay a babysitter? Sometimes it’s as simple as having a date at home. Or even ditching the kids with grandma and going to the store and grocery shopping together. A “date” doesn’t have to be your stereotypical, dinner-and-a-movie type of thing.
For our five year wedding anniversary, we decided to tour the Hilmar Cheese Company facilities. We brought along our youngest child, who was only a few months old at the time, and had a blast walking through learning how cheese was made, from grass to cow to milk tank. Super romantic, right? We thought so. And to this day, we are still cheese enthusiasts.
We have goats. Nigerian Dwarf goats, to be specific. They are a miniature dairy breed, and we have two of the little darlings in our back yard. That’s right, ya heard me. In our back yard. We live in the middle of town, and we have chickens and goats. Anyway, both of our goats are pregnant for the first time, which means that late this spring, we will have goat milk. I will be outside twice a day, trying to figure out how to milk them while they stand and look at me with “judgement eyes”.
In preparation for what I’m sure will be a vast influx of possibly a quart of milk a day between the two of them, I have been training myself in making my own dairy products. I have now completely switched over to making my own yogurt (because it is way healthier than the sugar-loaded grocery store stuff, and we love the taste). I have also been experimenting with a farmer’s cheese recipe. I have been buying whole cow’s milk for my practice, and every batch gets easier as I make myself familiar with the processes.
I was getting ready to make another batch of cheese, because it actually turns out to be so much cheaper than buying fancy spreadable cheeses, and I can make my own flavors. As I was plotting what seasonings I wanted to put into it, I suddenly had an idea. “Hey, honey. Do you want to have a date and make cheese with me?”
My husband, who is an avid consumer of said cheese, readily agreed, and it was a date. We had had previous plans for our three children to spend the night at their grandparents’ house that night, so it seemed like the stars had aligned. The fates had deemed that this would be a Date Night. (This cheese doesn’t take very long to make, so we could have even done it after the kids went to bed if they had been home.)
Farmer’s cheese is a very simple cheese; it doesn’t require any special ingredients aside from any seasonings that you choose to put in it. Most cheeses require a rennet to make them. Rennet is an enzyme that causes the milk solids (curds) to separate from the liquids (whey). This cheese, however, requires nothing more than whole milk, vinegar (any kind), and salt. And it is so simple to make that it is a great project to do WITH kids if you so desire.
To start, you pour a whole gallon of milk into a large pot. You may think that this seems like a lot, but believe me it will be worth it. I get the two-pack of milk at Costco, and usually one gallon goes to the cheese while the other will be yogurt for the next week or so.
Heat the milk on the stove while stirring constantly. This is to prevent any milk from scalding to the bottom of the pot. I have done this with both a spoon and a spatula, and the spatula has won my allegiance, hands down. The wider point of contact does a much better job of moving the milk off of the bottom of the pot, so that every time I’ve used it I have had zero scalding. This takes a while if the milk was in the refrigerator moments before being poured into the pot, so this is a great time to just chat while slowly swirling your spatula through the milk. If you want to cut down on time, you can take the milk out ahead of time and let it get to room temperature. Personally, I’ve never planned far enough ahead to take it out. My kitchen projects are usually crammed into whatever time frame I can squeeze them into, with very little forethought.
Check the temperature using any cooking thermometer. I have a digital meat thermometer that works just fine for all of my dairy projects. Keep checking the temp and swirling the milk until it reaches about 190 degrees. Once it does, immediately remove the milk from the heat. Then we pour in about 2/3 cup of vinegar. We used white vinegar because it is both what we have and what is least expensive.
This is the fun part. Gently stir it just a little bit to incorporate the vinegar into the milk, and watch chemistry happen before your eyes. And I don’t just mean the sparks flying between two people in love. The curds will almost immediately begin to separate from the whey. This is the part where we just leave it alone for ten minutes. This is a good time to prepare any seasoning if you are flavoring it. My husband wanted to make a spicy jalapeno flavor, so he spent the time finely chopping some pickled jalapenos while I fawned over how much I love him for doing such silly little things with me.
After ten minutes check your milk. You should see very distinctive solids floating in a yellowish-clear liquid. Give it a tiny swirl. If you see too much white in your liquid then you don’t have enough vinegar. A small cloud of white will billow in any case, but play it by ear to determine if you need more vinegar. You can’t really have too much, and it won’t affect the flavor. If you need to add more, then add about 1/3 cup and wait another ten minutes.
Once it has separated to your satisfaction, line a colander with a fine cheesecloth or, in my case, a flour sack towel. I have found these towels to be better suited to this type of cheese. It is a very soft cheese and sometimes wringing it out in a cheesecloth results in cheese mess all over my hands. The towels are fine woven, and large enough for this project. Pour the curds into the towel slowly. The whey will drain as you go, but if you pour too quickly you will overflow your colander and lose curds.
Let it drain for a couple of minutes. Very important tip: Wash your pot while the curds drain! If you forget about it and let it sit on the counter and harden, the bits left behind will turn into cement and be very difficult to remove. Wash your stirring spatula too. If you don’t you really will be sorry as you spend several minutes scrubbing. You can choose to save the whey, but it is a vinegar whey and therefore not quite as useful as others. I discard the cheese whey and save the yogurt whey, with which I spoil the dog and pour over her food sometimes. (*At some future time Amanda promises she will write a post about how to make her yogurt).
Now is the time to salt your cheese, or separate if you are doing multiple flavors. We split the batch into two equal(ish) halves.
For a whole gallon of milk, you will need a tablespoon of salt. I know that it seems like a lot of salt, but believe me, undersalted cheese is flavorless cheese. And somehow cheese is one of those foods that can absorb salt and still stay bland. So a full tablespoon it is, or if the batch is split then do half of a tablespoon in each half of cheese curds. I happen to have a half-tablespoon measuring spoon, which makes my life easier, but for those who don’t have one, half of a tablespoon is one and a half teaspoons. We also use Himalayan pink salt, which is why the pictures look weird, but you can use regular table salt too.
This is also the time to add in any special seasonings. For my half, which is a garlic and herb flavor, I used ½ tablespoon of each dried basil and oregano, along with 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder (and if I’m honest, it could have used a little more garlic flavor, but I was afraid of overseasoning my half-batch). So if you want to do a full batch of this flavor then double the ingredients. Hubby put in his jalapenos (I have no idea how many he did, so you can just gauge how much you want into it), along with 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, the ½ tablespoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder. Fold all of the ingredients into the curds until you think it is fully incorporated.
Now comes the squeezing. Now, I know it’s date night, but I’m talking about the cheese here. Twist the towel until whey starts squeezing out, and then twist it some more. The purpose of this is to press out as much of the liquid as possible. This will help the cheese to take on some form rather than being very loose. The end result of this cheese is soft enough to spread on a cracker, but firm enough to crumble into a salad. Be careful, though. These curds will still be HOT!
Be careful not to twist too far, though. This can result in curds getting stuck in the kinks and squeezing out through the mesh. Soft cheese can only be squeezed so hard before coming out any opening possible to relieve the pressure. So a good option is to move your towel full of cheese to the countertop. Place an absorbent towel under the cheese and use your body weight to press down on it, releasing more liquid into the towel.
When you feel that you’ve gotten as much liquid as you can out of your cheese ball, it is time to unveil your work of culinary art. It will still be very soft, since it is still very warm, but you will see a very distinct impression of the fabric from the towel printed into the side of it. Now you can transfer it to whatever container you want to keep it in, pressing it down into the container to form fit it if you so desire. Then take a picture of the two of you with your creation(s) and put it in the fridge to chill. Then descend upon the little cheese bits stuck to the towel that were too small to fuss over getting into the container and enjoy.
As soon as possible, throw the towels into the washer. I made the mistake once of forgetting to take care of the flour sack towel. I had made a batch of cheese just before Thanksgiving, and we left the next morning to spend time with family for a couple of days, and the towel sat in my sink the entire time, turning my kitchen into a place that smelled like a nasty combination of dirty diaper and dog vomit. The towel never recovered and had to be thrown away. Moral of the story: DON’T FORGET TO WASH THE TOWELS!
My husband and I had a lot of fun making cheese together, joking and talking the whole time. Generally just enjoying being together. We didn’t have to spend a lot of money; in fact, we saved quite a bit. Breaking it down, one gallon of whole milk from Costco cost a little more than three dollars, we used only pennies’ worth of vinegar, the seasonings were all already in our kitchen, and we ended up with enough cheese for our snacking needs for probably a week (if we eat it every day). That really makes for a very stress-free date, as we are both very conscious of what we consider “unnecessary spending”.
We’ve been married for almost ten years now, and we are still dating. Maybe not going on “traditional” dates, but we’re taking the time to just be a couple still. We wear many hats now as we enter our thirties: provider, parent, personal chef, chauffeur, landscape engineer, handyman, animal handler, hair stylist, launderer, maid, etc. But our most important roles to each other are still to be each other’s spouse, support, best friend, sounding board…
Don’t get too caught up in responsibilities and expectations. Remember to take the time for “cheesy” dates.