Milking It: 5 Easy Homemade Cheeses

Photo: Neeta Lind

One of the things that always amazes me about cooking is how, if you have a little bit of patience and a willingness to follow directions, certain totally intimidating foods turn out to be relatively easy to make. Like bagels. OK, your homemade bagels might not taste exactly like the ones at your favorite NYC nosheri. But if you can make a yeast bread, you can make tasty bagels — all you really have to do is add a step where you boil them.

In this way, cooking is like a drug to me. Quick breads are a gateway to yeast breads. Yeast breads are a gateway to bagels. Bagels are a gateway to making homemade puff pastry dough. And cheese...well!

Cheese was one of those foods that I always assumed I couldn't make. Since some cheeses are complex, I assumed they all were, requiring months of aging, crazy bacterial cultures, and area-specific milks.

The truth is that many fresh cheeses are startlingly easy to make, requiring few or none of these things (although the better the milk you get is, the better your cheese will taste). Here are five kinds of cheese you can easily make yourself. (See also: Homebrewed Beer: Make Your Own and Save Money?)

1. Cottage Cheese

Remember Little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey? If she had spent a little more time in the kitchen, she could have ended up with some cottage cheese. The process is simple — after heating milk, add an acid (usually vinegar or lemon juice), and the milk will separate into curds and whey. Then, simply drain the whey from the curds, and what you have left is cottage cheese.

Homemade cottage cheese doesn't taste like the salt-laden store-bought stuff — it's much closer to the "farmer's cheese" you can sometimes find. To get your homemade cottage cheese going, try this cottage cheese recipe from Alton Brown. Or, if you are interested in trying an easy cheese that uses rennet, a cheesemaking enzyme traditionally found in animal stomachs (there's vegetarian rennet as well), make this recipe from chef David Lebovitz.

When they're made professionally, ricotta and cottage cheese are different — cottage cheese uses the curds, and ricotta uses the whey. However, if you want to make a homemade ricotta, the two cheeses are somewhat interchangeable (just look at this ricotta recipe from Epicurious).

2. Paneer

A staple of Indian cooking, Paneer is a type of cottage cheese that is typically cut in blocks and served in dishes such as Saag Paneer. The process to create it is very similar to cottage cheese. This paneer recipe from Indian cooking site Manjula's Kitchen has both a video and written instructions.

3. Fresh Mozzarella

A staple of Caprese salads, sliced-baguette sandwiches, and pizza, fresh mozzarella follows a similar process to cottage cheese, with a bit more complexity. After you curdle your milk and allow the cheese to drain, you then knead it until it reaches that elastic fresh-mozzarella consistency.

Most recipes for fresh mozzarella do call for rennet, which you can find in the baking section of some grocery stores. Another great resource is Leeners, a company that sells supplies for cheesemaking, homebrewing, and similar endeavors. As for a recipe, Chow has one that instructs you how to make mozzarella from scratch or from cheese curds.

4. Goat Cheese

Obviously, if you want to tackle goat cheese, you'll need to find goat's milk. Once you've done that, creating a cottage-cheese style goat cheese is simple. The blog Jules Food has instructions for making an easy, herbed goat cheese.

5. Chevre

If you're feeling ready to tackle another level in cheesemaking, chevre is a great place to start since it doesn't require any aging. What this fresh, creamy goat's milk cheese does require is a starter bacterial culture (you can purchase it from Leeners or elsewhere online if you don't have a local cheesemaking supply shop). Then, simply follow these chevre instructions from Tarte du Jour. The page also features a recipe for a tart that incorporates said chevre.

Have you tried cheesemaking? What did you make? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Guest's picture

I have made cheese. A farmers cheese, plenty of fresh cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and now have my first long aged cheese aging. It's jalapeno cheddar. Yum.

The whey left over from cheesemaking has plenty of excellent uses in the kitchen, too.

Meg Favreau's picture

Oooh! What do you use the whey for, Pam?

Guest's picture

You can replace some of the water with whey when you're baking. Soaking grains, beans, and flour before cooking/baking. There's a great book/cookbook called "Nourishing Traditions", I think that's the name of it. I'm away from my house so can't look at it. I read it often. Talks about food traditions that have long been in place before more modern farming/processing methods. Traditions that have supported healthy cultures for centuries. I highly recommend it.

Guest's picture

Just thinking about the cost and time involved in making cheese at home. Off the top of my head thinking about the cottage cheese - the suggested Alton Brown recipe calls for a gallon of milk ($2.89 in our stores) and 1/2 cup heavy cream plus salt and vinegar. This recipe yields 2 cups of cottage cheese. Comparatively, I can purchase a 24 oz (twice that much) for $2.69 in the store locally. While I understand the homemade may taste better and have less salt in it, the price and time involved would not be a cost savings. So I am not understanding the frugal part of making my own cheese...

Meg Favreau's picture

Depending on the kind of cheese you're making, you're totally right -- it might not make financial sense. This is one of those pieces that's more about making something better than you can buy at the store and learning to do things for yourself.

Guest's picture

It isn't necessarily about cost saving--it is more about knowing for certain what you are putting in your body. Plus, I think it is fun, think of it as a hobby.

Guest's picture

I haven't gotten into making cheese yet, but I have been making Greek yogurt and it is fantastic! I keep the costs down by buying marked down organic milk and freezing it. I've seen marked down goat's milk too, and I LOOOVE goat cheese! I will try some of these recipes.