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October 4, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Forget imports from France or Switzerland. With a few simple steps, you can cultivate gourmet cheese in your own kitchen. Using standard kitchen tools, anyone with basic cooking skills can make a variety of cheeses. Debby Henke, an instructor with the Columbia Area Career Center, teaches a beginning course for budding cheese connoisseurs. In her two-session class, participants learn how to make fresh cheeses such as queso blanco and ricotta. Henke also runs hunkacheese.com, which sells cheese-making starter packs and supplies.
Henke shares her queso blanco recipe below; it’s so simple that you’ll say no “whey.” Because homemade cheese is made without preservatives, it has a shelf life of approximately one week, so enjoy it while it’s fresh.
Where: Rock Bridge High School, Room 103
When: Two sessions (dates vary, check career center catalog)
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Draining basket (a plastic drainer available at cheese supply stores; or a plastic colander would work, too.)
Stainless steel pot
Stainless steel or plastic spoon
Step 1: Heat the milk on the stove top to 185-190 degrees, and stir often to prevent scorching.
Step 2: Line the draining basket with the cheese cloth while the milk is heating. This will be used to separate the curds (chunks that will eventually become cheese) from the whey (extra, unneeded liquid).
Step 3: Once the milk has reached the desired temperature, remove the pot from heat.
Step 4: Slowly add vinegar until the curds begin to separate from the whey. The amount of vinegar will vary — you might use more or less than the recipe requires.
Step 5: As curds start to appear, use the spoon to scoop them into the draining basket. This will allow the whey to drain, which leaves only the curds in the cloth-lined basket.
Step 6: Repeat Step 5 until the whey is completely drained. The curds will naturally congeal to a solid mass — and you’ve made yourself a chunk of fresh cheese.
Queso blanco is a cheese with a bland flavor, Henke says, so it can be added to almost any recipe. Try adding it to salads, stir-fry or soup, and keep it refrigerated between uses.