Making your own goat cheese at home is simple. Chevre, queso fresco, Neufchatel, farmer’s cheese are all varieties of the same type of fresh soft cheese (though Neufchatel is traditionally made with cow milk). If you can’t get fresh raw goat milk, then I suggest using cow milk, as store-bought goat milk has been pasteurized and is usually “goaty.” Fresh raw goat milk has a clean sweet taste like cow milk (only better). A fresh soft cheese made from cow milk will be much more bland than goat milk but you can dress it up with herbs.
I usually make cheese with 1 1/2 gallons to 2 gallons of milk because that is what I get from a day’s milking right now. You can make smaller amounts with say half gallon, just adjust the amount of culture and rennet you use. For reference, a gallon of milk will make approximately 1.5 to 2 pounds of fresh cheese, depending on the animals stage in lactation (has to do with milk solids vs. water in the milk).
Step 1. Gather your milk. Only use clean fresh milk. I don’t like drinking pasteurized or homogenized milk, but you can use this kind of milk. Just make sure it is as fresh as possible.
Step 2. Sterilize your cheese pot. Using large stainless steel or enameled pot (no aluminum please), place about a half inch of water in the pot. Bring to a boil, covered. Let boil/simmer for about 5 minutes. The steam will sterilize the pot. I pour the boiled water over my whisk to “sterilize” it, then place the clean whisk in a glass jar so it doesn’t get recontaminated.
Step 3. Pour the milk in the pot. If you’re using fresh milk straight from the goat or cow, you will not need to heat the milk; it should be at about 68 degrees. Milk comes out of the goat at about 90 degrees, so by the time you’ve strained the milk, and gotten around to cheese making, it should have cooled down a bit. If you’re using milk that has been refrigerated, then heat the milk gently until it is about 68 degrees. I don’t get real specific with this. Just warm it slightly. I don’t pasteurize milk for making soft cheese, though many recipes will have you scald the milk.
Step 4. Once the milk is warmed, whisk in 1/4 cup buttermilk. You can also use mail-order chevre cultures at this stage. I never do this because buttermilk works just fine. The purchased cultures are costly over time, but they make give you a sharper “chevre” flavor, where this recipe will produce a milder soft cheese.
Step 5. Add the rennet. You have two choices here:
1) Use the inexpensive sort of easy to find Junket Rennet tablets. Junket rennet won’t actually be that easy to find in an urban grocery store, but ask the store manager, they’ll probably order it for you. Stores in rural settings will be more likely to carry junket rennet tablets. You can also order them online. Some cheesemakers are very particular about not using junket rennet, but really, it works just fine for a simple cheese, is inexpensive and lasts for years. If you’re using junket, use a half tablet dissolved in lukewarm water. Stir into the milk (don’t overstir).
2) Use vegetable or animal-based rennet (traditional cheese making used animal rennet which was a piece of a sheep or calf stomach lining -the enzymes found here are essential for making the curd. Although you can make vinegar cheeses or cheeses using other substances to curd the milk besides rennet). You will need to buy rennet from a cheese making supply or you may be lucky to find some at your local co-op. I ordered some vegetable rennet years ago from our local co-op, but haven’t seen it lately. If using liquid vegetable rennet add two to three drops to the milk and give a quick brief stir. If using animal-based rennet, then add two drops to a quarter cup water, then use two tablespoons of the water -briefly stir into the cultured milk.
Step 6. Cover the renneted and cultured milk and let sit for approximately 24 hours. Cooler temperatures may require longer time to set. Higher temperatures will make the curd set faster. For example, if you leave the milk on your stove, and bake something in the oven, the milk will likely overheat, set curd too fast and become drier in texture. Better to leave the milk to curd on a counter.
When the milk has set, a fine layer of whey will appear over the curd. The longer you let the curd set, the more whey will appear, till your curd is half the size usually floating at the bottom or top of the whey. Don’t let this happen. Try to cut it when there is just a quarter inch to half inch of whey on top.
To cut the curd, take a straight spatula or knife and cut straight down from the top of the curd to the bottom (hitting the bottom of the pot). Cut parallel lines from one side to the other, about 1/2 inch apart. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Then rotate the pot, and make the same cuts perpendicular to the first, from one side of the pot to the other. Then take a stainless steel strainer spoon and scoop out cubes of curd, about a 1/2 inch layer at a time.
Set colander in the sink (over your pot if you want to collect the whey). Put a flour sack cloth/dish towel in the colander. You can use real cheese cloth (not the webby stuff you buy in the craft store), or an old pillow case, or even an old clean t-shirt. Scoop the curds into the cheesecloth/colander. When finished, I usually let it drain for a half hour or so to make the bulk of curd easier to handle, but you can tie up the curd right away.
Tie two edges of the towel together. Using a wooden spoon or other strong straight implement (not a chopstick), tie the other ends over the stick and knot them. You will be able to rest the stick between two cabinet knobs or find some other method in your kitchen or fridge to hang the cheese.
I hang the cheese usually overnight. If it is very hot out, I will put it in the fridge after 6 hours or so. The curd is ready when the whey stops dripping. I usually let the cheese age and further drip whey out in the fridge for a day or so. This makes a firmer cheese that I prefer. At this stage, I remove the cheese from the cloth and blend with salt, about a teaspoon or two per pound of cheese according to your taste. I generally put less salt and more herbs. The resulting cheese will keep, covered in a glass container or packed in olive oil, for about a month in the refrigerator. You can also rewrap the cheese to further drain whey and make an even firmer cheese. Enjoy!