Raw Queso Fresco
Queso Fresco means fresh cheese and it's a great gateway into cheesemaking. It's a very simple process, but from it, you'll learn basic skills needed to make any cheese. Queso Fresco is similar to feta as far as the texture and process; however, it's not aged in a salty brine and you'll get to enjoy it right away. Most people make queso fresco with acid and high temperature, but we'll use a different process to keep our raw milk, raw! We like queso fresco crumbled on taco salad, or really any salad for that matter. It's excellent crumbled on soups or other savory dishes. It's also delicious with fruit or vegetables. You can use Queso Fresco in place of ricotta, feta, and recipes that call for goat cheese. Don't get overwhelmed with the long list of steps. It does take time, but most of it is hands off. This recipe will yield approximately 1 pound of cheese. The first time you make cheese, your kitchen may take a hit of messiness, but after making it a few times, you'll be able to do it in your sleep with no mess involved.
1 Large pot, large enough to hold 1 gallon of milk
1 Large container, to pour off fresh whey into
1 Medium container, to catch salted whey
Butter muslin, or dish towel *See notes
Sink of hot water
Raw Queso Fresco
1 gallon raw cow or goat milk
1/4 cup culture kefir, cultured buttermilk, or raw countertop yogurt
5 drops double strength liquid vegetable rennet, or 10 drops regular strength liquid rennet *See notes
1 Tbsp. non-chlorinated, room temperature water *See notes
4 tsp. (24 grams) non-iodized sea salt *See notes
1. In a large pot, warm milk to 88-90 degrees over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. It will take about 10-15 minutes. If you're not using a thermometer, place a drop on the inside of your wrist. It should feel warm, but not hot.
2. Stir in the culture using a top to bottom motion for about 30 seconds. If you're using yogurt or thick kefir, whisk some of the milk into the yogurt/kefir until it is thin enough to pour and easily incorporate into the milk.
3. Cover the pot and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
4. Dilute the rennet in 1 Tbsp. of non-chlorinated, room temperature water.
5. With a large spoon, gently mix the rennet solution into the milk using an up and down motion for about 30 seconds.
6. Cover the pot and let the milk sit undisturbed for 1 hour, or until it's formed a firm curd.
7. Check for a clean break. This means the curds have formed a solid mass that will separate from the whey. I generally press my finger into the the curd at the side of the pan, and pull the curd slightly away from the edge of the pan. If whey fills in the void, you have achieved a clean break and are ready to proceed with the next step.
8. With a long knife, make vertical cuts 1/2 inch apart, from one side of the pan to the other, making sure that your knife goes to the bottom and edge of the pan with each cut. Turn the pan 90 degrees, and repeat to form a checker pattern. Turn the pan back and tip knife to make angled cuts into the curd from one side of the pan to the other. Turn pan 90 degrees and repeat.
9. Allow the curds to "heal" by sitting covered and undisturbed for 5 minutes.
10. In the meantime, fill a sink with several inches of hot tap water and place pot in the sink.
11. Gently stir the curds up from the bottom of the pan, cutting any oversize curds into smaller cubes, as needed. Cover the pot with a lid and gently stir the curds every 5 minutes for 25 minutes. Replace the lid after stirring to retain the heat.
12. Allow curds to settle to the bottom of the pan for 5 minutes after the last stirring of the curds.
13. Pour as much whey off as possible into a large container. Place the whey in the fridge where it will store for a long time. See upcoming post for ideas of how to use whey.
14. Place a large piece of butter muslin, or a dishtowel in a colander suspended over a medium container.
15. Pour curds and whey into the colander.
16. Cover and allow whey to drain off for 30 minutes.
17. Open the fabric and mix the curd with your fingers so it's the texture of scrambled eggs.
18. Mix two teaspoons of salt into the curds with your hands, as you do so, more of the whey will release. *See notes
19. Pull together the edges of the fabric and twist to press the curds into a ball. Squeeze gently to release as much whey as possible.
20. Mix in the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt.
20. Cover the cheese curds with the excess cloth and allow more whey to drain off for thirty minutes.
21. Store cheese in a covered container in the fridge. This cheese will last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. If desired, you can divide it into portions and freeze.
Raw milk's natural microbiodiversity makes for really great cheese. Great cheese artisans start with high quality milk. The calcium in pasteurized milk is reduced through the heat-treating process. The fat is also denatured through homogenization. This processing can prevent the milk from forming a firm curd necessary for cheesemaking. It also does not have as good of a flavor and texture. Many cheese makers get around this by adding calcium chloride, which I don't recommend; just stick with the real deal.
Raw milk also generally does not need as much rennet and culture as pasteurized milk to achieve the same results.
UHT milk is sterile and will not produce a curd, no matter what you add to it.
I don't recommend using cheese cloth for cheese making as it's weave is not tight enough and it's not very durable. A butter muslin or a dish cloth works better than most cheesecloth on the market.
Chlorinated water will stop the enzyme action of the rennet and can also deter the bacterial action of the culture. If you only have tap water available, set it out on counter for at least 30 minutes to allow the chlorine to dissipate a bit.
Salt varies in volume depending on if the salt has a fine or coarse texture. Weighing your salt will give you a more accurate measurement. I used about 4 tsp. of salt which is about 24 grams.
If you don't drain off enough whey before adding the salt, the salt will drain away with the whey as it's released, resulting in a bland cheese. Follow the steps to drain curd for 30 minutes, twist and squeeze, break up with fingers and add a half portion of the salt before adding the remaining salt. The whey will continue to release, but this will ensure that you will not lose too much salt and flavor. You can add salt to taste, but it's a little deceptive as the final cheese will be less salty due to whey that will continue to drain.
I like this rennet and have used it for years. It stores a long time in the fridge and when you use just 5 drops at a time; it will last for a long time too. You'll get a lot of bang for your buck out of this little bottle of rennet.
For variation, add jalapenos, red pepper flakes, herbs or anything else desired to this cheese when mixing in the salt.
Many thanks to Jim Wallace at cheesemaking.com for helping me many years ago in my cheese making journey, for being a resource for my daughter's cheese making science project and for featuring her on the cheese making blog. If you're looking for a place to buy cheesemaking supplies, this is a good place.