A few years ago, I stumbled across a domestic science book written for 7th graders from 1914. The preface is filled with all sorts of things distasteful to the modern reader, much to my delight.
“The young woman who learns to play by ear a few simple tunes is in no sense a musician; neither is the young woman a cook who learns a few simple ways to cook meat and potatoes…A blind following of any rule or custom is sure to result sooner or later in fatal mistakes, and nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen.”
“Other things being equal, economical cooking is apt to be the best cooking.”
“Each lesson has been supplemented with information as to the most attractive and palatable serving of the dish taught.”
It was insightful to read recipes (and nutrition advice) from 1914. In particular, the discussion on milk and the cottage cheese recipe had caught my eye.
From the reading lesson:
“Milk is one of the best foods for man; it is as perfect a food for the infant as the egg is for the unhatched chick.”
The lesson (recall this is meant for girls around age 12) reads better than most high school science textbooks, discussing practically the chemical composition of milk and clearly relating it to the various reasons actions in the kitchen are done when working with milk.
It is followed by a cottage cheese recipe, given below:
- 1 qt sour milk
- 1 tb butter
- 1/2 tp salt
- 2-3 tb cream
- double boiler
- wooden spoon
- Heat the milk slowly in the double boiler. Do not let the temperature exceed 100F.
- Heat until the curd and whey separate.
- Fit the cheesecloth into the strainer and strain the milk through.
- Squeeze the curd dry.
- Place the curd in the bowl and mix with salt, butter, and cream.
I did try this recipe exactly, and succeeded, but only once, and mostly by accident. All subsequent attempts failed miserably, and my success yielded barely a bite of cottage cheese. I even tried to buy the best (closest to raw) I could find, and let it sour naturally, but to no avail. Unfortunately, unless you have access to raw milk, the recipe above will not work on modern milk. It took me a couple years to figure out why.
Most of the milk you can buy in the United States has been pasteurized and homogenized. Unfortunately, the pasteurization process most common in the United States bears little resemblance to the old-fashioned methods housewives used to use.
The New England Cheesemaking Supply company (where I buy all my cheese cultures now) explains succinctly what happened:
Fresh milk does contain good bacteria that inhibits the growth of “bad bacteria”. If the cows are kept clean and living in proper environments, there is no danger to raw milk. Pasteurization kills all bacteria, good and bad. In the United States, low temperature pasteurization (at 145 F for 30 minutes) is called “batch pasteurization”, and is probably the “best” you can get. Locally for me, that means the brand Sassy Cow or Oberweis. Most milk is either high temperature pasteurized (162F for 15 seconds), or ultra-pasteurized (at 191-212F). Ultra-pasteurized milk must be labeled with a “UP” somewhere on the bottle, but there are no regulations on location or size. If you want to make any cheese, check that bottle of milk carefully and avoid UP milk if at all possible.
This made a lot of sense–my yields were low and the curd refused to separate because there wasn’t enough bacteria in the milk to actually sour (acidify) it. However, this knowledge alone wasn’t enough.
I scoured food chemistry texts and internet resources trying to understand the modern cottage cheese recipes. Commercially, the acidification (required to separate curds from whey) is typically done with an acid, usually vinegar. Gross. No wonder cheap store-bought cottage cheese has a vinegar aftertaste. It’s not cultured; it’s just straight up acidified. I did try that method in another batch of cottage cheese, and it tasted as gross as I expected, though it did technically work. I do not recommend, and I wont’ even post one of those recipes here.
Since most milk is pasteurized, you have to add the bacteria back in to sour the milk. I use C101 mesophilic cultures, with great success. You can make short-set or long-set cottage cheese. Long-set cottage cheese doesn’t require rennet and will produce a high-acid cheese. I haven’t actually done this method yet. Short-set produces a sweeter, low acid cheese and requires rennet to shorten the process. The rennet also helps prevent the loss of curds into the whey upon separation and filtration.
However, thanks to the mucking about that our modern overlords do with milk, there’s one more thing I needed that isn’t in the ingredient list of the 1914 recipe–calcium chloride. Thanks to homogenization, which breaks the butterfat into small globules that stays “integrated” in with the milk (so you don’t see any separation), some of the calcium in the milk is not accessible for cheesemaking. The calcium helps to further acidify the milk and aid in larger curd formation. To counter this, I needed to purchase calcium chloride to add the calcium back in that was locked away.
Cottage Cheese Recipe, Adapted to Our Modern World
I have used the following cottage cheese recipe from Fermenter’s Warehouse with great success several times now. 1 gallon of milk will yield about 1.25 qt of cottage cheese. Don’t throw that whey out either. I save it all in jars in the refrigerator and use it to replace water when cooking beans and oatmeal. It also makes a great hair rinse a couple times per week.
Short-set Cottage Cheese
Prep for about 3ish hours for this one. Not all the time is active, but you do need to do something to it about every 45 minutes or so.
- 1 gallon whole milk (do not use UP milk)
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) mesophilic culture
- 1/4 tsp calcium chloride
- 1/4 tsp. rennet
- 1-2 tsp. salt
- sanitized stainless steel pot with lid (I use a stew pot.)
- thermometer (Do not try this without one; dairy is very temperature-sensitive.)
- sharp knife
- ladle or slotted spoon
- Pour the milk into a sanitized pot on the stove. Turn on the burner to a very low heat and begin bringing the temperature up to 94 degrees F. (This is exact here, and I do mean very low. This step will take at least 10-15 minutes. Check the temperature frequently.)
- Remove from heat. Add the culture and stir gently using 20 top/bottom strokes. Cover the pot with a lid and let ripen for 1 hour. (The milk is souring in this step.)
- After 1 hour, add the calcium chloride. Stir into the milk with 20 top/bottom strokes. Follow this with the addition of the rennet, and 20 top/bottom strokes. (This will help further acidify the milk and separate the curds from whey.)
- Cover pot and allow to sit for 45 minutes. Using a sanitized curd cutting knife, check for a clean break. (Here, you should notice if you jiggle the pot a bit that there’s a “jello-like” curd layer on top. When you cut the curd with a knife, there should be a clean break, and you’ll see yellowish whey separated from the curd underneath.)
- Begin cutting the curd into 1/2 inch strips then rotate the pot 90 degrees and do the same. Take your sanitized, perforated ladle and cut the curd horizontally in two or three places. (I also run the knife around the edge of the curd along the pot walls.) Let the curd rest a couple minutes.
- Gently twist the pot side to side to release the whey from the curds. Turn the burner on low heat and slowly bring the temperature up to 110 degrees F. When you’ve reached temperature, remove from heat and cover the pot. Let rest a few minutes while you line your colander with cheesecloth. If you want to keep the whey place the colander over a pot and gently ladle the curd into it. Periodically rinse the curd with cold, filtered water. (I’m on well-water, so I use my tap water. It’s turned out just fine.) You should notice the curd breaking into smaller pieces while still retaining a curd-like consistency.
- Once all of the curd is ladled into the cheesecloth-lined colander and rinsed gently with cold, filtered water, cover with a lid and allow to drain for 20-30 minutes. Then, gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and twist to remove any remaining whey. (Don’t get excited here. Let the curd drain.)
- Place half the curds into a bowl, add half the salt, and stir gently to distribute the salt in the curds. Place the remaining curds into the same bowl repeat with the remaining salt, stirring it all gently together.
- Add the cream and stir gently. Refrigerate in a covered container. The cheese lasts 1-2 weeks, though you may notice the cheese tasting more bitter as its shelf-life ends.
Conclusion and Supplies
Milk really is a magical food, culinarily and nutritionally. It’s a delicate creation that cannot be mimicked, and has an incredible range of applications. It is finicky though, and must be treated correctly.
For supplies, I like the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. They have a huge selection of cultures, tools, auxiliary ingredients (calcium chloride and rennet) with a treasure trove of recipes and resources. Shipping is prompt and affordable.
Give this recipe a shot; it requires some time commitment, but I promise it’s worth it. You’ll never want the store-bought crap again.
- Austin, B.Domestic Science (1914). Lyons and Carnahan
- Belitz, H., Grosch, W. Schieberle, P. Food Chemistry: Volume 1(2004). Springer. IBSN: 978-3-540-40818-5-1