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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Bother? 2012 - Spreadable Flavored Cheese

What a year it has been!  Okay, a year and a month really.  We've finally come to the last week of my year of homemade challenges.  Today I present to you, flavored spreadable cheeses!  This was a fun challenge, I wish I took more pictures during the process of the cheese making.

Boyfriend was perplexed when he opened the fridge and found this.
There were a few ways that I could have gone with the generic term "flavored spreadable cheeses."  Would I make a cracker cheese?  A bagel cheese?  A sandwich cheese?  There are so many soft cheese options!  After reading about cream cheese, queso fresco and other artisan cheeses, I decided to go with a Neufchatel cheese.  This was mostly due to the fact that I didn't need to order and special starters off the Internet.  All you need to prepare Neufchatel is milk, buttermilk and rennet!
I have really grown to love making cheese.  It's a science experiment in your kitchen!  Don't worry though, it isn't an experiment that requires a lot of science know-how.  You just have to heat, stir and wait!  Seriously, the rennet and buttermilk do all of the hard work.  You just have to be patient enough and wait for the cheese to be formed.  I checked on my milk three times before it was actually cheese, it took about 18 hours to reach the desired state.  Cheese making requires a lot of patience.

Science experiment aside, this challenge was seriously fun.  After the buttermilk and rennet formed cheese curds in my milk, I cut the solid slab of curd into 1/2-inch cubes.  Then I shook the pot that the cheese was in.  Rather than the fluid motion of the milk that was in there a day before, there was a geometric pulse of cubes of cheese.  I'm going to have to make more cheese so I can video this weird phenomenon.

After collecting and draining the cheese curds, I was left with a smooth, creamy, white cheese.  Giving it a little taste test, the cheese didn't really remind me of cream cheese.  I didn't go with a cream cheese recipe because it required a mesophilic starter (special bacteria culture), that gives cream cheese its distinctive flavor.  This neufchatel that I had made tasted more like a very strong yogurt.

I totally should have scheduled this challenge for right before or after my bagel challenge (which was just about a year ago now!).  Instead, boyfriend and I headed to our local bagel shop and picked up a half dozen.  We feasted on bagels and neufchatel Sunday morning and hid away from the cold cold temperatures here in New Jersey. 

We weren't just having plain farmers cheese (another name for neufchatel) with our bagels.  Oh no, I divided the cheese into two bowls and flavored them in opposite manners.  One bowl became a sweet treat, with cinnamon and honey.  The second bowl I made into a savory spread with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil.  I enjoyed the cinnamon and honey cheese on my whole wheat bagel.  The sun-dried tomato and basil is destined for my turkey sandwiches for lunch this week!

Is it worth it to make your own cheese at home?  Well, I enjoyed this so much for the process of making cheese.  The end product was delicious and it was great to be able to pick my own flavors.  The neufchatel that I made was done with whole milk, though you can definitely make this was a lower fat milk if you want to make a lighter cheese.  I liked the sweet cheese because I was able to control the amount of sweetener in the final product, most sweet cream cheese is full of grams of sugar.

Will making your own bagel topping save you money?  Not a whole lot.  An 8-ounce tub of flavored cream cheese is $2.29 at my local store (about 28 cents per ounce).  This cheese recipe was prepared with 1 gallon of milk ($3.99), 1/4 cup buttermilk (~ $0.25) and 1/4 tablet rennet (~$0.06).  The recipe made 30 ounces of cheese, making it about 14 cents per ounce.  It's about two flavors for the price of one!

I hope that you enjoyed this Why Bother 2012 challenge.  I really had fun making some unusual things in my own kitchen.  Some things I won't be making again (say yes to store bought coconut milk!).  Some recipes were eye-opening (you can make your own organic Greek yogurt!).  A few challenges I've even incorporated into my everyday routine (You know I'm having homemade walnut butter on my waffles every morning!).

Challenge yourself and make something crazy at home!  At some point, everything was homemade (well, except cheese puffs!), you can bring the factory into your kitchen and make everything in a more healthy and economic manner.

One Year Ago: Thai Sweet Potato Stew
Two Years Ago: Caramel Thumbprints

Spreadable Cheese
Adapted from the Junket rennet recipe

This is technically a neufchatel cheese, or a farmers cheese.  Made in a day, with easily accessible ingredients, this spreadable cheese makes for a great, light snack.  I decided to take half of the cheese and make a sweet spread, the other half I flavored with savory ingredients.  You can choose your own mix-ins and create your own flavor!

1 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk
1/4 tablet Junket rennet tablet

Sterilize a 5-quart pot by boiling 1-inch of water for 5 minutes in the covered pot.  Pour out the water.

Add milk to the sterilized pot and bring the milk to 65 degrees F over low heat.  Remove from the heat and add buttermilk, whisk to combine.

Dissolve rennet in 1/4 cup warm water.  Add rennet to the milk and whisk to combine.  Cover pot with the lid and let sit overnight, do not touch the pot! 

In the morning, check to see if the milk has formed a clean break (poke a finger into the milk a lift.  If it has gelled enough, it will cleanly break as you lift your finger out).  If a clean break has not been achieved, let the milk sit for up to another 12 hours.

Once a clean break is achieved, cut the curd into 1/2-inch cubes.  Set a strainer over a 1-gallon bowl.  Line the strainer with a handkerchief or fine mesh cheesecloth.  Ladle the cheese cubes into the lined strainer.  Allow the whey to drain through the cheesecloth.  If it stops draining, lift the cloth back and forth to loosen the curds from the cloth. 

After most of the whey has drained off, tie up the opposite corners of the cheesecloth (you'll make two knots).  Hang this bag of cheese over a bowl in the fridge.  Let the cheese continue to drain overnight. 

In the morning, flavor your neufchatel cheese with your favorite ingredients.

Sun-dried Tomato & Basil neufchatel cheese

14 ounces neufchatel cheese
3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon & Honey neufchatel cheese

14 ounces neufchatel cheese
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
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