How to Make Farmers’ Cheese at Home (fromage blanc)

More than often at a party you will find me at the food table, and more than likely specifically digging into the cheese plater. I do this not to be anti-social or because I don’t take to any of the other food or company on offer, but because I really, really like cheese. “More than almost any other animal by-product,” as Eunice would say. But how does one truly judge their dedication to a food? When do you cross over from a mere enthusiastic consumer, to a fanatic, to an expert? For this, I would like to make an analogy to art. <br>
A love of cheese, like art, does not have to be completely all-accepting. But there must be a willingness to give each kind a go, and to appreciate it as its own form before critiquing it. And this must be done for the most genuine reasons, for the pure enjoyment of the individual. Forget the art, the schmoozing and the free wine at opening night. Let’s look at the fromage on the sad little platter on the side.
I have found that in the past, my appreciation for most art forms heighten at the moment when I fully realise the skill with which they were created. Never have I appreciated the art of the nude figure, so ubiquitously repeated throughout history, as much as I did when my own nude drawings came out unintentionally Giacometti-esque. Never have I appreciated film photography so much as the day the man at the camera store announced that I had wound the film strip backwards and therefore had assuredly erased all my images.
And so long story short: now it is time I endeavour to appreciate the art form that I love so dearly: cheese. And through the best system I know how to – by giving it a go myself!
How to make a very basic fromage blanc (farmers’ cheese)
STEP ONE: GATHER YOUR MATERIALS
  • 2L Milk – this will be the greatest factor regarding the taste of your cheese. Unpasteurised milk would be most ideal, however full cream will be just fine.
  • A curdling agent – 2 tsp of rennet or white vinegar, or as pictured above, lemons (the juice of one lemon per litre of milk)
  • A pinch of salt
  • A spoon
  • Cheese cloth (these can be bought in specialty food stores, but can also be bought from Lincraft for approx. $6/m)
  • String
  • Colander
  • Thermometer
STEP TWO: HEAT THE MILK

Pour the milk into a pot and heat gradually. There are varied suggested temperatures – between body temperature (which you can check by testing with your finger) and the simmering point just before boiling (about 80 degrees centigrade). Not being too picky, I picked a number between the two, around 65 degrees. Make sure that you stir the milk as it heats, to ensure that it does not stick to the pot or form a skin. Add your pinch of salt. (Note: there are different suggested times depending on the curdling agent being used. There are some useful notes here)

STEP THREE: SQUEEZE THE LEMONS
Whilst the milk is heating up, juice your lemons. One lemon per litre of milk.

STEP FOUR: ADD THE LEMON TO THE MILK

Once your milk is the desired temperature, pour in the lemon juice. Stir to combine. You should start to see the curds and whey separate into an attractive mixture such as the one above. It looks rather disastrous, but do not be phased! Leave the mixture to set – again, there are different suggested times ranging from 10 minutes to a few hours. I left mine to sit for about 15 minutes.

STEP FOUR: SEPARATE THE CURDS AND WHEY

Line the colander with your cheese cloth (if it is the first time using the cloth, you may want to soak it in boiling water prior). Scoop or pour the mixture into the colander, allowing the whey to drain through.

STEP FOUR: HANG TO DRAIN

Once you have poured all the curds and whey into the colander, lift the four corners of the cheese cloth and bring them together. Tie them with a piece of string and attach it to the handle of your wooden spoon. Balance the spoon across the rims of the pot, so that the ball of curds & whey will hang however not touch the bottom. Leave for about half an hour.

STEP FIVE: UNWRAP YOUR CHEESE!

After a while you will see that a significant amount of whey will drip out of the cheesecloth, leaving a smaller & more saturated volume inside. You can try to squeeze more whey out of it, but be wary that the liquid may still be warm from before.

WoOHOoo! You just made cheese! To quote Food Wishes, “look at those sexy cheesecloth marks. Cheesecloth is like the fishnet stocking of kitchen equipment.”

STEP SIX: EAT YOUR CHEESE!

You can use your cheese in ways similar to cottage, ricotta or cream cheese. Crumble it up and sprinkle it over apples and strawberries (or any other fruits you like).
Or why not sprinkle it atop some ravioli?

Another way to eat it is to press some of your cheese into a shot glass to mould it as pictured above. Drizzle honey over the top and sprinkle some chopped up roasted pinenuts. Serve with slices of a chocolate roll from Bread Top, or pieces of toast!

And there you have it! By the time you get to this stage (whether you have made the cheese and consumed it, or if you have made it through this colossal post) you should be pretty cheesed out! If you have leftover cheese, put it in a container in the fridge and it should keep for about a week. It has quite a malleable taste, so you can experiment with adding more salt, pepper, herbs or even drizzling olive oil. Experiment with sweet & savoury flavours! There are so many factors and variables, I feel that I have only just opened a door to a plethora of experimental opportunities! I can’t wait to try a different variation, and hopefully come up with my own Vanessa cheese!

But hey! Why not check out some other variations? I found the following articles especially helpful: