Soft cheese is a fantastically healthy cultured food that is as versatile as it is delicious. It is a high-moisture, spreadable cheese that is eaten fresh. Soft cheeses such as cream cheese, ricotta or mozzarella can easily be used in recipes, or dolloped on top of pasta, salad, or warm pitta or flat bread. These cheeses have a moist, creamy consistency and can flvoured with a wide range of possible additions to make the flavour your own. Fruit, nuts, veggies, herbs, or spices: anything can be added to a soft cheese to make spreads, dressings, toppings, or afternoon snacks. Making soft cheese is a great option for beginning cheesemakers because it requires little equipment, ingredients, or attention. Soft cheese is sometimes called “bag cheese” because it is usually drained of whey in a sack made of cotton or butter muslin.
Soft cheese is best made in a kitchen with a steady, moderate temperature, around 22-24C. Higher temperature or excessive humidity may promote yeast growth, which in turn will affect the taste of the cheese. Yeast-affected cheeses will taste gassy, off-flavored, or even fruity. If the temperature in the kitchen drops too low, it will impede proper culturing and drainage of the soft cheese.
One gallon of milk will generally produce between 1½ to 2 pounds of cheese, depending on butterfat content. The more butterfat in your milk, the more cheese you will produce.
A cheese starter kit is sometimes a better and more economical option, and it provides a fun project to do with children or family.
Three Basic Steps to Making Soft Cheese
Making soft cheese at home is easy and affordable. Start with fresh milk: cow, goat, sheep, mare, or buffalo milk.
If the recipe calls for heating the milk before adding the culture, heating indirectly is best, using a water bath method or double boiler (this is the same with making yogurts)
When heating a large quantity of milk, an indirect heating method may not be feasible. In this case, make sure to stir the milk frequently as it heats, then constantly once it approaches its final temperature, to avoid scorching.
2. Adding culture and rennet
- To add powdered starter culture, sprinkle it over the surface of the milk, allowing it to rehydrate for a few minutes before stirring it in with a cheese spoon in steady up-and-down motions.
- To add an acidic starter, such as lemon juice or citric acid, pour it through the holes in the cheese spoon into the milk and incorporate using the same long and steady up-and-down motions.
- Sometimes a recipe will call for adding rennet for firmer curd coagulation. Rennet should be added in the same manner as an acidic starter.
- Once the curd has formed, disturb it as little as possible until ready to drain. Disturbing a developing curd will cause it to lose crucial butterfat, lessening the quantity and quality of the resulting cheese.
- Properly formed curd then requires draining. To drain soft cheese, a clean colander and about a yard of butter muslin or a cotton bag may be used. Place the colander into a slightly larger bowl, and drape the muslin over the colander. Either spoon or pour curds into the muslin-lined colander, according to the recipe’s instructions.
- Once all the curds are in the colander and ready to drain, tie the corners of the muslin together to make a sack, and suspend from a wooden spoon or a cabinet door handle over a bowl for the draining period.
- Once the curds have drained sufficiently, scoop them into aplastic container, preferably with a lid. Add salt or anything your recipe requires, and cover the cheese tightly before storing in the refrigerator. Fresh soft cheese will keep 1 to 2 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.