Cheesemaking is thought to have begun many centuries ago when a nomad carried milk in a bag made of a calf’s stomach. This type of vessel was commonly used for the transport of liquids. Apparently the individual started out with milk and when he reached his destination discovered a semi-solid substance in the pouch. He probably did not understand the process but he must have tasted his creation and thought he had stumbled on to a good thing. Others in his community tried this new invention and began to figure out ways to reproduce it.
As modern day science entered the picture, humans came to an understanding of the chemical process involved in cheesemaking. Amazing, little has changed since the early times. First milk is warmed, a culture (bacteria) is added and then rennet (still produced from a calf’s stomach). The culture acidifies the milk and the rennet causes the whey (liquid) to separate from the curd (solids). Early cheese makers likely used goat milk, as in the desert conditions, goats were able to thrive and produce where cows were unable to do so.
Small-scale cheesemaking is definitely one of the benefits of owning goats. Simple chevre can be produced in the kitchen with a minimal amount of purchased ingredients or supplies. Chevre is the French word for goat. This cheese is commonly produced in France by farmstead cheesemakers. The basic instructions are easy to follow, and variations by the cheesemaker can be tailor-made to produce a unique product.
Goat Milk Cheeses
- Milk, 1-1/2 gallons fresh goat milk (do not use milk with colostrum present)
- Cups for draining cheese (Purchase juice glasses from the dollar store and pierce with a hot barn nail in a random pattern, or purchase molds from a commercial source.)
- Dairy thermometer
- Culture or 1 cup buttermilk (for the home cheesemaker buttermilk is readily available or purchase culture from a supplier)
- *Rennet 1/8 teaspoon (available from a supplier)
- Slotted spoon
- Knife or metal spatula to cut curd
- Non-iodized salt
- Cooking pot large enough to hold 2 gallons of milk (avoid aluminum)
To begin: Place 1-1/2 gallons of goat milk in a cooking pot. Add 1 cup buttermilk. Let this stand at room temperature (70 degrees) for 2 hours to ripen. Health milk slowly to 76 degrees. Remove from heat. Dissolve 1/8 teaspoon rennet in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Gently stir this solution into the milk and let rest until curd is formed and begins to separate from the whey. This will take about 10-15 minutes.
To test curd consistency simply slice through the curd with a knife and look for a distinct separation. This is a clean break. If the curd is not well-defined at this point, wait a few more minutes and slice through the mass again. If it looks like yogurt it is not ready to cut.
Once the clean break stage is achieved, it is time to cut the curd. Begin by running a knife or metal spatula with a long blade around the edge of the pot. Then cut the curd in a series of quick movements traveling from one side of the pot to the other. Next cut in the other direction. This will produce small cubes. Cut quickly. The cubes should be about 1/2-inch when the cutting is finished. Do not cut smaller or the curds will be too small and will be reduced to mush. After the cutting is finished, allow them to rest for about 10 minutes. This allows them to heal.
Next, use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the molds. Be gentle and try not to break them into smaller pieces. Fill the molds to the top. Add a generous sprinkling of salt to the top of each and set to drain on a rack. Whey will immediately begin to flow from the holes in the molds. Soon the cheese will begin to shrink. Do not refill, simply let the whey drain from the curd. Allow to sit for about 12 hours at room temperature, approximately 70 degrees. If the cheese is made in the evening, the next morning it will be about one-half the original size. If it is firm and holds the shape, it is ready to remove from the mold. To remove the cheese from the mold slide a butter knife around the edge of the mold. After running the knife along the side of the mold, flip it upside down and the cheese will fall from the mold. Set each cheese on a rack to drain further. After a few hours a bit of a rind will form. At this point, either powder some additional salt (blended until it is quite fine) or roll the cheese in herbs. This cheese is excellent rolled in coarse black pepper or herbes du Provance which is a blend of French herbs. Another favorite accent is chopped fresh chives. Simply roll the cheese in the chives, add a few to the top and serve. Refrigerate the cheese in a covered container.
Chevre is considered a fresh cheese, so it is best to consume it a within a day or two. Due to the fact it retains a great deal of whey, it is quite perishable. Chevre may be eaten with a baguette or try stuffing fresh snow peas. Goat cheese pizza is too fine! Simply allow the cheese to air dry a bit longer, this will remove more moisture. Then crumble on your favorite homemade pizza. The cheese will not melt but it will get soft. Try a handful of fresh basil on top.
What about dessert? Try chevre topped with fresh strawberries or slice a fresh pear, top with chevre and then drizzle with honey. The possibilities are endless! Enjoy.
*Rennet is available as calf rennet, which is traditional or vegetable, which is plant based.
Check suppliers listed in the Dairy Goat Journal.