A fresh cheese is a young cheese that has not be heat treated to the same extent as hard cheese, and prepared in a way that retains a lot more moisture. It relies solely on the quality and flavour of the fresh milk it is produced from. When a hard cheese is made, it’s heated to a much higher temperature to cook the curds further. This caramelises the lactose, bringing out more sweet nutty flavours. The curds are then cut further to remove more moisture and are matured longer. As with all cheese making, it’s very important to make sure your utensils are sterilised – it’s a good idea to have a large pot of boiling water on hand so you can dip and sterilise all utensils as you go.
- 8 litres fresh milk (must be non-homogenised)
- ¼ tsp starter culture
- 2.5 ml rennet, diluted in a small amount of cold water
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Standing time 1 hour 45 minutes
Place the fresh milk in a stockpot with a heavy base. Heat to 35°C over a double boiler or bain-marie. Once 35°C, remove from heat. Add the starter culture. (This starter culture of good bacteria increases the count of the good bacteria and prevents bad bacteria from overpopulating the cheese. It also starts to convert the lactose into lactic acid to help preserve the cheese. You may need to change the water in the bain marie to ensure the milk stays at 35°C. Keep the lid on.) Leave to ripen for about 1 hour.
Add the rennet to the milk mixture. Stir well. (Rennet is used to separate the curds from the whey, i.e. separate the milk solids from the liquids. Tip: It’s important to stop the milk from swirling after you have stirred through the rennet. To do this, place your spoon into the pot to stop the rotations. It is very important not to move or disturb the pot during this time.) Leave for a further 45 minutes, covered. You can leave this for longer, if necessary, up to a couple of hours.
For a softer, moister fresh cheese, gently ladle the curds into sterilised cheese moulds. Set aside for a few hours. They are now ready to eat.
For a slightly more firm fresh cheese, gently touch the top – it should feel firm yet light. Using a long knife, cut the curds into 2 cm square cubes – cutting one way then the other. Leave the curds to "heal" for 5–10 minutes. This starts the process of removing a little moisture. After 10 minutes, gently turn the curds with your hands. Repeat every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully ladle the curds into sterilised cheese moulds. Allow to drain for a few hours. After 6 hours, the cheese will take on a pudding texture. This needs to be done in reasonably cool conditions (10–20°C is recommended).
The cheese is now ready to be placed in a saturated brine solution (250 g salt to 1750 ml of cold water). Leave the cheeses in the brine for 30–40 minutes. Remove and drain before eating.
The first very soft cheese needs to be consumed quickly – in 12 hours to 1.5 days. The slightly firmer version will keep for a few days, or you can marinate it with fresh herbs and olive oil to increase its shelf life. Add a selection of fresh herbs, peppercorns or chillies to a large jar. Add the cheese. Top with olive oil and leave for 1 week to marinate in the fridge. Once opened, consume quickly.