Henri Willig processes 30,000 liters of Dutch goat milk every day to make cheese. He makes it the old-fashioned way, by pouring milk into a cheese tub, adding a bacterial culture, and heating it up with a bit of rennet to start the coagulation. Within 30 minutes, the milk starts to thicken into a pudding. He cuts it carefully with a knife to separate the curds and whey, and packs the curds into molds. After two hours of pressing, the cheese takes a dip in a brine bath. A natural rind forms, and with its protective layer of salt the wheel is left to dry.
Perhaps three weeks after Willig completed this process for one particular wheel of Goat Gouda, I was so lucky as to receive it as a gift. (You know your loved ones have you pegged when they bring you samples of the local specialties from their trips abroad; I also received a handful of Guatemalan Cacao beans.) The wheel—which I ate atop homemade chive biscuits—was mild, soft, and salty.
In fact, I enjoyed the gift so much that it inspired me to try my own hand at cheese making. Tonight, I will begin the experiment. I have decided to make Neufchatel, an unripened cheese with French roots similar to the American "Farmer's Cheese," as by all reports it is the simplest with which to begin. It can be eaten fresh, seasoned with herbs, or crumbled and spread like a soft chevre. The only ingredients are milk, lemon juice, and salt: as simple a list as they come.
My prospects as a cheese-maker time will make clear. With any luck, my attempt to heat, cut, press, and brine will transform this week's gallon of Ayrshire milk into a wheel worthy of eating.
Pour 1 gallon milk into a large pot. Stir in a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over a medium flame, stirring occasionally. When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Stir in the juice of one large lemon. The milk will curdle within 5-10 minutes. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the milk through. Gather the cloth around the curds and squeeze out as much whey as possible. Tie curds into cheesecloth and hang over a large pot to drain for 4-12 hours. Spice as desired; eat fresh.
Reports will follow as the cheese-making experiment continues. To contribute advice, expertise, or words of warning, click on the "COMMENT" button below. Wish me luck!