By Margo True, Sunset food editor
After fiddling around with gallons of milk, many lemons from our tree, homemade salt, and several different types of herbs from the garden, we've decided to make two cheeses for our one-block-diet summer feast: fresh chive cheese (firm, for slicing) and oregano queso blanco (crumbly, for sprinkling).
FRESH CHIVE CHEESE
TIME: About 2 1/2 hours (45 minutes active time)
MAKES: A 7-in. log (about 2 in. diameter)
We wanted to make our own version of caprese salad (ripe tomatoes + basil + mozzarella), but found out that mozzarella isn't the easiest cheese for beginners to tackle. So we adapted this simple recipe from one in Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making (StoreyPublishing, 2002), for the Indian cheese called chenna. It's really fun to make: once you have curds, you gather them up and knead them, just as you would bread dough, until they're satiny smooth. We added herbs and salt, rolled the curds into a log shape, chilled it, and sliced it intorounds. We're planning to layer it with lots of different kinds of tomatoes, our own basil, and vinaigrette made with our own olive oil and vinegar (and a drop of our own honey).
gal. whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)*
fresh lemon juice (from 4 to 5 large lemons
coarsely chopped chives
1.In a large, heavy pot, heat milk to a gentle boil over medium-highheat, stirring every now and then so it won't scorch (this will take about 30minutes, so bring a book). As soon as it boils, remove it from the heat anddrizzle in lemon juice, stirring slowly and gently. Keep stirring untilsolid white curds separate from greenish-white, translucent liquidwhey. (If whey is still milky instead of clear, heat the pot gently untilwhey is clear.) Let pot sit until curds have settled below whey, about 15minutes.
2. Meanwhile, line a large colander with cheesecloth andset in sink. Pour curds into colander and rinse gently with lukewarmwater for 5 seconds. Gather cheesecloth up over curds and gently twist tosqueeze out some liquid (but not all; it should still be dripping a little).
3. Put aplate on cheesecloth-wrapped curds and top with a 5-lb. weight. Letdrain 45 minutes. (At this point it may still be dripping a bit; thisis okay.)
4. Unwrap cheese and put in bowl of stand mixer withdough hook attachment; add salt and chives. Beat cheese on medium-low speed (or knead it by hand) until silky-lookingand no longer grainy (it should look like cream cheese), 10 to 12 minutes.
5.Roll cheese into a 2-in.-thick log and wrap in waxed paper and thenplastic wrap. Chill until cold and firm, at least 1 hour. The cheese will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.
* We used cream-top organic milk from Straus Family Creamery, in Marshall, California, for both our cheeses, because a) it was as local a milk as we could find b) it has wonderful flavor and comes from healthy cows.
OREGANO QUESO BLANCO
MAKES About 2 cups TIME About 2 hours
The reason for making this cheese? To have a crumbly, savory topping for the soup we're planning. It's a simple, fresh white cheese with Mexican flavorings, and reminded us of Mexican queso blanco. It too is based on a recipe called Lemon Cheese, from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making.
1/2 gal. whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
9 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 4 to 5 large lemons)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1. In a large, heavy pot, heat milk over medium-high heat just to the point of boiling, stirring often to prevent scorching. As soon as the milk looks as though it's about to boil (small bubbles will being to break the surface), remove the pot from the heat and, whisking briskly to create tiny curds, drizzle in lemon juice. Reduce heat to low, return pot to burner, and whisk for another 2 minutes (do not let the milk boil). Cover and let sit 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, line a large colander with cheesecloth and set in the sink. Pour in curds and whey. Tie two opposite corners of cheesecloth into a knot over curds and do the same with the other two corners. Hang cheesecloth sack from sink faucet for 1 to 2 hours, or until curds have stopped draining.
3. Pour curds into a bowl and add salt and oregano. Rub between your fingers to mix and to break curds into small grains. The cheese will keep up to 1 week in the fridge.