Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Make Cottage Cheese, by Accident

What do you do when yogurt doesn't properly ferment? Such was the question I posed to google one cold day last week, after discovering the sad pot of soupy milk that failed to coagulate despite having following my tried-and-true yogurt recipe. Normally, the light bulb in my oven heats up enough to fully ferment the milk; however, I hadn't taken into account the considerably cooler temperature outside the oven. It simply wasn't warm enough for the yogurt to take shape. Rather than taking the time to reheat the mixture and let it sit for another lengthy night, I decided to convert it to cottage cheese.

Unlike making yogurt, which can be a somewhat temperamental and time-consuming process, making cottage cheese is as easy as 1,2,3. Normally, all you need is one quart of milk, six tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice, a warm stove-top, and about 30 minutes. Alton Brown explains it well on the Food Network.

In this case, I was starting with milk that already contained yogurt starter, so there was no need to add  an acid. I slowly reheated the mixture to about 120 degrees. The whey quickly separated from the curds. I stirred it gently to encourage separation.
Gently reheat milk containing yogurt starter.
Separating curds and whey is kind of like a science experiment. When an acid is added to milk, the casein protein found in the milk coagulates, forming solid curds. Heat encourages further separation, allowing liquid whey to rise, as the curds settle:

Next, I poured the mixture into a colander lined with cheese cloth, allowing the whey to drain into a larger bowl placed beneath. Whey is a versatile ingredient in its own right, so I wanted to be sure to save it.

Whey can be stored for several months in the refrigerator. Use it to soak grains and beans, as a substitute in baking, or for lacto-fermentation. A half-gallon of milk yields about a quart of whey and 2 cups of cottage cheese.

Add about 1/2 t. kosher salt to the strained cottage cheese and store it in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Add herbs, or pepper, according to your taste.

When life hands  you a pot of uncoagulated, fermented milk, make cottage cheese!

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