For many people, dipping into a bag of fresh, still-squeaking cheese curds is the epitome of turophile heaven—akin to the euphoria of noshing a hot-from-the-fryer Krispy Kreme doughnut. The trouble is, as is the case for a newborn doughnut, obtaining fresh curds is a matter of fortuitous timing—once they age for even a day, they lose their precious texture. If you are one of those people awaiting your next squeaky-curd fix, you don’t have to delay your gratification any longer. Make your own fresh curds today!
• 2 large stainless steel pots (approx. 3- and 4-gallon) with lids, sized so that the smaller one can be nested in the larger one
• Perforated ladle or large spoon for stirring
• Long spatula or knife for cutting curds
• Stainless steel or plastic colander, of a size that can be suspended across the smaller of the two stainless steel pots
• Cutting board and knife
• Two gallon-size ziplock bags
• 2 gallons whole pasteurized cow or goat milk (not ultrapasteurized)
• 2 ounces buttermilk or 1 packet mesophilic blend from New England Cheese Supply or teaspoon mesophilic culture blend such as MA 4000 or MM 100
• teaspoon calcium chloride diluted in cup cool, non-chlorinated water (optional)
• ½ tablet vegetarian rennet, crushed, or ½ teaspoon single-strength liquid rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water
• 1–2 tablespoons kosher salt
1. CLEAN EVERYTHING: Make sure your cheesemaking equipment and area are clean and sanitary. You can use boiling water to sanitize utensils.
2. RIPEN THE MILK: Pour the milk into the smaller of the two stainless steel pots. Fill the larger pot half-full with water. Set the smaller pot inside the larger pot, and set the assembly on the stovetop. Warm the milk to 90°F (32°C), add the culture. Cover, and hold at 90°F for 1 hour.
3. COAGULATION: If using calcium chloride (it will help store-bought milk set a better curd), add it now. Pour it onto the ladle, and stir well. Add the rennet mixture by pouring it over the perforated ladle to help splatter it across the top of the milk. Stir up and down (instead of round and round) for 1 minute. Then still the movement of the milk by holding the spoon or ladle at the top of the milk. When the milk is still, cover and let set quietly until ready to cut—about 45 minutes.
4. CUTTING THE CURD: Check for a clean break by cutting a slit in the top of the curd with a knife, then inserting the flat wide side of the knife and lifting the curd just where the slit ends. If the curd is ready, the slit you cut will continue forward, leaving a clean-edged opening. Cut the curd into – to ½-inch (0.75–1.25 cm) pieces. Cut vertical columns into the milk first, then turn the knife at an angle and make diagonal cuts down through the top toward the sides. The pieces will not be even-sized; you have to settle for as close to even as possible. Let the cut curds set, covered, at 90°F for 5 minutes.
5. COOKING THE CURD: With the spoon or ladle, gently stir the curds from the top down. If you see any large pieces, cut them smaller. Begin raising the temperature of the curd slowly. Your goal is to reach 100 to 102°F (38–39°C) over a 30-minute period. Hold the temperature and keep stirring for 30 to 45 minutes. The curds should feel springy and even-textured when you break one open. If you’re checking pH, the goal is to reach 6.2 to 6.10.
6. DRAINING AND MOLDING: Let the curds settle for about 5 minutes. Then gently press them to the bottom of the pot with the backs of your hands to form a solid mass. This can take a few minutes. Scoop this mass out, place it in the colander, and set the colander in the pot. It should sit well above the level of the whey. If it doesn’t, remove some of the whey. Place the thermometer into the curd, and keep it at about 98°F (37°C). Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes so the curds knit together.
7. CHEDDARING: Cut the slab of curd into two pieces; stack them on top of each other. Cover, and let set for 15 minutes. Restack by flipping both pieces and moving the bottom piece to the top. Double up two of the ziplock bags, and fill the inside one with about 1½ quarts of water at 98°F (37°C); place that on top of the stacked slabs. This helps get rid of whey and causes the curd to firm into the desired texture. Continue restacking as above every 15 minutes until 2 hours have passed (about eight flips). Check the texture of the curd. When you tear it, it should be like cooked chicken breast.
8. SLICING THE CURD: Place the pieces of curd, which should now be flattened out to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, on a cutting board and cut into strips that are 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. Cut the strips crosswise into pieces that are 2 inches (5 cm) long.
9. SALTING: Place the pieces of curd back in the warm colander and sprinkle with half the salt. Stir with your hands or a spoon for a few minutes. Cover and let set for 5 to 10 minutes; this allows the salt to start absorbing. It will also expel more whey; if you added all the salt at one time, much of it would be washed away. After 10 minutes add the rest of the salt and stir well.
10. FINISHING: Now let the curds cool at room temperature. Stir a couple of times so the salt continues to absorb. Once you can’t see any more salt, guess what—the curds are done! Store them in a bag in the fridge. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks (but lose their squeak in a day or so). You can also freeze them. If you are a fan of flavored curds, you can add spices and flavoring when you add salt.