Well the time has come to start making cheese and what better cheese to start off with than Queso Fresco. This is a cheese I grew up eating in Mexico and I still love it to this day. Queso fresco translates to “fresh cheese” and it’s a mild cheese that really pairs well with other foods. It’s slightly salty, tangy, and you really get all of those fresh milk flavors coming through
This cheese is prepared a multitude of different ways in Latin America. You can find it with herbs, spices, using only rennet, or cultured. In today’s recipe I’ll show you how to make a cultured version of this cheese. If you want to make this at home without a culture just skip steps 2 and 3 (from the preparing the milk section) in the recipe below. Everything else stays the same.
There are a few things that we need to understand about cheese making. First and foremost cleanliness needs to be a top priority. Sanitize all of your equipment by either boiling it in water for 20 minutes or spraying with a liquid sanitizer (I use Iodophor).
As far as milk goes, try and get the best quality that you can get for cheese making. The better the milk the better your cheese will turn out. Stay away from ultra pasteurized milk or ultra high temp processed (UHT) milk. These options do not work for cheese making.
Raw milk produces some of the best cheese on the planet so if you choose to use raw milk make sure it comes from a reputable place with healthy livestock. If you use raw milk to make cheese you DONOT need to add calcium chloride. Calcium chloride is added to replenish the calcium in milk that’s been pasteurized. Also, if you use raw milk you can reduce the amount of culture and rennet by 25%.
Time and temperature play an important role in cheese making. Each cheese has it’s own parameters that must be strictly followed. For that reason I suggest getting a high quality kitchen probe thermometer that you can monitor the milk’s temperature at all times. I use a probe thermometer called DOT by Thermoworks. It’s inexpensive, reliable, and keeps me on track when making cheese. You will see this in pretty much every cheese making video recipe I post.
In addition to temperature, time is critically important when it comes to cheese making. Whether you are ripening a culture, setting or cooking the curds, or forming the cheese, time is at the heart of each one of those steps. The timer I use is from ThermoWorks as well (Extra BIG and LOUD Timer) and It keeps me on task through the entire process.
When it comes to heating your milk for the purpose of cheese making you have lots of options. The name of the game is slow and gentle. A very popular option for heating milk is the double boiler technique which works great. For low temp cheeses I like to use an Immersion Circulator. All I do is fill a larger pot with water and place my smaller pot (with milk in it) inside the larger pot. I add the immersion circulator to the larger pot and set the temperature. I find that this method keeps the milk at the perfect temperature during the entire cook without having to fuss over turning on and off the stove. I will say that I’m not a fan of this technique when it comes to higher temp cooking cheeses but we will get into that later 😁.
Finally lets talk about curds. This is really the heart of every cheese. Curds are like little babies. They are sensitive, delicate, fragile, and temperamental. As weird as this sounds get to know your curds, be gentle with them, and pay attention to how they are acting. There are lots of factors at play here that deal with expelling or retaining whey. All of this will affect the outcome of your cheese so here are a few tips when it comes to curds.
Curd Size Matters
- Curd size matters – Try and make your curd sizes uniform.
- Cut your curds slow and steady – Don’t rush this step. Cutting your curds too fast isn’t good for the curd so take your time. Space the entire curd cutting session to around 5 minutes.
- Allow your curds time to heal – Just 5 minutes will greatly improve their structural integrity
- Watch your temperature – cooking the curds is all about expelling whey and increasing acidity. Each cheese is different so follow the parameters given
- Stirring is important – Don’t under stir, don’t over stir. Finding a good balance of stirring to expel the right amount of whey in the appropriate amount of time for the cheese you want to make takes practice (so take notes).
Here are a few things you might find useful when making this cheese
- Iodophor Sanitizer
- DOT External Thermometer
- Extra BIG and LOUD Kitchen Timer/Alarm
- Calcium Chloride
- Cheese Salt
- Mesophilic Culture
- Immersion Water Circulator (Sous Vide)
- Stainless Steel Cheese Mold (for 3 gallons of milk)
- An assortment of different cheese molds
- Dutch Cheese Press
- 10 pound Weight
- Cheese Cloth
- Stainless Steel Cheese Skimmer:
- Curd Cutting Knife
- Bamboo Cheese Mat
- 5qt Stainless Colander
Enjoy the video and the recipe. If you have any questions feel free to ask away. If you make this at home I’d love to hear about how it came out!!
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