Friday, May 20, 2011

Recipe: Try your hand at Chevre, Goat’s Milk Cheese

Age is not important unless you’re a cheese. – Helen Hayes

Fromage frais pour deux !
Front: lemon set Chevre; Rear: rennet set Chevre with Herbes de Provence.
So I had a little bit of a "compare and contrast" thing happening this week. I made two Chevre cheeses. There was actually a few reasons other than plain gluttony. I failed miserably at making it last weekend. I ended dumping out 2 quarts of milk. I would NOT be defeated. That’s reason 1.

Reason 2: A couple weeks ago I ordered some double strength vegetable rennet from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company ( I wanted to start to expand my repertoire out from ricotta into more advanced types. To do so I needed rennet. 

And Reason 3? Pure inquisitiveness. I chose my victim—Chevre—because I found two recipes. Neither was very involved, but there was a substantial difference. One was much like making ricotta in that you separated the curds by using lemon; the other used rennet.

So my challenges were clear. Can I succeed? Can I properly handle rennet? Is there a difference between making Chevre with lemon or rennet? Shall we find out together?

One important thing I did discover through the failed process is when a cheese recipe calls for "room temperature" it means about 80°F. That's way warmer than the inside of my drafty old house. I resorted to using the top of my hot water radiators. Things worked pretty well after that.

A little about Chevre
Chevre has been made for thousands of years. It can be made by just allowing raw goat milk to naturally curdle and then pressing out the whey and aging. It can also be made by introducing an acid (like lemon or vinegar) or rennet to initiate coagulation.

The firmness of the final cheese is greatly dictated by how long you allow it to drain (and subsequently the moisture content). The Chevres I made were very much a spreadable cheese.

You can also brine (soak in a salt solution) to make a crust so it can be aged. If you can get the cheese to form a good crust you can put it in the oven to heat and then use as a warm spread with roasted garlic on toast points. Mmmmm...

That's high on my hit list of "projects." If I can pull that off it opens up a whole world of aged cheeses for me to try.

Method 1: Chevre made with lemon juice
Time: 1 hour 10 min  |  Yield: approx. 3/4 cup cheese
1 quart (or litre) of whole goat’s milk. (It can be pasteurized)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

This is after draining off the whey, top of the bowl
Heat the goat’s milk to 180°F. Use a thermometer to track the progress of the heating. 

Once it has reached that temperature, remove it from the heat. Stir in the lemon. The milk will start to curdle instantly.

After the curd is gone you get almost your original volume in whey.

Let the mixture sit for 1/2 hour at room temperature. Then, using very fine cloth (I find Dollar Store pantyhose do the trick!), drain the curds from the whey. Let drain for about another 1/2 hour.

Here I have added the salt and a little whey.

After 1/2 hour, blend in the salt with your hands and pack into a mould or container. You can also add other items at this time, such as you see at the grocers with Chevre, cracked pepper, honey, citrus zest, or more "traditional" such as garlic or Herbes de Provence. (*see directions for adding flavourings below.) 

If you think it’s too dry, add a little of the whey. I did and my cheese came out very creamy and spreadable.

Method 2: Chevre using Rennet
Time: 24 hours  | Yield: 1-1/2 cups
2 quarts (2 litres) of whole goat’s milk
1 tsp double strength rennet (or 2 tsp regular), diluted in 1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt, or to taste

After the rennet has been added. Note the formation of fine curd.
This looks pretty much the same for both recipes.
Heat the milk, using a thermometer, to 85°F. This is correct, 85°F. Remove from the heat and stir in the rennet and water. Stir for about 30 seconds to ensure it is mixed well. You may see some separation now.

Cover the pot and let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours, or until you get a complete break between the whey and curd. I've seen so many different pictures of how this should look. Some are a solid mass, others like my picture above. My cheese worked so it must be right...

Straining the whey from the curd.
After that time strain the curds from the whey and let drain for 6-12 hours. Then massage in the salt and any other flavourings you may wish.

*Adding flavourings
I say massage because by hand seemed to be the best method. The lemon version I mixed with a whisk. It was a bit messy. Using your hands seemed to just work better. What you put in with your Chevre is entirely up to you.

So both cheeses are done. But what are they like?

First let’s talk about similarity. 
Both cheeses had a very (very) fine curd. I was expecting clumps like when I made the ricotta, but that was not the case at all. I am assuming that is why Chevre is so creamy.
Both cheeses seemed to be a bit "granular." No other way to describe it, but it wasn't a bad thing.
Both cheeses were very good.

So now to differences: 
I added 1 tsp of whey to the lemon version to make it a little smoother.
The rennet version seems to be a little grainer than the lemon. It may be just me, or the longer draining time.
The  lemon version has a nicer Chevre taste (tangier) than just the rennet version.
Because of the "blandness" of the rennet cheese I added an herb. I may have done that anyway just because...

I am assuming that if I had used the same volume of milk at the start I would have made the same amount of cheese each time. So I don't really see a "volume of cheese produced" difference by using rennet.

Next time, maybe I'll try fresh mozzarella. To venture any further would require going into aged cheeses or blues. Hmmm... Never rule out anything. Maybe once I get a little bit more confident...


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