14 March 2013

Daring Cooks - Let's get cheesy

Sawsan from chef in disguise was our March 2013 Daring Cooks hostess! Sawsan challenges us to make our own homemade cheeses! She gave us a variety of choices to make, all of them easily accomplished and delicious!

When I first read about the challenge, I felt a mix of different emotions : enthusiasm about my very first official challenge, but also fear of failure, as cheese making seemed to be such daunting enterprise. And my major question was : where do I start?  I didn't have a cheesecloth, or a mold. Let alone this exotic sounding rennet.

As I said before though, I do like a challenge and so I set out to find the items I needed.  Predictably, it was impossible to find the necessary utensils in the stores close to home, so I ended up browsing the interwebs.  I came across this fabulous site which is Brouwmarkt, where they sell everything you can possibly need if you decide to make your own cheese.  And this Dutch stores doesn't only provide the necessary tools for the cheese trade, but also for a wide array of other DIY products like jam, or juices or wine or even beer ...  This last one has gotten me thinking and beer brewing might very well end up on the to do list for this year. After all, I wouldn't be a true Belgian if I didn't like beer and chocolate (and fries, which have never been French btw, no matter what they try to tell you :o))

So, I ordered a couple of cheesecloths and liquid rennet and went on my merry way. For all the info on the types of milk to use, the different types of rennet and enzymes etc, I recommend you to read up on the Challenge Sheet Sawsan prepared for this challenge.

Labneh Korat

To ease myself into the cheese challenge, I started with the easiest option according to Sawsan : labneh and more particularly, labneh korat or yoghurt cheese balls.

Labneh is a staple on the middle eastern menu, but until this challenge, I had never heard of it.  Labneh is basically strained yoghurt, which means that although it keeps the somewhat sour taste typical of yoghurts, it has a richer texture closer to soft cheeses.

Making labneh is indeed the easiest thing around as you only need two ingredients : yoghurt and salt.   I used a 750ml container of organic full fat yoghurt, mixed it with 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt and let it strain overnight in a cheesecloth.  The resulting soft cheese was rolled into balls and then into roasted sesame seeds, before being served as an appetizer along with the raincoast crisps I made for last months Daring Bakers challenge.  The remaining labneh balls were stored in a jar of olive oil for later use.


Strengthened by this first successful attempt at cheesemaking, I ventured onto a slightly more complicated path, as it required the use of a stove and a thermometer :o)

I had seen a recipe for Mascarpone on the Chef Nini blog a while ago and it seemed like a rather straightforward method, so I had pinned it for later use.  This challenge provided me with the necessary stimulus to actually put it into practise.

Ingredients :

* 1L of fresh heavy cream (I used full fat cream, at 40%)
* 3 Tbs of (fresh) lemon juice

Preparation :

Because the pictures on the original blog were so well done, I didn't take step by step pictures.  If you want to have a look at the process, you can check it over here.

The cream has to be heated up and the best way to achieve the required temperature is to use the bain-marie method.  So, put water in a cookpot and place a heat resisting mixing bowl on top of it.  Pour the heavy cream into the mixing bow and heat it  until it reaches 85°C.

Once the temperature has been reached, reduce the heat to a minimum and add the lemon juice.

Next step is to whisk the cream continuously for approximately 5 minutes but it is important to maintain a rather steady temperature of 85°C throughout the whisking period. So be sure to keep your thermometer in the cream and manage the heat accordingly (remove from the heat if it gets too hot or put it back on the fire if it cools down too much).

After about 5 minutes the cream should have thickened. If you stick a spoon into the liquid, it should be covered the way a crème anglaise or thin custard would cover it.

Remove your bowl from the fire and let it cool down to room temperature before letting it set in the fridge for 6 hours.

After that time frame, cover a colander with your cheesecloth and pour the now tickened cream into it.  By now it should have the consistency of a double cream.

Strain the cream for 12 hours in order to remove the whey. You can also press the mascarpone to remove as much whey as possible. 

And that's it : fresh mascarpone to be used for trifle, tiramisu or however you see fit :o)


Bit by bit, I added difficulty to my cheesemaking adventures.  Just after the mascarpone, I tried making mozzarella, but it was a failure. I already knew that UHT milk wouldn't  work, but I had high hopes that the organic pasteurised milk I found in the supermarket's fridge would suffice.  It didn't.  The milk curdled slightly but never reached the consistency required for the next step.

As the supermarket couldn't help me any further in my quest for the perfect cheesemaking milk, I knew I had to find fresh milk from a (preferably local) farm.  Google and a regional products website directed me to a local dairy farm, Waterhof in Gaasbeek.  I went there last Friday and came back with liters of fresh (raw) milk as well as a selection of their own cheeses and a cheesecake that was fingerlicking good. 

Making cheese is all about starting of with the right ingredients and the milk you use is really of primordial importance.  With the rennet, this milk curdled right away into a nice block, which in turn yielded great chunky curds. Fabulous.

For the Mozzarella recipe, I used again one I found on Chef Nini Blog.  I redirect you to her site for the well made step by step pictures (here).

Ingredients :

* 1L of fresh unpasteurized milk
* 6 tsp of (fresh) lemon juice
* 8 drops of liquid rennet
* 1 Tbs of salt

Preparation :

Pour the milk in a cook-pot, add the lemon juice and stir. Heat up the milk/lemon mixture to 38°C and remove from the heat.  Then add the rennet and stir again.

Put a lid on the pot, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 45 minutes (if possible near a radiator or other heat source to maintain the warmth).

After the 45 minutes, check on your milk.  It should have curdled into a block with a bit of whey along the sides and on top.  Check for firmness by sticking a straw in the curd.  You should feel some resistance while inserting it and the straw should be able to stand up straight.

Using a knife or curd cutter, cut the curd into blocks : cut lines 4 cm apart, turn the pot 90° and cut again.  Let the resulting cut curd rest under cover for another 15 minutes.  Cutting the curd makes it release more whey, resulting in a firmer curd.

After the 15 minutes rest, turn the curd using a skimmer in order to break it into grape-size pieces.

Heat a small amount of water up to 40°C in a large cook-pot in which your first pot will fit, for a bain-marie. Remove from heat and insert the smaller pot with the curd (be careful that the hot water doesn't overflow in the smaller pot).  Cover with a lid and a kitchen towel and let it rest for 3 hours. Having a heat source as a radiator near, will help maintaining the temperature.

After this resting period the curds should have firmed to up to mozarella consistency and it will be time to turn these curds into the familiar ball shape.

Heat up a small pot of water to a temperature between 80°C and 90°C.  Using a soup laddle, take a bit of the hot water and drop a piece of curd in it.  After a few seconds in the heat, you should be able to stretch out the melting curd between your fingers. My curd was already reacting as it should after the initial 3 hours, but if it doesn't stretch out, you should let the curd rest for an additional half hour.  Do the stretching check at 30 minutes intervals until you have the right consistency.  Once it does, strain the curds, removing any excess whey.

Cut the curd in small pieces and season with salt.

Heat up water to 80°-90°C and pour it over the curds, which you have previously put into a (mixing) bowl.  The curds should be completely submerged.

Leave the curds in the water for 30 seconds and then proceed to gather them around a spatula.  Remove it from the water letting the cheese form elastic strands before gathering it all again on the spatula, creating the characteristic elastic, stringy texture. Mozzarella is after all a pasta filata cheese or stretched-curd cheese.

Take the mozzarella into your hands and knead it into the familiar round shape, submerging it again in the warm water to soften if up if needed for further kneading.  Once you are done, submerge the cheese in a bowl of cold salty water for conservation and consume within a few days.

As you can see, my mozzarella was looking great on the outside but cutting it revealed the error I had tried to camouflage.  Just after finishing the kneading stage, I recalled I had a doctor's appointment and rushed out of the house leaving the just finished mozzarella under cover by not submerged in salty water. Big mistake.  When I got back home, the outer layer of the mozzarella had dried out and gotten a yellowish tint.  I immediately submerged it back in 90°C water, kneading and stretching it and on the outside it looked perfect again.  Slicing it up however, revealed the still slightly hardened layer that I had kneaded into the cheese.  Therefore my mozzarella ended up tougher than it should have, but I served it in a Caprese salad with a ball of pistachio pesto and I didn't hear any complaints about the odd appearance or texture :o)


Boosted by my relatively successful cheese making attempts, I decided to tackle what appeared to be if not the most complicated, at least the most time-consuming cheese on the Challenge Sheet : Feta.

I had previously searched high and low for a goat or sheep farm in the vicinity to score some fresh milk from, but without success.  And thus I ended up using fresh cow milk to make the feta. I am sure the Greek must be crying out blasphemy when reading this, but you have to work with the tools you are dealt with. :o)

I followed the recipe of  Challenge Sheet, which in turn was adapted from The Bartolini Kitchens


* 2L sheep’s milk (or cow milk in my case)
* 1 Tbsp live culture, plain yogurt mixed in 1 Tbsp (15 ml) milk from above (°)
* 24 drops of liquid rennet (°°)
* 1/2 tsp salt

To make the brining solution
5½ Tbsp of salt for every 590 ml fluid whey
(°) Because I couldn't find any sheep milk, I used a sheep milk yoghurt for the live culture, I don't know if it makes a real difference tastewise, but it doesn't taste bad, that's for sure.
(°°) The initial recipe called for ¼ rennet (“junket”) tablet dissolved in 6 tablespoons (90ml) distilled water at room temp.  I found on the internet that one rennet tablet equals 1 tsp of liquid rennet, and 1 tsp equals about 96 drops of liquid. That's how I converted the ¼ rennet tablet to 24 drops.


Place the milk in a pot with a lid, warm it up to 30°C and remember to stir the milk occasionally to prevent
the bottom from burning.

Take the milk off the heat, add yogurt/milk mixture, stir well, cover with the lid and allow it to sit for 1 hour at room temperature.

Move your pot to an area where it will remain undisturbed.  Add rennet, stir quickly to ensure even distribution of the rennet then cover the pot, and leave overnight.

The next morning, check the cheese. It should be set into one large block of curd with a little whey separated on the side.  

Now you have to check for a clean break : Stick your finger, on an angle, into the curd and slowly bring the finger to the surface to test for a “clean break,” meaning the curd is firmly set from top to bottom. Your finger should come up relatively clean which means that the cheese has set into one block of curd.  A bad break is when your finger comes out covered in a thickened dairy product(kind of like when you stick your finger into yogurt), that means that your cheese has not set completely, if that happens you need to leave it for 2 hours and check again. If you still get a bad break give it 2 more hours and check again. If you still get a bad break you have to throw it out and start over.

Now that you have achieved a clean break you have to cut the cheese and this step is done to allow as much whey to separate from the cheese as possible.

Using a long knife cut parallel lines through the entire thickness of the curd dividing it into vertical slices.  Then turn the pot and cut horizontal parallel lines through the entire thickness of the curd. Now you need to take your knife at an angle and repeat cutting horizontal and vertical lines to cut the curds that are beneath the surface, stir the curds gently and cut any cubes that are too big 

Allow the curd to set for 15 minutes stirring it occasionally to allow more whey to come out. You will notice that the curds will shrink slightly in size.  

Next you need to strain the cheese, to do that line a colander with a cheesecloth. Gently pour the curds and whey in and allow it to strain.  Do not discard the whey, as it will be used for the brining solution.  Once most of the whey has been strained collect the 4 corners of your cheesecloth and tie them to form a knot that allows you to suspend the cheesecloth then allow it to strain for 2-4 hours. (If you live in a very warm place you may want to allow it to strain in the fridge.)

The next day remove the cheese from the cloth, break up the curds and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Line a mold with holes in the bottom with cheese cloth, place the cheese in, fold over the cheesecloth place a heavy weight on top of the mold and leave overnight (again if you live in a really warm place do this in the fridge).

My cheese was already rather firm when I got it out of the mold the next day.  I cut it into cubes at added them to the brining solution.

To make the brine solution : add 5½ Tbsp of salt for every 590 ml fluid whey and mix it, dissolving as much of the salt as you can. Allow the feta to brine in the fridge for 5 days.

Store in the refrigerator. Rinse before use to remove excess salt

My feta has only been in the brine for 3 days when I am writing this post.  The texture is perfect, but I think  might have been a bit heavy on the salt.  Or it could be that I am not used to the taste of salt as I hardly use any while cooking. I'll have to check again in a couple of days, for a final verdict.


On a side note, and although it isn't strictly a cheese, rather a dairy product, I wanted to share with you the milk drink that my parents have been making on a daily basis for the past couple of years i.e. kefir.  Personally, I am not fan of it, but then again, you won't catch me drinking buttermilk neither, so...

According to wiki, "Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains and is believed to have its origins in the Caucasus Mountains. It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep's milk with kefir grains".

So it all starts with these kefir grains which look like tiny cauliflowers.  These are the grains used to make milk kefir. I recently discovered that you can also produce water kefir, but the grains for this type of kefir are different, as they are translucent and apparently way more fragile than their milk counterparts.

Kefir grains are not something you can make from scratch. It is a life culture that you have to acquire in some way.  My parents bought their starter grains at the Agronomy Institute and the wonderful thing about kefir grains is that, kept and used in ideal circumstances, they keep growing all by themselves.

The method to produce kefir is quite simple.  You only need 1 liter of milk (cow, goat, sheep, whatever catches your fancy) and some grains, an acid-proof container and you're good to go.  Like for the cheese however, you can't produce kefir with the widely spread UHT milks.  Now that I have discovered a good source for fresh milk, my parents will give that one a try, but at the moment they are using sterilised full milk (in glass bottles) from the dairy vendor and that seems to work just fine too.


You put some kefir grains in a acidproof, in this case glass, container and pour 1L of milk at room temperature over it. And then you have to allow it to rest at room temperature for 24 hours, preferably in the dark.  The container should be not be tightly covered, nor filled to the brim, as the liquid tends to expand a little over time due to the fermentation (growing grains + carbon dioxide gas). 

After fermenting for 24 hours, you just have to sieve the kefir, using a non-metallic colander as the metal could affect the grains. And the kefir is ready to be consumed. Before reusing the grains, you should rinse them in water and once a week trim them as they keep growing more grains over time.  If you want to stop making kefir for a while, it is best to store the grains in milk in the fridge.

My parents consume the kefir on a daily basis, making new one every day, but I guess if you don't drink it all, it would be best to keep it refrigerated.  It is said to be a probiotic with lots of health benefits. :o)

Dared to make cheese. Challenge completed !



  1. WOW! I'm in awe of all your braveness on the challenge! You made so many different kinds of cheese! I wish I had access to fresh raw milk from the farm. It sure makes a whole difference. Hats of to you, Ingrid! A fantastic job on the challenge!

  2. Oh. My. God !!! You made Mozzarella !!! It looks like a perfect Buffalo Mozzarella like i see on Donna Hay shows !!!
    Hats of to you !!!

    Lovely visiting your space here. Keep in touch !!


  3. WOW ! You tried so many different kinds. Kudos to you. They all look wonderful

  4. Amazing - so many perfect looking cheeses - fantastic job! My husband likes kefir - I never knew how it was made until now.

  5. Great results for your first official challenge, you tried them all amd they all seem very apetizing! Now I understand why you prefer making them rather than buying them at the supermarket :)