Have 2 gallons of milk and a couple of hours? Then you have queso fresco. This Latin American cheese provides a mild, creamy counterpoint, with a hint of tang, to the powerful spices, flavors and heat of burritos, huevos rancheros and other tasty dishes.
Nearly instant gratification
When making cheese, you get used to delaying gratification. Many cheeses need, say, 12 hours to drain, 12 hours to be pressed under weight, and then a few months of aging. One of the beauties of queso fresco is that the cheese knocks together in less than 2 hours, and only needs 6 hours of pressing time.
We made our queso fresco starting around 12 p.m., and it was ready to eat later that evening. Talk about fresh cheese with dinner!
As devotees of
Ricki Ricotta’s Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses, we rely on this book regularly to make yogurt, soft cheeses and hard cheeses.
Making queso fresco was a great way to use up some extra milk, and take on a fun, tangy mildly challenging bit of cheesemaking.
How to make queso fresco cheese
- 2 gallons milk (we used 2%, but whole, raw, etc. can also be used)
- 1 pack direct set mesophilic starter (or 4 oz. prepared mesophilic starter)
- 1/4 tsp. liquid rennet, diluted in 1/4 c. cool water
- 2 Tbsp. cheese salt
Heat milk to 90ºF. Add starter and stir for 3 minutes. Add rennet and stir for 1 minute. Let set for 30 to 45 minutes, or until you get a clean break. Note on setting time: your mileage may vary. The recipe says 30-45 minutes, but for us it took closer to an hour and a half.
Cut the curd into 1/4-in. pieces. Raise temperature to 95ºF over the next 20 minutes, with a goal of raising the temperature no more than 2ºF every 5 minutes). While heating, stir gently every few minutes to prevent the curd from forming a mass.
After 20 minutes, allow the curd to rest for 5 minutes. During this time, it will drop to the bottom of your pot and form a big ol’ mound of lovely cheese curd.
Drain the whey. (We kept back a quart for use in making risotto later.) Mix cheese salt into the curds. Hold temperature at 95ºF and let cheese rest for 30 minutes.
Line a cheese mold with butter muslin and ladle the curds into the mold. Press the curd under 35 pounds of pressure for 6 hours.
Remove from the press and enjoy. The book says this cheese can keep for about 2 weeks.
Here are a few ways to use your queso fresco:
- With sardines or pepper jelly on bread or crackers
- On salads
- Burrito or enchilada filling
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