Monday, December 19, 2011

Cheese Making: Queso Blanco

Queso Blanco - one of the most simple cheeses to make at home

Queso blanco, literally white cheese, is about the simplest cheese we can make.  Whole milk is heated to just below boiling.  An acidifying agent is added.  The milk curdles.  The curds are drained.  That's it.

We end up with a very mild, soft, crumbly/creamy cheese that can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  Some say that the taste is rather bland, like hard tofu, because there is no sharp tang that is characteristic of aged cheeses, but I prefer to say that it is very mild.  It is almost the exact same thing as Indian paneer, but paneer (or panir) is usually pressed at the end of the cheese making process to yield a firmer end product.  Much like paneer and tofu, queso blanco will take on the flavor of the oils and foods with which it is cooked.

Queso blanco lends itself well as a topping to Mexican and Spanish dishes, especially if they are spicy (hot).  It can also be used crumbled over soups and salads, the latter being how I use it the most. 

Queso blanco does not melt well, but only softens with heat.  This is why I can sauté it in a little olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Served as is and still warm, served over a piece of toasted bread, or added to a salad or Indian dish, it is quite versatile.  How about wrapped in bacon and baked in the oven?  Delicious! 

So, how is it made?  Here's my recipe:

Only two ingredients... whole milk and apple cider vinegar!

Gather your ingredients...

1 Gallon Milk
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar

I use one gallon of whole cow's milk.  You can use milk from a goat, sheep, buffalo, or I would guess any other mammal (anything with nipples!); however, I think the cheese may then have a different name, as queso blanco is a traditional Spanish cheese of cow's milk.  It can be unpasteurized or pasteurized.  I have been told that ultra pasteurized will not work, but I have never tried it to know.

Second, and finally, you need an acidifying agent.  I have always used apple cider vinegar; however, you can use any vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, even yogurt... just about anything that is acidic and edible.  I use one quarter cup apple cider vinegar.  Others will just add a tablespoon or two, wait a few minutes, and if it is not curdling, add another tablespoon, wait, and so on...

These are the only ingredients.  Told you it was simple!

Sterilizing the cheesecloth in boiling water.

Gather your tools...

Sterile cheesecloth.  I will reuse cheesecloth numerous times if I can clean it well from previous uses.  This takes a bit of time and some water, but it is not too bad.  I will sterilize the cheesecloth by placing it in a pan of boiling water (as seen in the photo above), putting a lid on it, and letting it sit until I am ready to use it.

Pan or pot.  Make sure it is large enough to hold the milk you want to use.  The pan should not be aluminum or cast iron, but stainless steel or enamel works great.

A colander or another heat resistant bowl.  I will take the warm (not burning) cheesecloth and line a colander with it.  I pour the hot curds and whey into this in preparation for draining the curds.  

Thermometer.  Not necessary, but it makes the process a whole lot easier.  I use a $10 dial thermometer with a long probe that reads from 0-220 F (-18 - 104 C).  It has a simple clip that keeps it in the milk but not touching the bottom - hands free!

A spoon.  I use a wooden spoon.

That's it!

Bringing the milk up to the right temperature.  Stir frequently!

The process...

  • Slowly bring the milk to 175-180 F (80-82 C) over medium to medium-high heat.  This can take 30-40 minutes if you do it right.  If you do not have a thermometer, you are trying to bring it to a simmer without letting it boil.  Reduce the heat or carefully move the pan off the heat if the temperature gets too high too fast.
  • Stir the milk frequently - stir more frequently as the mils gets hotter to avoid scorching the milk.  This will give a burnt taste to the cheese, and cleaning a pot with burnt milk is a major hassle.
  • Once the temperature is in range, I will try to keep it there for between 5-10 minutes.  I am not sure of the exact process that takes place at this temperature range and time frame, but when I have not done this, it seems to take a long time for the curds to form.
  • Add the acidifying agent slowly and stir thoroughly, keeping the milk on the heat.
  • Within a few moments to minutes, curds will begin to form.  The curds will look like little balls of white - different shapes and sizes.  The remaining liquid is the whey, and it is cloudy yellowish-gray/green.
  • Keep stirring slowly.  I will turn off the stove at this point.
  • I slowly stir for a few more minutes until I am sure the acidifying agent has been mixed through all the milk.
  • Remove the thermometer.
  • Carefully pour the curds and whey through the cheesecloth lined colander.
  • Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together.
  • Lift the bag of curds up and hang it over a pan to drain.  This is where the name "Bag Cheese" originates.
  • Let drain for 3-5 hrs, until there is no more dripping.
  • Carefully remove the cheese ball from the cheesecloth and use or refrigerate immediately.  Queso blanco is not a long lasting cheese.  I've heard it said that it will last as long as the milk you used would have lasted.  This is typically a week or two at the most.
  • Yields about 1 lb (16 oz / 0.45 kg) of cheese


The first signs of curdling occurs within a few minutes of adding the apple cider vinegar.

Shortly after curdling starts, the pot is a mass of cheese curdles.

The drained cheese curds sitting in a colander.

Draining the curds.  You can collect the whey for making other cheeses.

The cheese immediately after being removed from the cheesecloth.

The finished product!
This is the same hunk of cheese in the photo above... it's just flipped over and showing its "pretty" side.

Enjoy this simple and delicious cheese.  May it open doors to other cheese making adventures.


4 comments:

  1. Hey John, you mentioned that perhaps Ultra Pasteurized milk would not work, but if you used that milk, than we know it works; as that Organic Valley product is ultra pasteurized. I've been reluctant to try any cheese making with that milk for exactly that reason. I guess I'll have to try it now.

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  2. Ha! It's right on the front of the carton! I didn't see it written anywhere else on the labeling. Geesh! We'll it apparently does work with ultra-pasteurized milk. :)

    I just read today that almost all organic milk is ultra-pasteurized. The author thinks that this is just a hold over from many years ago when organic milk would sit on the shelves longer. Ultra pasteurization allows the milk to last quite a bit longer than other milk.

    Thanks for the great catch!

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