Celebrate Dairy Month: Whip Up Some Neufchatel!

Kathy Anderson is an enthusiastic cook, and always enjoys a challenge. “Cream cheese,” she said. “How hard could it be? It’s a soft cheese, so the most it’ll take is time.” Below, she shares her adventure, step by step, including how she handled the purchase of a major ingredient! (She’s lucky: her Brownsburg, IN-area dairy delivers to her door!)

Ricki Carroll Home Cheesemaking from lehmans.com

Available at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio, and at Lehmans.com: Home Cheesemaking will get you started right!

Prep: March 31, 2014

I ended up determined to try Neufchatel recipe from Home Cheese Making. I had intended to make Cream Cheese, but somehow had spaced on the fact that I was getting milk, not cream. Since I had the milk, I went for Neufchatel, which is make from milk rather than cream, although the finished texture is similar to cream cheese.

  • Received two gallons Pastures Delights Dairy raw whole milk:
    One gallon from 26-Mar-2014; one gallon from 30-Mar-2014.

I had no pot large enough for two gallons of milk, so I decided to experiment.  I would make two batches of identical cheese, with the only variable being the milk’s date.  From here on:

  • “Silver” refers to the batch prepared in the stainless steel pan, with milk dated 26-Mar-2014.
  • “Orange” refers to the batch prepared in the orange enameled cast iron pan, with milk dated 30-Mar-2014.

 

Process

  • 6:15 p.m. – Set both pans on heat at setting 5 on my stove, a medium heat.  Stirred both pans frequently to distribute heat.
  • 6:26 p.m. – Silver over 80°F; probably 87°F at the highest.  Removed from heat and continued to stir to bring down temperature.
  • 6:27 p.m. – Orange batch at 81°F.  Removed from heat.
  • Cheese starting kit: mesophilic and thermophilic starters, rennet powder, wax, more.

    Lehman’s Cheese Starters and Supplies pack includes mesophilic starter and rennet. See more at Lehmans.com.

    6:30 p.m. – Both batches at 80°F.  Added to each:
    1 packet Mesophilic Starter
    1 tsp. Rennet, mixed from 3 drops Concentrated Vegetable Rennet dissolved in 1/3 cup cool water.

  • Stirred to mix.
  • Placed both pots in oven for safekeeping. (We have two cats and two dogs, one of which is a Great Dane mix. Conveniently for him, his head is counter height. This is not so convenient for us.)

April 1,2014

  • 6:30 a.m. – Checked both batches.  They didn’t look “like yogurt” as specified in the recipe, so I let them sit.
  • 5:44 p.m. – Checked both batches using an offset frosting knife.  Thickness and texture looked good.

 

  •  Set up for draining:  Cut ½ piece butter muslin for each batch.
  •  Carefully ladled slices of Silver curd into butter muslin in mesh colander.  Noticed that in addition to the curd being amazingly opaque and creamy-looking, there was a noticeable yellow layer on top.  Maybe because the milk was of such good quality, there was extra butterfat?

Splitting the Batches

Turns out ½ piece butter muslin wasn’t close to having enough capacity for a 1-gallon batch where you end up with 100% soft curds instead of cut curds!  The batch filled the colander to the brim, and I didn’t have enough overlap to pull the corners up and start draining.

  • Second set up for draining: Put ½ piece cheesecloth in large red baskets so remaining curd could drain.
  • Transferred Silver curd till it filled the red basket.  This left barely enough slack in the butter muslin to create a hanging bundle, using kitchen twine.
  • To keep consistent, repeated the entire process (put everything into butter muslin; then transferred part to red basket) with Orange curd.

Tied hanging bundles to kitchen cabinet handles, placing bowls beneath to catch whey.

  • Placed baskets in oven for safekeeping, set on a baking sheet to catch whey.
  • 9:26 p.m. – Had over 1 gallon whey, including the baking sheet being full and hard to move without spilling.  Collected all whey into large pan.

April 2, 2014

  • 6:36 a.m. – Had 1.75 gallons whey.  Collected all whey into large pan.  Didn’t like how hanging batches were draining; they still seemed very soft.  Cut them down (left bundles tied) and placed the bundles in mesh colanders set over bowls to catch the whey.

 

  •  6:00 p.m.: Unwrapped all batches. Tested texture and moisture by scooping out a spoonful of each batch.
  • Texture, best to less optimal (all were still excellent):
  1. Orange basket
  2. Silver basket
  3. Orange hanging
  4. Silver hanging
  • Transferred all batches to individually labeled containers.
  • Stirred hanging batches (individually) to try to equalize texture.  There were still lumps; probably need to whisk them.
  • Collected all whey for final time.  Total was a bit more than 1 ¾ gallons.  Will use on plants.

Weighing and Tasting

Orange basket:  1 lb., 2 7/8 oz.  (18.875 oz.)

Taste test, orange curd basket batch.

Taste test, orange curd basket batch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver basket:  1 lb., 3 ¾ oz.  (19.75 oz.)

Taste test. Silver curd drained only.

Taste test. Silver curd drained only.

 

 

 

 

 

Orange hanging:  1 lb., 8 1/8 oz.  (24.125 oz.)

Taste test, hanging batch, orange curd.

Taste test, hanging batch, orange curd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver hanging:  1 lb., 4 ¾ oz.  (20.75 oz.)

Silver hanging curd batch, finished in colander. Taste test.

Silver hanging curd batch, finished in colander. Taste test.

 

 

 

 

  • Total weight:  5 lb., 3.5 oz.  (83.5 oz.)
    • Orange batch total:  2 lb., 11 oz.  (43 oz.)
    • Silver batch total:  2 lb., 8.5 oz.  (40.5 oz.)

I tasted all batches.  Other than texture, the only difference I noticed was that the basket batches were less tangy, perhaps from having less whey remaining.  All batches were tasty.  My favorite for both taste and texture:  Orange basket batch.

Conclusions

  • Fresher milk (4 days younger) did have a higher yield.
  • Recipe estimated yield was 2 pounds per gallon, so I imagine the high-quality raw milk is responsible for the significantly higher yield than the recipe estimate.
  • This recipe (and maybe all soft-curd recipes?) benefits from going into a basket/colander directly instead of being hung first.
  • No point in cutting butter muslin or cheesecloth into smaller pieces, unless to line very small molds.
  • Tasty and awesome!