Dry-curd cottage cheese, also known as farmer cheese or baker’s cheese, is the solid portion, or curds, that remain after milk has been cultured and slowly heated. The heating process forces the liquid whey to separate from the milk solids. As the solid portion bathes in the warm whey, aided by gentle stirring, the curds become smaller and firmer. The curds are then drained, rinsed in cold water, and allowed to hang until nearly dry. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Since whey contains most of the lactose, the resulting dry curds contain very little lactose, but are high in calcium and protein. Lactose is also minimized by allowing the milk to ferment for twenty-four hours before heating. The process for making dry-curd cottage cheese is the same as for making cottage cheese. The only difference is in the final step where cream is added to the dry curds to make creamed cottage cheese.
Dry-curd cottage cheese used to be sold in most supermarkets, but is harder to find currently. It is easy to make if you have some good quality milk, and buttermilk or a buttermilk starter culture. The following five easy steps will yield slightly more than 1-1/2 pounds of dry curds. The curds freeze well, so keeping a supply of them on hand is not difficult. If you have access to raw milk you can remove the cream and use only the skim milk portion. If pasteurized milk is your only option, use whole milk. (Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk, as the curd may not set properly.) The resultant whey from whole milk will be much creamier since it is only the milk solids that form the curds, not the fat. As with all cheesemaking, make sure your pans and utensils are scrupulously clean to start with.
- 1 gallon of whole milk, or raw milk with the cream removed
- 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk or buttermilk mother culture
- Heat the milk in a 6- to 8-quart non-aluminum pan. Heat the milk to 75°F and remove from heat.
- Stir in 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk or buttermilk mother culture. Cover and keep at 75°F for about 24 hours. This is not hard to do in the summer months, but you may need to get creative in the colder winter months. It works well to set the pan of milk into a large cooler next to a couple of jars of warm, not hot, water and cover with a beach towel for additional insulation. Refresh the jars with warm water as they cool.
- After 24 hours the milk in the pan will have set to a custard-like consistency and may have a layer of whey on top. At this point you can cut the curd into 1/2-inch cubes, slicing one direction, then rotating the pan to slice in the opposite direction. Don’t be concerned if your cut lines seem to disappear. Let the curd set for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat water in a canning kettle (or other pot large enough to set the 6- to 8-quart pan inside) to about 120°F. Alternatively, you could fill your sink with hot water and place the pot in the sink.
- Place the pan of curds in the canning kettle so that the water level surrounding the pan reaches the level of the curds inside.
- Gently stir the curds for 30 seconds every 5 minutes or so as the temperature of the curds slowly rises. Gentle stirring keeps the curds from sticking together (matting). When the curds reach 100°F, increase the heat under the canning kettle until the curds reach 120°F. If you are using the sink method, place the pot of milk on a low-heat burner once they have reached reach 100°F and gently bring the curds up to 120°F. Hold the curds at this temperature for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring more vigorously every 5 minutes. Most of the curds will be firm now. You can squeeze a few curds to see if they are still soft in the center. (A little soft is OK; runny is not.) If curds are not firm enough, continue to hold at 120°F, checking firmness every 5 minutes.
- Line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a container to catch the whey. (Save the whey for other uses, if desired.) Carefully pour the curds into the colander and let drain for 5 minutes.
- Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and rinse the curds under a stream of very cold water. (Alternatively you could dip the curds in a bowl of cold water.) Rinse until water from curds runs clear. Let the curds hang to finish draining for 15 minutes up to an hour.
- Place the curds in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, if desired. They are now ready to use in a recipe calling for dry curd cottage cheese. Refrigerate and use within a week or wrap tightly and freeze.
Makes about 1-1/2 pounds dry curd cottage cheese.
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