Using a mesophilic starter for making cottage cheese is great, but there are times when you may not have any starter available. In a pinch, you can use buttermilk as a starter. It produces a delicious small-curd cottage cheese.
I gallon fresh milk (cow or goat), raw or pasteurized, but not ultrapasteurized
1-2 cups heavy cream if you want creamed cottage cheese (If you are using raw milk you can skim off the cream and save it to use for this step. This will leave you with less than 1 gallon of milk to start with, but that’s fine.)
Large canning kettle or pan large enough to put the other pan in
Long handled stainless steel spoon for stirring
Long bladed knife for cutting the cheese curd
Note: Before starting make sure all your utensils are very clean. A dip in boiling water helps sanitize everything.
Pour milk into a non-aluminum pan (6- to 8-quart size works well). Heat the milk to 75°F and remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk or mother culture. Cover and keep at 75° 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 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 the canning kettle to about 120°F.
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. 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 for an additional 5 minutes.
Line a colander with double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a container to catch the whey. (Save the whey for ricotta cheese.) Carefully pour curds into the colander and let drain for five minutes. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and rinse the curds under a stream of very cold water. (Alternately you could dip the curds in a bowl of cold water.) Rinse until the water from the curds runs clear. Let the curds hang to finish draining for 15 minutes.
Place the curds in a bowl. Stir in salt and cream, if using. Refrigerate and use within a week. Makes 4 to 5 cups of cottage cheese. Note: you can freeze the dry curds for later use. When you need them, simply defrost them and stir in cream for cream-style cottage cheese or use the curds dry in recipes calling for dry-curd cottage cheese.