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 cultured buttermilk as a starter. It produces a delicious small-curd cottage cheese.
Heat the milk to 75°F; remove from heat. Stir in cultured buttermilk.
Cover and keep at 75°F for about 24 hours.
After 24 hours the milk in the pan should have set to a custard-like consistency and may have a layer of whey on top. At this point cut the curd into ½-inch cubes.
Let the curd set for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat water in a large pot to 120°F.
Place the pan of curds in the large pot 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 matting.
When the curds reach 100°F, increase the heat under the large pot until the curds reach 120°F. Hold the curds at this temperature for 25-30 minutes, stirring more vigorously every 5 minutes. Most of the curds will be firm now. Squeeze a few curds. A little soft in the center 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 a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a container to catch the whey. Carefully pour curds into the colander and drain for 5 minutes. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and rinse the curds under a stream of very cold water or dip the curds in a bowl of cold water. Rinse until the water from the curds runs clear.
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 4-5 cups of cottage cheese.
Note: Dry curds can be frozen 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.