The first time I remember straining my own cheese, it was yogurt cheese intended to mimic cream cheese and I made during one of the sadly numerous phases of my early adulthood when I let a crazy book or trend dictate my diet. In that case it was Dean Ornish’s diet that was intended to cut out just about every ounce of dietary fat. What can I say? I’m American. We aren’t known for our healthy relationship to food. While that no-fat diet went the way of many other wacky diet plans, yogurt cheese stayed with me. I actually liked it, and not because I could make it from the grossest of the store-bought, fat-free, gum-filled yogurts.
You can totally make the yogurt cheese described above using this very process, and if that is your bag, go forth and enjoy. My favorite strained cheese, though, is kefir cheese. I kind of gleek every time I write the words. This is basically the easiest possible thing you can do that can be reasonably identified as cheese. There are several really great things about kefir cheese. You continue to get all of the health benefits provided by the good bacteria in liquid kefir. It takes nearly no effort to make and it’s a great way to use that kefir you let sit just a touch too long. You know when it’s a little too bubbly and the whey has massively separated from the kefir? It is also a very versatile creature. By adjusting only the amount of time you let it strain, you can end up with several very different products.
A few hours straining time will yeild a spoonable kefir that closely approximates thick yogurt. A little longer, and you have something spreadable, like a cream cheese or boursin (more on that later this week), if you let it go for a 18-24 hours, you’ll end up with a crumbly texture, along the lines of a pre-crumbled, dry-packed feta. I know that isn’t the most appetizing comparison, but it’s just a texture reference. The flavor of this guy is tangy and complex and it is decidedly not processed in a huge, sterile factory. I’ll share my favorite way to eat kefir cheese with you later this week.
The other benefit to making kefir cheese is the by-product. If you start with a large amount of kefir, you may be surprised by the relatively small amount of cheese you end up with. I would say you’ll get a reduction of about 75% or more. Don’t throw away that liquid, though! That, my friends, is whey. If you want a vigorous, or more vigorous, fermentation of just about anything, from pickles to carrot juice, throw a bit of that liquid into it and your ferment will be bursting with bubbles in no time!
I’m sharing my process with you here, and an alternative below. You can be creative and resourceful and use things you already have in your home for the straining stuff. I guarantee you, you can find a way even if you don’t have cupboards or a handy tree branch.
Yields a scant 1/2 cup of kefir cheese
- A 2 foot squared piece of butter muslin or cheesecloth that has a narrow enough weave to hold liquid (I just fold to double or quadruple if necessary)
- Twine or string or a rubberband or a clip
- A bowl to catch your whey
- Something to hang your kefir bundle from (shelf, cupboard handle, tree branch, etc.)
- A fine mesh strainer
- Lay out your cheesecloth square over a fine mesh strainer, so that the corners of the cheesecloth hang over the sides of the bowl or strainer.
- Slowly and gently pour your kefir into the center of your cheesecloth, being careful not to pull or knock the sides of the cloth into the liquid
- Once all of your kefir is in the cloth, gently gather the edges of the cloth together into a hobo bundle (as pictured above). Secure the bundle close to the top of the liquid, using a rubberband, clip or twine. I will often let my kefir sit in the cheesecloth and strainer, covered, for an hour or so to make the bundle-making a bit easier
- Suspend your bundle so that the liquid can drain out freely into the bowl below it
- Let it hang for at least 6 hours for spoonable yogurt texture, 12 hours for spreadable texture and 24 for a crumbly cheese texture, out of direct sunlight
- When a good amount of whey has accumulated in your bowl, you can pour it into a container, label it and stick it in the fridge
- My preference is for spreadable cheese, so I tend to let mine strain overnight, or up to 12 hours
- You can palpate your hobo bundle with clean hands to get a general idea of texture. I usually move my clip or twine down after a decent amount of whey has been expelled to put a little pressure on the cheese rid itself of liquid
- When you have achieved the texture you want, remove the cheesecloth from your ball o’ cheese and mix in your salt
- Stick it in the fridge, tightly wrapped. It keeps for about a week.
This post is part of a series on cheese. We’ll do some how-tos for stuff you can reasonably make at home and visit some local spots around Philly for great cheese. I’ll also share a few personal memories about cheese. Of all the ferments I love, cheese is definitely the one to which I’m most viscerally connected. I hope you enjoy my flights of sensory memory. Vegan and paleo readers: do not despair! I’ll be featuring a how-to you can love soon!