Recently, I’ve been thinking of taking on the challenge of cheese making…not to the extent that I would want to try my hand at many of the aged cheeses, but I definitely want to familiarize myself with some of the easier products to make…like mozzarella and feta.
A good way to start is by trying my hand at something simple, and one of the easier products to make is mascarpone cheese.
This delightful triple cream cheese is commercially made from crème fraiche that is denatured with the use of tartaric acid. Some manufacturers also use full fat buttermilk in their recipes, but it depends on the brand.
In my research over the past few months, I noticed that many of the recipes I came across used tartaric acid, but others used vinegar or lemon juice…or a combination of both. The whole process involves the heating of heavy cream to at least 180°F, then the acid is added and then cooked until the mixture thickens. This product will not create any definite curds but will just get thick and generously stick to the back of spoon.
Unless you live close to a dairy farm, the most challenging issue for home cooks is the problem of not being able to source raw, unpasteurized milk. Cheese making requires unpasteurized and unhomogenized milk or cream and unfortunately, all dairy products in supermarkets are pasteurized and most are homogenized.
Pasteurization standards for all dairy products are different, so what may apply to cream will not necessarily apply to milk, mostly because of the fat content and intended use.
There are 2 different methods associated with pasteurization. The first is what is called High Temperature/Short Time (HTST) and is exactly what it states…the product is heated at a very high temperature (160°F) for a short time (20 seconds). The other is Ultra Heat Treated (UHT) where the milk is held at a very high temperature (275°F) for a minimum of one second.
Both of these heating processes allow for an extended shelf life for many products which can range from 3 weeks to 3 months. Many shelf stable products offer the added benefit of being stored unrefrigerated for 6-9 months if the UHT process is combined with sterile handling, as in aseptic containers.
Homogenization is the process that prevents the natural separation of cream from the milk by breaking the fat into smaller particles so that they remain in suspension with the rest of the milk.
So what’s a cheese maker wannabe supposed to do?
Well, I went to my local Whole Foods and happened to find some heavy cream which was pasteurized (not UHT) but not homogenized, and surprisingly enough, it resulted in a lovely creamy product that I will definitely be making again.
The heating process takes some time, so make sure to set a couple of hours aside from start to finish. It may seem like a long time, but it is well worth the effort.
Use your delicious homemade mascarpone in a fabulous dessert, serve it on the side with assorted fruit, use it to add creaminess to your risotto or add an assortment of herbs from your garden and serve it with toasted garlicky baguette wedges. Either way, you can’t go wrong…
Homemade Mascarpone (makes 1-1/2 cups)
500 ml of heavy cream
1 tablespoons of lemon juice
Large food thermometer
Add the cream to a non reactive, stainless steel bowl and set this atop of a double boiler. Heat the cream on high temperature until it reaches between 175°F-190°F…this will take a while, especially the last ten degrees or so.
Once you have reached this temperature, add the lemon juice and continue stirring to allow the cream to cook for another 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken, but it will not form curds.
After the cooking process is completed, remove the bowl from the double boiler and allow to completely cool for at least 30 minutes uncovered.
Cut a double layer of cheese cloth and rinse this well under hot water. Use this to line a large sieve that has been placed over another bowl to catch the whey as it separates from the cheese.
Once the mixture has cooled, pour this carefully into the lined sieve, then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
The longer you leave it in the sieve the firmer it will become. Make sure to use it within 3 days, since this is a fresh product without any preservatives.