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Queso Fresco
OK !  Winter is over (I think) and with May and Cinco de Mayo, I begin thinking of summer and fresh cheese. Three thoughts do come together here:
May, Mexico, Fresh Cheese,
....all spelling out Queso Fresco!

Essentially, the name means "fresh cheese" south of the border.
This is one of Latin America's most popular cheeses, but is often found under different names in different regions.

Add to this that it's one easy cheese to make in the kitchen, and I need no further excuses to feature this cheese for
our June cheese page!

Click here for a wonderful video, submitted by a customer, of this cheese being made!!




A Bit of History:

Traditionally, the cheeses of Latin America have primarily been fresh cheeses, made fresh from raw milk and consumed within a day or so. The high levels of salting, such as used in Mediterranean climates, have never been a technique of Latin America.
Today, however, some aged cheeses are found in Latin America, although these are of more recent times, due to the arrival of refrigeration and the ability to cool age the drier cheeses.

The great thing about these soft cheeses is that they require little equipment and they are easy to make choices for the small farms, or even in the home kitchen. Traditionally, they were simply drained in a cloth which was tied tight, with an added weight to press slightly.

Variations in Style:

There has always seemed to be a bit of confusion between Queso Blanco and Queso Fresco.
The term Queso Blanco, or White Cheese, can refer to a wide range of Latin American fresh cheeses, which can be coagulated with different methods:

  • With an acid addition such as lemon/lime juice or even vinegar and higher heating.
    This is referred to as Queso Blanco.  In this cheese, the lactose remains unchanged and available to other unhealthy bacteria.  Therefore, it is extremely important that the cheese be consumed within a short period of time, to keep bad bacteria from creating problems. This cheese will not melt when heated. It is often labeled as a "frying" cheese, or "queso para freir", because it can be sliced and heated without losing its shape.
  • With acid developed from a bacteria culture addition plus rennet.
    This is the one known as Queso Fresco.  The lactose in this cheese is converted to lactic acid and the cheese tends to be safer when held for a few days. The Queso Fresco will soften and melt when heated.

Our cheese for this month will be Queso Fresco, as I have previously done a recipe for the Queso Blanco style.

About Queso Fresco:

The flavor is rather mild,  but that makes it special when used in cooking, because the cheese can easily acquire other flavors, such as spices, herbs, fruits, etc.  The flavor of this cheese will also shine when using the best quality milk because there is no aging involved.  It's all about the milk!

Crumbled, grated, sliced and melted, this cheese will provide salty and tangy flavor, as well as milk's wonderful ability to offset some of the heat from chiles and spices. You have probably experienced milk as the cure for that over-spiced bite we all run across.

This is a high-moisture cheese, delicious eaten fresh, and quick-n-easy to make (easy and no wait is great for the summer kitchen).  It is perfect for experimentation because, once you have learned how to make this cheese, you can change it by simply adding herbs, spices, honey, or other flavorings.



A Recipe for Making Queso Fresco

This is a perfectly easy cheese to make in the summer when so many other things are calling you away from the kitchen. The fresh flavors go with so many things, either sweet or savory.

This recipe is for 2 gallons of pasteurized whole milk.
If using raw milk, the culture can be reduced by 25-30% and rennet by about 20%.

Before you begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallons of milk (not ultra-pasturized)
  • 3/4 packet of our C101 culture
  • Liquid rennet - about 3/4 of a 1/4 tsp measure (or 1ml)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds
  • Molds- basket mold or small mold-M3
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds.
  • A cheese press or weights to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • Calcium chloride (1/4 tsp) if using pasteurized cold stored milk
  • You may add chiles, herbs, spices, etc. to the cheese. Because this cheese is fresh and will be eaten within a few days, you may add fresh garden ingredients. (DO NOT ADD FRESH if holding this cheese more than 5-7 days.)

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 90F (32C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats. Add 1/4 tsp calcium chloride if using pasteurized milk.

Once the milk is at 90F, the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.

The milk then needs to be kept at this temperature for the next 45 minutes while the bacteria culture begins to do its work.


Coagulation with rennet:

Then add about 3/4 of a 1/4 tsp measure (this is why metric measures are so much easier) or 1ml of single strength liquid rennet. Dilute this in about 1/4 cup of water before adding to the milk.

The milk now needs to sit still for 40 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temperature drops a few degrees during this time.

You should begin to see this milk thicken slightly at about 12-18 minutes but wait until you see a firm curd forming (about 45 minutes). You should be able to tell if a good curd has formed by inserting a knife blade horizontally and at an angle and lifting up until you see the surface split. If this is a clean break, with no fragments breaking along the line, then you are ready to cut. If the whey is very cloudy, it is not ready and you should wait a few minutes before trying again. If the whey is very clear, you may have cut too late, so try checking on the curd firmness earlier with the next batch.


Cutting curds:

Once a firm curd is produced, it is ready to cut. The pieces should be cut to a size of 3/8 to 5/8 inches, depending on how dry you would like your cheese. The smaller cut size will produce a drier cheese.

Once the proper cut is made, allow the curd to set still for 5 minutes so it will firm again from the cut before stirring.


Cooking the curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by stirring the curds, very slowly at first, while bringing the temperature back to 90F (32C). The total stirring time will be 60 minutes, and may be extended slightly if the curds are still soft and wet.
If the cheese is too wet, late acid will develop and the final cheese may weep whey.  If you would like a drier cheese, you can raise the temperature to 93-95F at the beginning of the stir.

Initially, the curd will be very soft and needs to be very carefully stirred.

As acid is produced and whey is released, the curds will begin to shrink from the combo of acid development, heating, and stirring.
The curd will become smaller and can be stirred more for dryness.

The final curds should be cooked well through, and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout, and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.

When this point is reached, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey.

While the curds are settling, you should chop any additions you will be making to the curds, if you have not prepared them earlier. Here, I have added a smoked jalapeno pepper cut up very fine. This will add a nice touch of smoke and a little spice to the cheese.
Do not add at this point, but wait until the curds have been drained before adding.


Removing the whey:

You can remove the whey from the surface after the curds have settled. The dry curds can then be stirred for complete separation and transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for 30 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.

It's important to drain the soft cheese in a place where the temperature stays close to 72°F (usually the kitchen):

  • If the temperature and room moisture are excessive, you may have problems with yeast, with a resulting gassy curd and undesired flavors.
  • If the temperature is too low, draining may be problematic. The yield from 1 gallon of milk is usually 1 to 1.5 pounds of soft cheese, depending on the type of milk you use and the desired consistency of the cheese.

At the end of the draining time, add your additions (chili, herbs, spices, etc.) and mix in thoroughly. Adding them earlier to the wet curds will result in much of the flavor running off with the whey.


Salting:

I like to dry salt the curds because I want the salt to slow the bacteria working at this point to avoid an over-acid cheese. Add 3% by weight for a final salt in the cheese of 2.5 %. This will amount to about 1 oz. of salt for a yield of 2 lbs. This will be a bit more salt than a cheddar, but this is a recipe coming from more equatorial regions and the salt tends to be higher.


Pressing:

Once the curd has been salted:

  1. gather the curd up in the draining cloth
  2. transfer to the mold
  3. fold the cloth evenly over the top
  4. apply the light weight

For proper pressing, we should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:

  • 30 minutes at 3-5 lbs.
  • 60 minutes at 8-12 lbs
  • 4-6 hours at 25 lbs

After the initial whey release, the rate of whey running off is simply a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. You should see tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops, you can increase the weight slightly. The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, re-wrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals to assure an even consolidation. At each turn, you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.


Aging:

Not much to say on aging except: Do not Age It .. just Eat It!
This is a fresh cheese and should be consumed within a week. Wrap it in waxed paper and keep it from drying out. Fridge temperature is best, but it probably won't last very long before it's gone!

After the final pressing, the cheesecloth is removed and the cheese needs to rest for a day in the cave/fridge before using it for snacking or cooking (the proteins will mellow a bit).

The final cheese ready for the table or cooking.

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Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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