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Dry Curd Cottage Cheese
for the lactose intolerant

I have been getting a lot of requests for this special cheese from many of our customers that have a definite need to remove lactose from their diets. Those of you already familiar with Dry Curd Cottage Cheese already know it by the shorter 'DCCC' designation.

This process had been quite available through retail stores until recently but today has become much more difficult to find. It has also been known as 'Bakers Cheese' in its bagged and compressed form as well as 'Farmers Cheese'.

Simply put, the process is one in which the culture is allowed to produce as much lactic acid from the milk lactose (sugars) as it can and then the remaining curd is dried out to remove the lactose through a higher heat cooking process.
Finally the curd is washed in cold water to remove the last of the residual lactose.

In the end, little to no lactose is found in the cheese.

Lactose intolerance is a fact for many cheese lovers. It is the inability of the body to break down the milk sugars (lactose) and prevents them from enjoying cheese. This is one of those genetic curses that may not show up earlier in life but when it does it produces varying amounts of digestive distress. It is due to the inability of the body to produce a specific enzyme to handle the milk lactose.

Lactose intolerance should not be confused with a true allergy to milk proteins (casein etc.), which is another problem altogether and not so easily remedied other than totally removing dairy from the diet in serious cases.

How the Process Works:

In eastern Europe the dry curd cottage cheese has been a regular production item in dairies. In Russia it is called Tvorog and there they eat it at breakfast because it pairs well with jams, honey, and other fruit toppings. It is also used as a filling for desserts and savory pastries.

If you look at some of the technical backgrounds concerning the cottage cheese process you will find that it can be made at quite a range of production times varying from 5 hours to the 24 hours we are using for this one. The difference in time is a matter of production temperatures and amount of culture added to the milk. The longer process actually produces a slightly better flavor but in the commercial world, time is money$$$.

For making the DCCC a culture of dairy bacteria begins working on milk, using the milk sugars (lactose) as their food source. In the process, the sugar begins to be converted from lactose to lactic acid. Normally this does not go to completion and some residual lactose is left in the cheese. The more moisture in the final cheese, the more of a problem the lactose can be. The high moisture is also one of the reasons why some cheese has such a short shelf life and must be consumed earlier.
All of that moisture includes lactose which can be a problem to the lactose intolerant and also can be a food source to unwanted and unhealthy bacteria.

The reasons that 'DCCC' works so well is due to this very specific 3 point program:

  1. the milk undergoes a long lactic fermentation by the culture using little to no rennet.
  2. the curds are cut and cooked at a higher temperature in order to expel the maximum amount of whey
  3. the final curd is washed in cold water to rinse off any remaining whey from the curds which may be containing residual lactose

  • The longer fermentation for this will give the bacteria plenty of time to convert as much lactose to lactic acid as possible. It will also develop more flavor in the finished cheese.

  • The higher temperature of the cooking phase will cause the curds to contract more and thus squeeze out more whey/lactose that can be drained away as the process continues. This is why the higher cooked Alpine cheeses and drier cheeses in particular are so much less of a problem for our lactose intolerant friends.

  • Finally, the cooked curds are immersed in cold water (which tends to rehydrate them slightly) and any residual whey remaining on the outside of the curds is washed away.

  • To dry it out even further, the finished curds can be placed in a mold and pressed to form a firm block of cheese. This is called farmers cheese and at one time was more readily available in grocery stores in America but much less so today. This decline in availability though should not be such a problem because this is the classical 'back of the stove' kitchen process that has been practiced on farms and in home kitchens for centuries. This is why the pressed version is called Farmers Cheese.

A guide for making Dry Curd Cottage Cheese at home.

This is truly a cheese like your grandmother might have made on the back of the wood stove and just as easy to make in todays kitchens with very few ingredients required.

This works just fine with store milk but fresh from the farm raw milk makes it that much tastier.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 1 gallon of milk (Not UltraPasturized)
  • 1 packet of our Chevre or Buttermilk culture
  • Liquid single strength Rennet (about 2-3 drops and only if using Ricki's Buttermilk culture)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • Ricki's BasketMold if you want to press the cheese as a Farmers Cheese
  • 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. Only for the 'Farmers Cheese' option.
  • Calcium Chloride if using pasteurized cold stored milk

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 72F (a rather warmish room temperature). 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.
NOTE: that this is at the very low end of the bacteria working scale but will assure a more complete fermentation.

Once the milk is at 72F 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.

Coagulation with rennet:

If using the Chevre culture the rennet is included with the culture ... BUT IF using the Buttermilk culture there is no rennet so add about 2-3 drops of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to be kept at the 72F temperature until it is time to cut the curd and increase temperature for cooking the curds. Hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 24 hours (this is a long lactic fermentation) to allow the culture to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.

The process temperature is close enough to a traditional room temperature however in todays homes a warmer environment may need to be found. I will leave the 'HowTo' on this one up to your imaginations.

The coagulation for this cheese comes primarily from acid development (lactic) and very little rennet contribution (enzymatic). The small amount of rennet is there simply for a slightly firmer Curd.

A I have mentioned, the process happens very slowly at the lower temperature. If using milk that has not been homogenized (raw, cream top, etc.) there will be a tendency for the cream to rise over the long time before coagulation begins. I find that here, it takes about 12-16 hours before the milk begins to thicken. I can gently top stir the cream back down until I see a change in the surface tension (first signs of coagulation). Never stir after seeing the milk surface thickening. Let experience be your guide.

If your curd has not formed well at 24 hours, there is no problem in allowing it to rest a bit longer. When ready you will begin to see a few small to largish pools of whey at the surface or even cracks forming in the curd (due to shrinkage).

Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once bacteria has done its work and the curd has formed well it is time break the curd into smaller pieces to allow more whey to be released. Begin doing this with 1/2 cuts vertical and then the same vertical cut spacing at 90 degrees. The result should look like a big checkerboard in the top of your curd. Allow this to sit for about 5 minutes while the cuts heal slightly. Then using a spoon cut the curd strips horizontally the best you can to end up with about 1/2 inch curd cubes. Then rest again about 3-5 minutes while the cuts heal.

(1&2) checking the curd set (3) making the surface cuts.

At this point you can gently begin stirring the curds from a bottom to top motion VERY GENTLY to avoid breaking them.
Do not allow the curds to consolidate, keeping them separate is important to a lower lactose cheese.

The cut and slow stirring is very important to removing the lactose. Continue this gentle stirring for about 10-15 minutes until the curds show a bit of firming on their surfaces.

Cooking the curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 116F. The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3-5F every 5 minutes at the beginning and then held at the final temp until the curds have dried out well enough.

To do this I place the pot of cut curds into a sink or basin of hot water from the tap running about 120F. As the cooler curds are heated the water temperature will cool and needs to be replaced periodically. I find that having another pot of water simmering on the stove is an easier way to increase the temperature of the water bath with periodic additions.

The total heating/cooking time will be about 30-40 minutes and may be extended to 60 min. if the curds are still soft.

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.
A curd dropped from counter height should bounce and not go 'splat' on the floor .. I know, kind of messy but almost as much fun as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if its done!!!

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

The point of all of this is to make sure that as much whey (contains lactose) as possible is cooked out of the curds.

Removing the whey:

Once the curds are firmed up well and the curds settled on the bottom. Ladle as much whey off the top as possible, then the dry curds can now be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for 10 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.

removing the free whey and consistency of the final curd

the final draining of the whey

Final Cold Wash:

Once the curds in the colander have drained and cooled somewhat it is time for the final step to assure as much lactose is removed as possible.

This will be done with a cold water wash which will not only remove any residual lactose on the curd surface but will slightly rehydrate the curds with water and dilute (thus squeeze out) more of the whey inside.

Note: Curds washed in cold water will cause the water to flow into the curd and is just the opposite of adding warmer water to curds. This causes the moisture to flow out and thus drying the curd as in the process of making Gouda cheese.

By the time the curds have drained, the temperature has likely dropped from the cooking temperature down to the mid 90F range.

For washing you want to use a Non-Chlorinated water that is not too alkaline, so if you have a very soft water it would be best to use a bottled water for the washing.

The water should be as cold as possible because that will help bring it down to the fridge temperature much faster. The goal is to wash and chill the curds as quickly as possible.

The cold water should be changed several time to dilute the lactose that is being washed off the curds as well as keep it from being warmed up too much by the warmer curds.

As shown above I find it easier to wash the curds by submersing the colander with curds into the cold water.

I find my tap water here cool enough for this but commercially they use refrigeration cooled water in a downward cascading and ending with the final water at just a few degrees above freezing.

Drain all of the curds in the colander when they have been well washed and cooled sufficiently.

Finishing the cheese:

After the final draining cheese is ready to use and should have had most of the lactose removed except for trace amounts.

You may have noticed that no salt has been added to the cheese. Isn't it needed?
Well, its all about the process here ... salt is optional and can be added to taste or not at all.
The reason is two fold:

  1. No salt is needed to stop the culture from working because the culture did all of its work before the curd was cut. At that point the culture is pretty well exhausted and the final acid of the curd is also an inhibitor.
  2. The final cook temperature wiped out most any remaining living bacteria that was added because they were Mesophilic in nature and began to die off as soon as the temperature increased above 102F.

Because of the lack of salt though, the final cheese must be taken down to fridge temperatures and kept there until use.

There is another option for storage and one that also reduces even more lactose and produces a drier curd. This would be good for adding to baked dishes, salads, etc.
This is to press the cheese into a form and has become known as Farmers Cheese, a very unfortunate name because wouldn't any cheese made by the farmer on the farm possibly be called farmers cheese!?! It makes for some confusion in the cheese world.

This is simply a matter of moving the curds to a mold such as Ricki's BasketMold and adding enough weight to squeeze out the last of the moisture and consolidate the curds. This can be done with either just a heavy weight on top (if your good at balancing things) or using a cheese press as shown below.
In commercial production, they often run the curds through a blending mixer before running into bags to be pressed (I think that this is really what is called 'Bakers Cheese'). I do not find this to be needed.

Do remember that this is to be considered a fresh cheese and needs to be kept cold. It should have a life of 10 days to several weeks depending on process sanitation.

Jim Wallace has been our technical resource for a number of years now, teaching and answering our technical questions. He is also the person who researches, develops, and writes our recipe pages every month. He is an expert photographer, a great teacher and a wealth of knowledge.

For a more hands on and personalized experience in cheese making, Jim Wallace our Technical Guru offers several workshops at various levels to answer your questions. Each workshop is designed to work through the process of making 3 very different cheeses to explore as many phases of cheese making process as possible in the 2 day sessions. You will gain the knowledge & experience to apply not only to the cheeses made during the session but to many other cheeses in the future. This is because the study approach is the Why and How of the many individual concepts in each process and not just a set of instructions or written recipes.

His years of experience in working with cheese makers both here and in Europe plus his many years at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) program at University of Vermont will prove to be a helpful resource for you to move your cheese making to the next level

The workshops are kept small to provide time for everyones questions.

Imagine spending the weekend with a group of other cheesemakers from all over having wonderful lunches together w/ plenty of cheese to taste. At the same time immersing yourself in the cheese process while getting all of your questions answered.

Anyone that has been here will agree that it is possible to have 'Uber' Fun while learning a lot.

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Jim Wallace
February 2016

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