Monday, February 14, 2011

Making Fromage Blanc

I had decided I wasn't going to make any more soft cheese for now, but put my time into mastering aged cheeses. I've made several kinds of soft cheese, but mostly from yogurt, and  none with bacterial cultures. Well, I finally came to the conclusion it is important to learn the simple things first, become proficient at them, and then build on those "learning blocks" for things with more complexity.

And as it turned out, I got an extra half gallon of fresh local milk yesterday, just the right amount to make Fromage Blanc. Besides, the description and uses for it on some Francophile pages were just too hard to resist!

While it is "just" a fresh cheese, and as common as wine in France, it's not generally available here in the US, except as imitation. One of the premier uses is as a desert, whether as a cheese tart somewhat akin to our "cheesecake" (Tarte au Fromage Blanc), or with a refreshing sweetened syrup and/or berries (Fromage Blanc au Sirop). Another use is mixed with herbs as a savory cheese spread. At any rate, I decided to make a small batch!

The recipe is quite easy: Heat ½ gallon of whole milk to between 72º-80ºF. Transfer the milk to a non-reactive container.

Add the culture... allowing it to hydrate a couple of minutes before stirring it thoroughly into the warmed milk. Each of the culture packs I bought contain 1 gram, enough for a full gallon of milk. I measured out half a gram, and returned the remainder to the packet and freezer. This starter culture contains bacteria (S. Lactis, S. Cremoris, and S.Lactus Biovar Diacetylactis) and rennet, in an inert carrier. The bacteria consumes the lactose in the milk at room temperature, and in doing so it manufactures lactic acid, giving the cheese its flavor... and increases the acidity of the cheese. The rennet in the culture coagulates the milk.

Mix thoroughly, cover and set aside at room temp for 12-24 hours. When the mass has shrunk and pulled away from the edges of the container, the coagulation is done. (It will look like a white blob floating in a sea of whey.)

Photo above is the next morning, after about 15-16 hours. I don't think it has quite coagulated enough, probably due to cool room temps.

After sitting about 4 more hours, it looked fairly thick, had lots of whey floating on top, and had pulled away from the sides of the container. Next, line a colander or strainer with fine cheesecloth (aka butter muslin) over a bowl, and pour the curds and whey into it. 

After about half the whey had drained off, I tied the cheesecloth corners together and hung it from a shelf above the bowl so it would drain better/faster.

I am collecting the whey in a clean container so I can make ricotta from it!

As I was moving the almost-empty container that I had the milk coagulating in, I fumbled it and it fell to the floor, splashing the remaining contents on the base of a mirror that was sitting there. My cat thought I spilled it just for her. CAT YUMMIES!

It is best to do the straining under refrigeration if the room is warm, as it may take some time to drain thoroughly. My room is fairly cool, and it's draining rather fast, so I'm not worried about spoilage... although I would be if it was summer!

How long to drain it depends on how you plan to use the cheese; it becomes more firm and dense the longer it drains. You should occasionally check the amount of whey drained off so the "catch" container doesn't overflow.


When it is of the consistency you want, put it in a bowl and mix in a bit of salt, to taste. A fine-milled salt like baker's salt or cheese salt incorporates nicely without leaving salty "spots" in the mix. Place in a container with a cover and refrigerate. It will keep refrigerated for a week or two. 

When you are ready, you may add herbs for a cheese spread, honey for pancake toppings, or top with fruit, syrup or jam for a simple dessert. (See my dessert, Coeur a la créme, also posting but later this morning, because of chill time.) YUM!

ps... my half gallon of milk made just a tad over a pound of fromage blanc, half of which went into the dessert.

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