I received an email last week asking about dry curd cottage cheese and whether my Super Easy Cheese would be similar. Unfortunately, they are not the same. The good news is that even though it is often hard to find dry curd cottage cheese at the market, it is fairly easy to make at home. The recipe I am about to show you will make regular cottage cheese or dry curd cottage cheese; the main difference is whether you add additional cream at the end.
I think the only hang up with this cheese is the length of time it must sit. It requires a packet of starter (available from cheese supply companies) but no rennet. As such, it must develop curds solely through bacterial action. That takes time... almost a full day. Fortunately, the actual work time in this cheese is fairly minimal. Here's how it goes:
First, pour a gallon of milk into a heavy duty, nonreactive pot. You can use any type of cow's milk from skim to whole. I used 1% for a nice low fat product. Heat the milk to 72° F. Because most of us have to use store bought, homogenized milk, it helps to add a little calcium chloride. Homogenization makes it a little harder for the milk to form firm curds and the calcium chloride helps to mitigate this issue. Add the calcium chloride mixed with a little water after the milk has reached this target temperature.
Add the starter packet, stir, and then cover. Set aside to let the milk set for about a day. Shoot for a room temperature around 70-74° F. After a day, the milk should have set and show a clean break. A clean break is where when you cut the milk, you can still see the cut when the knife is removed.
Cut the curd into roughly 1/4 inch pieces. Cut one way and then at an angle the other way. Don't forget that you need to cut the curds in pieces from the bottom of the pot up to the top as well. Let the cut curds sit for 15 minutes. See how you can clearly see the break in the curd in this picture? If your mixture does not do this, it probably needs to set a little longer.
Heat the curd gently, increasing the temperature slowly to 100° F and then hold at this temperature for 10 minutes. Stir periodically. If some of your curds seem a little too large, don't worry, they'll break down as you heat and stir them. Increase the temperature to 112° F slowly (about a degree per minute). Once at 112° F, hold this temperature as best you can, stirring regularly until the curds are firm. The whey will be completely separated from the curds long before they are firm. Go here if you need a picture of what the whey looks like when separated from the curds. This last firming step can vary in time, but be prepared for anywhere from 30-60 minutes.
You can test curd firmness by squishing one between your fingers. You want to have a little resistance, not pudding. When the curds are firm enough, drain them into a cheesecloth lined colander. Let drain. Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of cold water in which to wash the curds. Dip the curd filled cheesecloth into the cold water. This step has two purposes. First, it chills down the curds, firming them and it also rinses the curd to reduce their sour flavor. If you like more sour curds, only dip them the once. If you prefer a more mild cottage cheese, dip the curds a few times, changing the water between dips. Remove the curds from the water bath and let them drain for about five minutes.
Dump the drained curds into a bowl. Use a spoon to stir the salt into them, breaking up any clumps that may have formed. At this point, you have dry curd cottage cheese. If you prefer the more traditional style, simply mix in a little cream.
Curds may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Eat plain or with fruit, or use in cooking. This is a versatile, flavorful cheese!
NOTE: You may find that you have a hard time keeping the milk at the exact temperatures specified. Don't fret. In my experience, you do the best you can and it works out fine. Just remember to check the temperature of the milk in the middle of the pot (versus the edge) and stir frequently to avoid hot spots.
Yield: 1 1/2 pounds
Adapted from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making
1 gallon milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole)
1/8 tsp calcium chloride in 1/4 cup distilled water (optional)
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
Heat the milk in a heavy pan to 72° F. Stir in the calcium chloride mixture, if using. Then add the starter and stir. Cover and let sit in a 70-74° F room for 18-24 hours.
At this point, the curds should have set and the milk should show a clean break. Cut the curd into 1/4 inch cubes. Let sit for 15 minutes and then begin heating gently up to 100° F. Hold at 100° F for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat slightly and heat slowly (aim for 1 degree per minute) until the curd reaches 112° F.
Hold the milk at 112° F, stirring regularly, until the whey separates from the curd completely and the curds become firm. The whey will separate long before the curds are firm. Times may vary widely depending on your milk; be prepared for 30-60 minutes. Test the curd's firmness by squeezing one between your fingers; it should have some resistance and not squish like pudding.
Once the curds are firm enough, drain them in a cheesecloth lined colander. Fill a bowl with cold water and rinse the curds. If you prefer a milder flavored cheese, rinse 2-3 times, changing water between each dip. Drain the curds for five minutes and then pour into a large bowl. Salt the curds, mixing to evenly distribute. At this point, you have dry curd cottage cheese. If you prefer and more traditional style, add cream to taste. Cheese will keep in a refrigerated air tight container for one week.