Fermented 'Dream Cheese'

We recently had the very good fortune of attending one of David Asher's traditional cheese-making workshops. For those of you who read this blog or have attended one of our workshops, you know I'm a bit of bacteria nerd and a keen fermenter, so meeting someone who really knew his craft and his microorganisms so thoroughly was a real treat. And have I mentioned that we made camembert from scratch? Mmmm. David was kind enough to share his tips for sourcing quality ingredients along with a recipe from his new book – Dream Cheese. It's easy to make, super delicious and you have endless options for adding flavours. 

Quality Ingredients

Though it tastes best if made with your own home-made yogurt made from good milk, dream cheese can also be made with commercial yogurt. However, be wary of which yogurt you choose for your cheesemaking. 

Not every yogurt will work for making Dream Cheese. Many commercial brands of yogurts, particularly the lower-fat varieties, contain artificial thickeners like pectin, cornstarch, or even gelatin. These thickening agents transform the yogurt into “yogurt pudding,” which, when hung in cheesecloth to drain, will not release its whey. As a result, these unnatural yogurts won’t turn into cheese; they’ll just hang out in the cheesecloth and go sour and moldy! You can avoid this unfortunate scenario by carefully reading the ingredients list on your yogurt, and choosing one made with only milk and bacterial cultures.

Whole-fat yogurt hangs into a really rich and creamy cheese. Low-fat yogurt works as well, but because of its lower solids content, it makes less cheese. And for whatever reason—I think it’s the lack of fat—it makes a cheese that sticks to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter!

Dream Cheese

This recipe is not definitive, but rather up for interpretation. Depending on how long the curd is allowed to drain, the texture of this cheese can change dramatically. If you wish to have a creamier, quark-like cheese, let it hang for just 12 hours before salting. If you wish to have a firmer, fromage frais–like cheese, allow it to drain for the full 24 hours. Greek yogurt is another variation on this recipe; to make this lightly strained yogurt, let your yogurt drain for only 1 hour.

Ingredients

1 litre natural yogurt, homemade or store-bought; full-fat or low-fat; cow or goat, sheep or buffalo
1 teaspoon good salt

Equipment

Du-rag or other good cheesecloth (I used the leg of an old pair of nylons)
1 tablespoon baking soda
Large stainless or ceramic bowl
Deep pot
Wooden spoon

Time Frame

1–2 days

Yield

Makes ½ pound (220g) fresh cheese

Clean and deodorize your cheesecloth: Place your cheesecloth into the bowl, and pour boiling water and baking soda over it to clean out any odors. Then rinse the bowl and the cheesecloth in cool water.

Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth: Line the bowl with the cheesecloth, and pour the yogurt into the cloth. Pull the corners of the cheesecloth together and tie them into a topknot. Slide in a wooden spoon beneath the topknot. A du-rag, with its two long ties, makes the tying of the cheesecloth to the spoon much simpler.

Hang the yogurt: Suspend the wooden spoon with its load of cheese over a large pot. Cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep flies and other critters off your cheese.

Photo from David's book

Photo from David's book

Wait. Let the cheese drain for between 12 hours and one full day - the longer you leave it, the firmer it will be. Be sure that the cheese is suspended well above the level of the whey that is pooling in the pot below. If the cheese hangs too low, consider retying it so that it hangs out of contact with the whey. The cheese will lose up to three-quarters of its volume as it hangs.

Salt the cheese. Take the wooden spoon with its contents off its perch and place it into a large bowl. Unwrap the cheese and investigate it; it should be nicely thickened and cream cheese-like. Pour in 1 teaspoon of good salt, and roughly mix it through the thickened curd with a spoon. Pull the sides of the cheesecloth back together and tie it once again to the wooden spoon

Let hang again for 4 more hours. The addition of salt draws moisture out of the cheese; hanging the cheese again is essential for preservation, as it allows that moisture to drain.

Enjoy the cheese as is, or mix in fresh or dried herbs. To mix in fresh or dried herbs, open up the cheesecloth and thoroughly mix in finely chopped herbs. Allow the flavors to meld by letting the herbed cheese rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before eating.

Dream Cheese can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

This is Baa Farms sheep yogurt. After 20 hours of hanging, I salted it with pink Himalayan sea salt

This is Baa Farms sheep yogurt. After 20 hours of hanging, I salted it with pink Himalayan sea salt

After 4 more hours of hanging with salt, the sheep cheese is thick with a cream cheese texture

After 4 more hours of hanging with salt, the sheep cheese is thick with a cream cheese texture

Served with peaches slices makes a heavenly combo

Served with peaches slices makes a heavenly combo

NOTE: I loved using Baa Farms sheep yogurt. It's higher fat content yielded a lot of cheese with a mild flavour. It is delicious spread on crackers with olives and herbs but also pairs well with fresh fruit. It would also make an absolutely decadent cheesecake. Next time I make this, I will do a shorter ferment for a runnier 'cheese' to make a tzaziki with. There's many uses for your whey too - try adding it to smoothies or dressings for a protein boost.

David Asher

David during his workshop at Alchemy Pickle

David during his workshop at Alchemy Pickle

David's book, "The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World's Cheeses" is hands down the best book I've seen on fermenting dairy as well as an excellent resource for learning about what goes into commercial milks and milk products and how to choose and source quality ones. You can find it here. Also check out David's website, The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking