Most people nowadays only know of curds and whey thanks to the children’s nursery rhyme, Little Miss Muffit.
Perhaps the main reason for this is that the white stuff filling the plastic bottles on the shelves of the supermarkets today bears little actual resemblance to real milk!
This sterile white liquid is a petri dish waiting to happen. Devoid of any indigenous good bacteria post heat treatment, if pasteurised milk is exposed to pathogenic bacteria they will thrive on the sugars in the milk turning it rancid and potentially harmful to human health.
Raw milk, on the other hand, when left to curdle, will naturally separate into curds (a soft creamy cheese) and whey (a yellowy liquid) thanks to the presence of naturally occurring lactobacilli in the milk metabolising the lactose. Because these friendly bacteria are already well established in the milk, they do not allow pathogenic invaders to take hold and proliferate.
OK, so this is all very interesting, but why would I want to make my own curds and whey?
Well firstly, the curds are delicious – Like cottage cheese but with actual taste! Plus they have the benefit of not having been stored in a plastic tub (reduced BPA exposure), and it is unpasteurised thus higher in beneficial gut flora, bio-available nutrients, and the cholesterol it contains has not been heat damaged.
Secondly, the by product, whey, is a very useful ingredient in the Primal kitchen, enhancing the production of other fermented foods and beverages such as sauerkrauts, kimchees and kvasses amongst many others. It can also be drunk as a tonic, either straight or mixed with water as it is extremely nutrient dense.
*Obligatory Health Warning!*
Please bear in mind that although the risks of contamination from pathogenic bacteria are low, it is still possible, and you try this recipe at your own risk. Please take every care to ensure all your surfaces, utensils and equipment are thoroughly clean, as are you when you handle them. Use your senses – If the finished products looks or tastes off, it probably is!
1 mixing bowl
1 square of cheese cloth/muslin cloth/tightly woven tea towel
NB If you’re unsure about using raw milk, you can use live yoghurt, kefir or buttermilk instead – The whey produced will be identical, though the cheese will have a different texture/flavour.
Pour the raw milk into a clean mason/kilner jar (perhaps it would be advisable to sterilise them first, but I for one am too lazy and have never encountered a problem!).
Leave at room temperature in a dark cupboard for around 4 days, after which you will start to see the milk separate into three layers – Yellow cream on the top, thick white curds in the middle, and watery whey at the bottom. Depending on the temperature this may happen sooner or take longer.
At this stage you have the option to either skim the cream to use separately and turn the milk solids into cottage cheese, or leave it in to make a creamier full fat cheese. I usually opt for the latter.
Once the separation has started to occur, line the bowl with the muslin cloth, and pour the contents inside.
Gather up the edges of the cloth into a ball, and suspend over the bowl. Leave it to hang until the whey stops dripping (I usually just leave it over night).
Pour the whey which has collected in the bowl into a clean (sterile if you please) air tight jar, and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months. Marking the date on which you made it is probably a good idea.
The curds (also known as farmer’s/cottage cheese) can either be left as is, or you can add salt (preferably real salt) which will give it a drier consistency, and/or herbs and spices for flavour. These curds are also the raw ingredients for making other cheeses, both hard and soft, which is done through the addition of rennet (an enzyme which hardens the cheese) and additional cultures – But that’s the subject of another post!