Azores-style fresh cheese is creamy, a little salty and incredibly delicious! When I was growing up, we always had fresh cheese at the table for breakfast. I would typically have it with toast, sweet bread or cornbread (as seen in this post’s picture). Fresh cheese is also often served at Portuguese restaurants with crusty bread as an appetizer. I LOVE fresh cheese!
Ever since my culinary curiousity sparked years ago, I always wondered if fresh cheese was something doable and easy enough to make at home. My mom and a couple of other family members used to make it, so it couldn’t be that hard… right? Well, maybe not my first attempt, but I’ve got it now.
Just before visiting the Azores in the summer, a cousin of mine made fresh cheese for a family event. It was so good! We do have access to fresh Portuguese cheese in the Greater Toronto Area at most Portuguese bakeries and stores, but I find it less creamy and less tasty than the type of cheese I grew up with. This same cousin offered me some of the powder (rennet) she uses to make her cheese and told me where I could find the cheese moulds. I made a mental note to try it sometime after getting back from vacation.
I mentioned this to my mom while visiting, and she ended up giving me a wonderful gift–the two moulds she used to use. Both molds were made by a great uncle of mine who I was close to. This great uncle passed away a few years ago, but I had a huge respect for him, so this gift was very special to me.
I did quite a bit of research on cheese-making. Ideally, this cheese should be made with very fresh cow’s milk. Unfortunately, unless you live on a farm, this isn’t readily available. Homogenized milk (3.25% fat content) will have to do. The next very important ingredient to consider is the product that coagulates the milk and gives it that dense consistency. I had never even heard of rennet until doing my research. Rennet comes in three forms: tablet, powder and liquid. Based on my research, rennet in liquid form seems to do a great job and it’s easy to measure. Rennet is pretty easy to find in tablet form but not as easy to find in powder and liquid form. Fortunately, I was able to find Make Cheese, a company out of Western Canada that sells rennet, and most other cheese-making products you can think of. They also have a series of educational videos, FAQs and basic instructions on their site. I highly recommend a visit to their website. Ella, generously sent us a bottle of liquid rennet for our first cheese-making experience. She’s super nice and happy to answer all your cheese-making questions. If you don’t have a mould, they also carry them, so you’ll be all set. The one on their site that’s closest to ours is this one.
This style of fresh cheese is very common in the Azores and mainland Portugal. As far as I know the mainland style of this cheese is less salted during the cheese-making process and usually gets a sprinkle of salt at the table just before it’s eaten. Azores-style fresh cheese is saltier and more buttery. Some folks serve this cheese with a dash of hot pepper sauce, but I wasn’t brought up having it this way. I have since tried it though, and I must admit, it does add a delicious kick.
Making cheese might seem daunting, but don’t be intimidated. Give it a shot and impress your friends… they’ll be all “who makes fresh homemade cheese?”… and you’ll be all “I do!” … eat well, friends!
Special Note: Always ensure that your equipment is very clean before starting the cheese-making process to keep everyone safe.
- 2 litres (2.113 quarts) of homogenized milk (3.25% fat)
- 3 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp liquid rennet
- Pour milk into a large pot and add salt.
- Turn the burner on low.
- Stir milk gently until it reaches a temperature just slightly warmer than room temperature. Test with a clean finger. It does not have to be an exact temperature.
- Turn the burner off and add liquid rennet.
- Cover and let stand for 90 minutes.
- Uncover. The milk should be coagulated (dense)
- With a sharp knife, cut slivers across the curd (thickened milk) and then across in the opposite direction. Note: The lines should look like Tic Tac Toe, but with more lines, approximately 2 inches apart. Do not stir or try to split the curds apart.
- Let rest for 15 minutes. This will release more whey (liquid)
- Place cheese cloth inside the clean cheese making mould. The cloth should cover the bottom, sides and fall over the mould edge a few inches.
- Place the mould inside a a wide plate with a bit of a rim.
- Place the plate in the sink.
- With a slotted spoon, carefully start spooning the curds into the mould. Make sure the cheese cloth edges don't fall into the mould.
- Move all the curds from the pot to the mould leaving behind as much whey (liquid) as possible.
- Cover the top of the curds with the cheese cloth that was overlapping the mould edge.
- Whey (liquid) will start coming out through the holes of the mould.
- Eventually, the curds will have dropped and less whey will be flowing from the holes.
- While holding the mould against the plate, tip the plate to spill out any remaining whey.
- Leave the plate in the sink for another two hours and occasionally spill out the whey from the bottom of the plate.
- Clean the bottom of the plate and place the plate in the fridge. Ideally the cheese should remain in the fridge at least 10 hours (or over night).
- Remove the plate from the fridge.
- Uncover the cheese.
- Place a plate over the mould, centred over the cheese.
- Over the sink, flip over the plates so that the top plate is now the bottom plate.
- The cheese should slip down onto the new plate.
- Carefully remove the previous plate, mould and cheese cloth. Do this slowly to avoid breaking apart the cheese.
- These cheese is ready to be eaten. I like to give the cheese a few more hours in the fridge to let it set a little more.
- Whey (liquid) will still be coming out of the cheese, so make sure to spill the liquid out every half day.
- Enjoy with any kind of crusty bread, cornbread or sweet bread.
Always ensure that your equipment is very clean before starting the cheese making process.