When I taught elementary school in the States, I used to make butter with my students once a year. It’s fairly easy: buy heaving whipping cream, put it in a tiny container with a tight-fitting lid, and shake, shake, shake. First you’ll have whipped cream, and then – right around the time your arm feels like it’s about to fall off – the milk solids will miraculously separate and cohere and wow, you have butter. My kids used to love it; we’d spread it on pieces of bread and talk about liquids and solids while we munched.
There’s not much point to making your own butter in Japan, as heavy whipping cream is probably more expensive than the already ridiculously pricey Hokkaido butter itself, but there’s a principle at work here: there was a time, not long ago, when everyone worth his or her salt knew how to turn milk into butter, cheese, or yogurt. It sounds daunting, but I’ve made all three, and of all of them, fresh farmer’s cheese is by far the quickest and simplest.
I saw a teeny-tiny container of “cottage cheese” at the store the other day for ¥398. Against my better judgement, I bought some – and found out it was actually much closer to a ricotta consistency. Four dollars for 200g of cottage cheese? とんでもない。Tondemo nai. (Don’t be ridiculous). Why don’t you make the same amount for the price of a liter of milk? Superior in freshness, flavor, and price?
Here’s how to do it.
Ingredients and Materials:
1 liter whole milk (please make sure it is 3.5% fat or above 牛乳)
2 tablespoons lemon juice or rice vinegar
Finely woven white cloth (a cloth napkin will work)
Large bowl to contain the strainer.
1. Pour the milk in the saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring gently every now and then to keep the bottom from burning.
2. You’re going to “scald the milk,” meaning you’ll heat it until it’s just about to boil. It will begin to froth and smell like the warm milk your mom used to make your when you were a kid.
3. At this point, add the lemon juice, stirring in slowly and gently. Don’t stir too much – just enough to mix the lemon juice in. Immediately you will see the milk beginning to coagulate and curds beginning to separate.
4. Turn the heat off allow the mixture to fully curdle a few moments.
6. Prepare the strainer by setting it over the bowl and lining it with the cloth napkin. Slowly pour the cheese curds and whey through the strainer. Lift up the strainer and pour the whey off into another container for future use (or, if you hate whey and don’t want to deal with it, you can pour it down the drain).
7. Replace the strainer and lightly wrap the cheese curds into a bundle with the cloth. If you want a drier, more crumbly curd, manually squeeze the bundle a bit until the cheese forms a compact ball. Leave this way and allow to drain a few more minutes before removing the cheese from the cloth.
Whoa! Take a moment to revel in the fact that you just made cheese! It’s like some Little House on the Inaka Prairie ish up in heah! Show your neighbors in your jutaku! They’re all gonna be so jealous right?
This is a fresh cheese, which means it will only keep for 3 or 4 days. Use it in omelettes, pasta, on salad, or spread on toast. I like it with sliced tomatoes, spinach, and balsamic vinegar.
As for the whey, you could put it in soup or stir fry, or drink it plain if you’re weird like I am. Apparently, fresh whey was a common drink in British public houses in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s nutritious and has been shown to help regulate blood sugar in Type II diabetics.
If you’re really starting to feel this whole homesteading thing, as I am (Dane might be getting a little worried, but he’s humoring me so long as I continue to supply him with homemade peanut butter), I highly recommend Jennifer Reese’s Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, from which I’ve drawn many of these recipes.