Learn from my mistakes: Don't buy a goat cheese making kit when it's easier and cheaper to buy the ingredients and make your own goat cheese yourself. But what ingredients? And which tools? I've got you covered.
The first time I made my own goat cheese it was a Disaster. Capital-D. I bought a goat cheese making kit from a now-defunct flash sale site on a whim, and it had been gathering dust in my pantry for almost 4 years.
When I finally decided to make it, literally everything about the simple instructions (just 4 ingredients!!!!) felt impossible.
The gallon of milk the recipe called for was too much for my largest pot, the towel the kit came with was way too small, I had no idea how the recipe expected me to use my only two human hands to simultaneously tie a towel into a bag to let the whey strain out while also pouring it from a large, hot, heavy dutch oven, and the little container the kit came with held a mere 6 oz of finished cheese — while I had made approximately 25 oz.
And there, folks, is the reason I did not give up on making my own goat cheese.
Who doesn't want ounces and ounces of homemade, fresh, creamy goat cheese? Logs of goat cheese at the supermarket are usually 4 or 8 oz, and can be expensive for the amount of cheese you get, which is hard to spread and comes in that annoying plastic packaging that makes using every last bit a challenge.
So, after that first goat cheese debacle, I took another look at the recipe trying to figure out just where I'd gone wrong. My issues, it turned out, were entirely proportional. As in, related to the ridiculous proportions the recipe the kit came with had me use.
Not to mention, the comically small towel and container the kit provided me with were in no way up to the task of producing the accompanying recipe. Also, the "cheese salt" the kit came with? Just regular kosher salt. The citric acid? You can buy it at most grocery stores or online. The kit actually made everything so much harder than it needed to be.
the point is: there is NO NEED to buy a goat cheese making kit when it's easier and cheaper to buy the ingredients and tools yourself
Now, I use a bigger dish towel, I MacGyver a colander-over-a-bucket system for straining the whey (see below), and — most crucially — I cut the recipe in half. It works beautifully.
And now, you too, will be able to transform a half-gallon of goat milk (~$10) into a completely reasonable 12-13 oz of homemade goat cheese.
tools you need to make goat cheese
- Large, non-reactive pot that can hold at least ½ gallon of liquid.
- Thermometer: I prefer a clip-on candy thermometer like this one, but other people prefer the ease of quick-read digital thermometers.
- Long wooden spoon: Any will do, but I like a sturdy one where the spoon part isn't very curved, making it easier to clean.
- Large flour-sack style dish towel: I usually use one of these that I got at IKEA, but Amazon also sells them in packs of 12.
- Large Cambro bread proofing/food storage bucket: I use a 6 liter one, but you'll need one that holds at least 3 liters. These are also great for proofing bread dough or storing large quantities of chicken stock.
- Large colander, preferably with side handles: It should be big enough to hold a half-gallon of goat milk and comfortably sit inside the bucket, without falling all the way to the bottom.
let's make some goat cheese
Start by pouring your goat milk into your large pot over medium heat. Next, mix together your water and citric acid (stirring to dissolve the citric acid), pour it into the pot with the goat milk, and stir to combine.
If you're using a candy thermometer, clip it to the side of the pot. If not, make sure your thermometer is handy so you can check the temperature of the mixture frequently.
Keep stirring until the mixture reaches 185F degrees. As you stir, the temperature will fluctuate as the hotter liquid from the bottom is introduced to the cooler liquid from the top, so keep a close eye on the thermometer. Depending on the type of pot you're using or what kinds of burners you have, this could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes.
As the milk mixture heats up, curds of cheese will form — the stirring helps break them up so that they don't solidify before you're ready.
When you hit 185F degrees, stop stirring, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. It won't look noticeably different, but if you look closely around the edges of your pot you should be able to see some yellow-y slivers of curd. You are now ready to strain your curds from your whey.
A quick note on pasteurization: The recipe I use warns not to use "ultra-pasteurized" milk. Most cheese making resources I've looked at also recommend against it as it is less likely to form curds. HOWEVER, I've never been able to find goat milk that hasn't been ultra-pasteurized, and it's always turned into beautiful goat cheese for me.
how to strain your goat cheese
You will need: A large bucket, a large colander with handles, a clean dish towel, and perhaps some chip-clips. The colander goes inside the bucket, the towel goes inside the colander. Tuck the ends of the towels through the handles of your colander to hold them in place while the cheese drains.
I use a 6 liter Cambro bucket but you definitely don't need the full 6 liters — at most you'll probably end up with maybe 2-3 liters of whey — so if you have a smaller container or a slightly different kind of colander, that should work too. You just want to make sure that the bottom of your colander won't be left sitting in the whey once it strains out.
Once you get the curds and whey into the towel, pull the towel tight through the handles and use the chip clips to hold it in place as best you can. The original recipe instructions say to turn the towel into a bag and hang it from a spoon to strain (yeah right), so just do your best to gather and tighten the top of the towel to create a bag shape so that the excess whey is pressed out.
The longer you let the mixture strain, the less creamy your goat cheese will be. So if you like a nice, spreadable cheese, it'll probably be done in about 3-4 hours. If you prefer a harder cheese that's easier to crumble, you could let it sit for more like 4-6 hours, or even up to half a day, if you like.
I prefer the creamier, spreadable cheese so I usually only let mine strain for about 3-4 hours. Then, I release one side of the towel, thread it through the opposite handle and clip it in place to create a "bag," and twist the towel above the cheese, keeping one hand firmly on the twist to prevent the cheese from being pushed up into it, and press gently on the bag to squeeze out any more liquid.
adding flavors to your goat cheese
Once your cheese is at the texture and consistency you prefer, you're basically done. Open your dish towel and scrape the cheese down into the middle of the towel, and then transfer it to a bowl and add salt and any other flavors you want.
I'm partial to adding in a bit of honey — I don't measure, I just add, mix, taste, and repeat until I'm satisfied. You can mix herbs, fruit, jam, nuts, seeds, or balsamic vinegar right into the cheese. If you've let your goat cheese strain for 4+ hours you can even roll it into a log.
- To get a swirly ribbon of honey, jam, or balsamic, put a layer of cheese down, then drizzle your preferred sauce on top, then another layer of cheese to fully cover the sauce. Then use your hands to gently roll it, keeping the sticky sauce or flavor on the inside of the log as much as possible.
- If you're using dried herbs or seeds, you can mix them into the cheese before rolling, but for a fancy finishing touch, sprinkle some on a clean cutting board and roll your shaped log through it to create a pretty crust.
pro-tip: save your whey!!!!
Don't throw out that whey! That whey is liquid gold when it comes to enhancing your favorite bread recipes. You can use it instead of water (a 1:1 replacement, no conversions or anything needed) any bread recipe to make that bread flavor really pop. It's hard to describe just what it does as a flavor, but it's like bread flavor, only... breadier. Bread squared.
Trust me — nothing is better than eating a slice of your own toasted, homemade whey bread, spread with goat cheese and topped with some sun-dried or fresh, salted tomato slices.
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homemade goat cheese (chèvre)
- Heavy bottomed, non-reactive pot
- ½ gallon goat milk
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon citric acid (rounded teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- dried herbs
- sun-dried tomatoes
- sesame seeds
- ground nuts
- fruit jam
- balsamic vinegar
- Combine citric acid and water in a measuring cup and stir to dissolve. Pour goat milk into large, non-reactive pot, with candy thermometer attached, over medium heat. Add water and citric acid mixture. Stir to combine.
- Continue stirring every few minutes until the mixture hits 185°F degrees. This can take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, depending on your pot and burners.
- Meanwhile, set up your cheese-straining system. Line a large colander with a clean flour-sack dish cloth, and tuck the edges of the cloth through the handles of the colander. Put the colander inside of a 6 liter Cambro bucket. Optional: Use chip clips to hold the towel in place.
- When the milk mixture reaches 185°F degrees, stop stirring, remove it from the heat, and let it stand for 15 minutes.
- Pour the milk mixture into the towel-lined colander. If you have a smaller colander, you may need to wait for some of the whey to strain out before you pour the rest in. But try to get it all at once if you can.
- Gather the towel tight through each handle of the colander to create as much of a taught, bag-like shape as you can, with the towel suspended inside the colander. Use the chip clips to hold the towel in place.
- For a creamy, spreadable goat cheese, let the mixture strain for 3-4 hours. For a firmer, more crumbly goat cheese, let the mixture strain for 4-6 hours, or even up to half a day.
- When your cheese has strained to your desired consistency, unclip one side of the towel from the colander handle and fold it across to the other handle. Use one hand to gently twist the two ends of the towel together above the cheese (make sure to twist above the cheese so you don't push the cheese up into the twisted part of the towel), and use your other hand to gently squeeze the “bag” of cheese to express any additional whey.
- Unclip and open the towel. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides, pushing the goat cheese together. Then transfer the cheese to a bowl.
- Add the salt to the cheese and mix to combine. Adjust salt to taste. If you’re making plain goat cheese, you’re done! Transfer the mixture to an air-tight container and refrigerate. If you’re adding flavors, mix them in now, then transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate.
- Optional Shaping Step: If you let your goat cheese strain for 4+ hours, you can roll it into a log at this stage. To store, roll it in saran wrap or wax paper and refrigerate.
- Kept refrigerated, goat cheese will stay good for ~3 weeks.
- Goat cheese + homemade bagels is a winning combo.