Lots of people are trying to be more self-sufficient, including me. Gas is rising, grocery stores are crowded and unpleasant to go to, delivery prices are not quite as “free” as you think. If you scour ingredients like I do, you want to know what you’re eating. Whether you crave creamy cheeses that would normally be so expensive or as a vegan, you want wholesome ingredients and flavor, Urban Cheesecraft has you covered. You don’t have to be all Little House on the Prairie to create gourmet, all natural cheese! I was happy to be hosted to experience it.
Author and impressario Claudia Lucero wanted a better quality life for herself — with a home, gardening land and without student loan debt. As she read about making different foods for herself, such as fermented veggies, she discovered the world of fresh cheese. She learned that you can make it at home — not in a cave — and it will be ready in an hour! There was such a hunger (if that’s not too awful a pun) for her ideas, her cheese-making kits were snapped up by buyers on Etsy, at Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma.
Her books, One-Hour Cheese and One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese, along with a tremendous selection of different cheese-making kits, all show that she really knows her customers. The kits include the starters and salts, special cheesecloths and even thermometers that you’ll need. No doubt, it was these critical — but hard to find — elements that probably dissuaded you from cheese-making in the past.
Now, you will need to provide some things: milk (and/or cream) for dairy cheese, nuts and/or beans, seasonings, fermented brine and coconut oil for the vegan-free cheese. Also, you’ll need a number of different pots, pans and utensils — which Claudia lists at the beginning of each recipe. I highly suggest you gather these all well before cooking time. Other things you have to do before cooking: take out your dairy products from the fridge a couple of hours ahead of time and soak your seeds and nuts. This is the kind of project that requires a lot of of organization. To that end, I had two friends of mine, both retired Army nurses, helping me! Judy and Joyce took charge of different aspects, such as temperature taking, pouring out hot whey and timekeeping. We all agreed that this would be a fantastic project for a Girl Scout troop or other group of friends.
I was in charge of the vegan mac and cheese sauce.
I decided on making Curried Paneer, because it’s listed as the easiest and because I love palak paneer. Also, I selected Brown Butter Burrata, because burrata is luscious, but the industrial factory ones in stores are an expensive disappointment.
As to milks that you buy, you can’t just grab anything off the grocery shelves, but you don’t need milk right off the farm (though that would be best). You need whole milk that’s no more than pasturized — not ultra-pasturized! The stuff that keeps fresh on shelves won’t develop into cheese and you’d be surprised how ubiquitous it has become. I’ll give you a heads-up right now: this is going to be pricier than some other milks you’ll see on the market.
With fresh cheese, the more immediately you eat it, the better you’ll like it. It’s good for about 5 days, but I noticed texture changes very quickly. So, for the most gourmet results, make it for that upcoming meal!
Claudia emphasizes that though your cheese may not come out picture perfect, it will still be tasty. Though there are some troubleshooting tips, I think I would have liked a few trouble shooting pictures, such as “Does it look like this? Fix it this way.” We had some trouble getting the mozzarella to stretch enough (not break) to encapsulate the brown butter. I took two sheets (after the first one tore) of wax paper, taping it up with masking tape. It kinda came together like it should after a little while in the fridge. The brown butter flavor scent and flavor were decadent.
The curry in Curried Paneer made for an easily assembled Palak Paneer. It was flavorful, with the perfect level of seasoning. I will confess that I grabbed the wrong bag of greens at the store, arugula instead of spinach. I found a recipe on the ‘net that claims it’s actually more authentic than spinach, as mustard greens are used in India. The cheese was very easy to work with.
So then, I made the non-dairy cheese with macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts and freekeh, along with some of their included cheese salt, seasonings etc. in my Ninja. That was super easy and you just kinda warm it up in a saucepan.
Now, I had taken out several gallons of milk and cream and goat’s milk, as well as soaked nuts, seeds and even some freekeh grains (they’re very nutty) in lots of different bowls, though you can make grain-free vegan cheese. As we were making several recipes at once, we kinda hit a wall after a while. As the ladies were preparing to leave, I panicked: would they stay to make another dairy batch and finish off the non-dairy ingredients that were in bowls? No. I wanted to send everyone home with cheese for all their hard work, including the sauce. I started throwing as much as would fit into the big Ninja — about 2/3 of the ingredients I prepped. I improvised with seasonings and proportions — tossing in mustard powder, tomato paste, sea salt, a little dehydrated onions, some Hungarian sweet paprika. Wrrrrrrr went the blender. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how good it tasted! You would not ever believe it was vegan. I think it was much, much better than any vegan cheese on the market.
As to the milks, I was too exhausted to make a batch of cheese by myself. Then, I remembered that you make creme fraiche with cream that has sat out. Okay, but what about goat milk, of which I also had a whole quart? Yes, you can make goat milk creme fraiche! It did not thicken like the stuff in stores, but It was excellent as a buttermilk-like base for salad dressing and also, I poached some chicken thighs in it. Excellent and thrifty!