Before the age of mass distribution and consumerism, dairy farmers started making cheese to preserve excess milk. Farmer’s cheese was one of the first, and arguably the easiest, they likely made, which is probably why this type of cheese has a wide-ranging culture and long history around the world under a wide variety of names such as chevre, paneer, Neufchatel, and Queso Blanco.
Farmer’s cheese typically refers to any un-ripened, un-aged, soft or semi-soft, white cheese. Essentially all Farmer’s Cheeses are made by combining milk with an acid and heating it until the curds separate from the whey. The curds are then drained to remove the whey, and salt may be added at the end. But that’s where the similarities end!
Farmer’s cheeses around the world differ according to:
Type of milk used and it’s fat content (cow, goat and sheep are the most common)
Type of acid used (buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar and rennet are most common)
Amount of heat used (some recipes call for low heat and a loooong sitting time)
The length of time the curds and whey sit on the stove cooling down before the curds are drained
Amount of whey drained from the curds. And there’s quite a range: leaving more whey in the cheese results in a creamier, soft cheese sometimes referred to as Pot Cheese; whereas at the other end of the spectrum, which involves pressing the cheese to remove as much whey as possible, you get a dry, crumbly cheese which is your typical Farmer’s Cheese. I tend to go somewhere in between for a soft, spreadable cheese.
Because there aren’t many ingredients, any change in any one ingredient or method can have a big impact on the resulting flavor.
Once the cheese is done, fresh or dried herbs, citrus zest, and/or garlic can be incorporated. Or not! One advantage of making your own Farmer’s Cheese is you can control the amount of salt that’s added, and the type of salt.
But a pinch of truffle salt on this cheese is amazing!
This is an incredibly versatile cheese that can be used a cappella as a spread on crackers, with or without other fruit or veggie spreads; used as part of a dressing over beets à la Jamie Oliver; added to scrambled eggs as they’re cooking; or made into fillings for blintzes. Or you can use it in cheesecake the next time you make it; add sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract and use it as a dessert topping; or pair it with my Fig Apple Jam! The possibilities are endless!
With all the varieties of milks, acids, and techniques out there, this is my favorite recipe I go to time and time again. I also prefer to have a smaller amount available to me so that I don’t risk spoilage – so this recipe is for a convenient 1/2 cup.
Over time, it has become one of my pantry items I always have in my refrigerator, so you’ll also find this under the ‘My Pantry’ tab at the top. I hope you like this too! If you have a favorite way of making Farmer’s Cheese, please share it!!
A Few Cooking Notes:
Because it is by definition un-aged, Farmer’s Cheese has a short shelf life in the refrigerator. I typically use mine within 10 days to 2 weeks of making it.
Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk as it will not form many curds.
Homemade Farmer’s Cheese
Makes 4 ounces fresh cheese
- 1 quart whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized!)
- 1 cup buttermilk (I use reduced-fat)
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch of fennel powder
Combine milk, buttermilk, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium pot over medium heat.
Bring the mixture to 180° F, using a temperature probe to track the temperature. As the mixture heats up, curds will start to develop. With a spoon, gently move them to the center of the pot to allow them to accumulate in one large cluster. Once the mixture has reached 180° F, turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. I have found this to be an important step in developing flavor and maximizing the amount of curds yielded from the milk. Even longer is fine, but I don’t recommend shorter.
Line a strainer with at least 4 layers of damp cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. This is how you’ll strain excess whey from the cheese.
Transfer the curds to the cheesecloth by pouring the pot of whey and curds into the strainer, allowing the large bowl to contain all the whey.
The whey can be discarded or saved for another use. The biggest thing I’ve used it for is making bread.
Strain the curds for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight. If you choose to strain the cheese overnight, wrap it in the cheesecloth and keep in the strainer over a bowl in the refrigerator.
Place the cheese in a bowl and add the lemon zest, pepper and ground fennel. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add the remaining salt if needed. Enjoy!!