Well, it finally happened. I have taken the first step toward becoming a real-life cheesemaker.

Last Thursday night, my wife and I went over to my mentor’s house. He and his wife have begun a small farm on their half-acre property, and as part of this venture, they have a small flock of goats (4 adults now and 3 kids). My wife got to milk the goats that night, and our friends said, “You did the milking; you get the milk.” So we got our first fresh goat’s milk, woohoo!

We only went home with a quart and a half, which isn’t much, considering all of the goat cheese recipes I have tell me to start with a gallon or two. But I decided that this was the time to start, and I would just use the quart and cut the recipe in 1/4.

I decided to start with the Chevre recipe; it was the simplest and quickest. The recipe is designed to produce a soft, unripened cheese (think cream-cheese texture) in about 36 hours. So Friday morning, I (indirectly) heated the quart of milk to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, added the Chevre Direct-Set Starter Culture from Lehman’s, stirred, put the lid on the jar and the pot of water in which I heated it, and let it sit 12 hours.

There were two problems at this point. First, the packets come in pre-measured quantities, designed to go into one gallon of milk. I had to estimate pouring in 1/4 of the packet, and I think I used a little too much. The second problem is that the house is cold in the mornings, even in the middle of the summer, which this isn’t. The milk is supposed to sit at around 72 degrees for 12 hours; that’s a difficult thing to accomplish when you know the house won’t get to 72 degrees until… well, the second week of July. Actually, the upstairs would get over 72, but not until four in the afternoon. The downstairs probably wouldn’t hit 70. But I figured, the pantry stays a bit warmer than the rest of the downstairs, and it has a door that can be closed. I decided to leave the milk in the pot of warm water and set the whole thing on a shelf in the pantry for the day, with the door closed. That turned out fine.

That night, I broke up the curd and poured the curds and whey into the butter muslin to begin draining. I had the muslin set up in a colander on top of a stainless steel bowl in the sink. It turns out, the whey is really good for use in baking bread, and my wife has been on a bread-baking kick lately.

Here’s where the biggest problem occurred. The recipe in the recipe booklet conflicted with the recipe on the culture packet. The booklet said let it drain for four to six hours; the packet said six to twelve. I went with the packet, thinking that the product would have the most accurate instructions. So we let the curd drain until the next morning (about ten hours). Oops.

What I got was not the soft, cream-cheese texture I’d imagined. Instead, the cheese was fairly solid, crumbly, and a bit springy. It broke into small pieces as we tried scraping it from the muslin, and it squeaked when we chewed it. The cheese had turned out exactly like the “cheese curds” we tried last fall at the Tillamook Cheese Factory!

The taste of the cheese is very mild (even with a good deal of salt), and it gives a very interesting texture when sprinkled on spaghetti or soup. I’d say the first experiment was a success. Next time, I won’t let it drain as long, though.