make some queso!

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

Friends, I cannot be held responsible for the effect that what I'm about to share with you is going to have on your soul, your waistline, or your love life.  You must agree to not hold me liable for late-night open-fridge plunderings, glassy-eyed, full-tummy states of bliss, or that crowd of people that's going to be following you around.  Because whatever your feelings about the ubiquitous melted processed cheese product dip (really. c'mon.  it's pretty good.  not real good for you.  but hard to pass up.), you can put all not-real-food guilt aside, and just be cheesy fabulous.  Seriously.  We;re about to make...

Homemade Queso
from cow to cupful, all natural, homegrown heaven.

Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

1 gallon raw milk (see notes, below)
1/8t mesophilic starter culture
1/16th liquid rennet diluted in 1/8 cup cool water
3t baking soda
2t kosher salt (adjust to taste)
2T butter

1. Heat milk to 86 degrees. Turn off heat. Add the mesophilic starter and mix thoroughly.  Add diluted rennet and stir with an up and down motion.  Put the lid on the pot and let it sit for 12 hours.  Before proceeding, make sure there is a layer of whey (the yellow-ish clear liquid) on top of the curd. If not, let it sit a couple of hours longer so the curd firms up.

2. Using a big slotted spoon, scoop the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth/muslin and hang to drain for 12 hours until very thick, like cream cheese. Turn cheese over in the muslin bag after 3 hours of hanging so inside of cheese drains well.

3.  In a large bowl, mix baking soda and salt into cheese curds.  Beat with an electric mixer until cheese is light and airy and baking soda and salt are thoroughly mixed through.

4. Let sit for 30 minutes.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan (I call on my nonstick deep fryer for this).  Add the cheese and stir to combine with butter. Melt on low heat.  If desired, you may add cheese coloring, or annato, while the cheese is melting. About a dozen drops will color cheese a deep yellow orange like the processed cheese you buy in the store.  I skip this step.  I like the 'look' of homemade.

5. In about 3 minutes, you should have a beautiful, smooth cheese ready to go into a mold.  I've used a loaf pan, lightly sprayed with nonstick silicone spray, for ease of removal.  Chill until solid.  When ready to use, cheese should slip out of the mold easily, for slicing. If it's a little stubborn, slice around the edges with a knife to loosen from the sides of the pan, and tap pan firmly after inverting on plate.  Alternatively, you can simply scoop it from the pan.

6. If your cheese comes out thinner than you'd like, try draining the cheese longer for your next batch, or mix in a little cornstarch diluted in cool water when heating the cheese with the butter.

Okay--a few notes.  First, all credit for the above recipe, and most of my cheesemaking skills is due Center for Essential Education, a service of Homestead Heritage, a religious community in Elm Mott, Texas.  I've attended many classes, visited just to soak in some homestead inspiration, and attended special fairs where I've learned new skills such as soapmaking, felting, spinning, and more.  They offer all kinds of homesteading classes, among them blacksmithing,  animal husbandry, organic gardening, and baking, canning, sewing-- agrarian skills that are enjoying a renaissance among Do-It-Yourself  Sustainability-minding communities. You can read more about one of my cheesemaking class experiences from last summer, here.

Onto ingredients and materials-- Obviously, there are a few items here you're not going to find on common grocery store shelves.  Where to procure?

Depending upon location, raw milk can be tricky to obtain. Some states have laws to protect you from such tomfoolery as home cheesemaking.  Some states allow raw milk to be purchased directly from the farmer/dairy, and some states only allow this if the milk is intended for animals (not including you and what your cheese cravings turn you into).  An internet search for raw milk (your state) should tell you everything you need to know, and after a little digging, you'll find local sources (ours is commonly purchased here).

Searches for home cheesemaking should be helpful, also.  Our local home beer brewing supply carries cheesemaking supplies, including cultures and rennet.  The product commonly sold as cheesecloth will be of no use to this process, only causing you lost time, money, cheese, and patience.  Butter muslin is what you want--a much finer weave, and can be washed and reused over and over.  You can find most of these products for sale online or through mail order catalogs.

To make chile con queso, or simply queso, as it's referred to in these parts, we've melted our batch of cheese with a few tablespoons of fresh, chopped cilantro from the herb bed (stemmed or not.  We like the stems chopped finely along with the leaves for a little texture.), about a cup of roasted tomatoes (these are tomatoes we've roasted and canned at home.  That will have to wait for another post, however you may substitute canned roasted tomatoes, or simply plain tomatoes, chopped fresh or canned.  Drain as much as the liquid as possible to keep queso from being disappointingly runny.), and thinly sliced serrano peppers, straight from our garden.  You may substitute the milder jalapeno, the even milder New Mexico chile, or omit entirely (which makes us very sad.).  Also, seeding and stemming your peppers will take quite a lot of the heat out--notice we have not.  We sometimes add a little bit of cumin, but be cautious-- a little goes a long way, and like cilantro, some people have an aversion to the taste of cumin.  Slowly blend all in as cheese melts, stirring as you go.  Queso will thicken as it cools. (and we take that as a sign to eat it with intention.)

While it may seem like we're just gilding the lily at this point, we sometimes make what you'll find in local restaurants under names like queso especial, or (insert name of establishment) queso, or queso-that's-ridiculously-kicked-up-a-few-notches-as-if-it-weren't-already-decadent-enough--and that is a bowl of crazy-delicious; a scoop of guacamole, a smattering of pico de gallo, then a dousing of queso, above.  You dip your chip straight down--then retrieve creamy guac covered in dripping, tangy queso, and perhaps a chopped tomato, onion, or pepper slice, too.  I'm going to have to stop the description there.  I'm quite overcome. Oh my, now I want it for breakfast.

When we first moved here 15 years ago, this then-single mom allowed her young daughter to eat this bowl of saturated nirvana for dinner--yes, the entire bowl, and that, only, because she said it was the best thing about Texas. Hey! She was homesick. I occasionally indulged her desire for comfort food.  What can I say?  Although, for a time there, it appeared to be our common gateway drug-- we were junkies for all things Tex-Mex.  We eventually righted the ship and got back to all things in moderation.  We missed green vegetables. But I digress.

Could you just melt the cheese without adding anything to it?  Well, sure!  And you'd have a very fine cheese sauce all on it's own if you did. We've drizzled it over sauteed spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, an omelet, and our finger.  It's all quite good.

So its a few hours away--Friday Happy Hour, that is, and there will be hundreds, neigh thousands, of joyful, perhaps slightly inebriated people ushering in the weekend, dunking away their chips in a bowl of yellow goodness all over Texas, and Tex-Mex ports, beyond.  Why don't you one up them all, maybe mix up a batch of margaritas or put a few cervezas on ice.....and make yourself some all-natural, homemade.....



  1. Maggie -
    This is pure genius! Love it!

  2. Thanks, girl! It makes me feel just a tad less guilty about eating a bowlful of it, knowing that it is actually REAL cheese.


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