I just love to eat it as is… and if you put the plate in front of me, you have to stop me from being a piggy because it literally is SO good. For quite a long time, we just bought the queso fresco in the market, and while it was just okay, it wasn’t anything to write home about.
It’s something that tastes so much better when you make it at home, not to mention that you know exactly what goes into it and you don’t have to travel to the store with 5 kids to get it. In the hot desert heat. That’s something to get excited about!
Queso fresco is merely an acid-set cheese that requires nothing more than a pot, some raw milk, a thermometer, cheesecloth and a source of acid – like lemon juice or vinegar. Use it in curries, tacos sandwiches, and more.
Turning Milk into Cheese
When you make queso fresco, you’ll start with a high quality raw milk – milk is made of proteins , sugar (lactose), fat, minerals, enzymes and minerals. The main players in making cheese are the casein and the whey.
Turning milk into cheese requires that you change the properties of the proteins. The caseins will coagulate into curds and leave behind the whey (the byproduct). You can help propagate this change with rennet, and with acid (lemon or vinegar). Aged cheeses typically use rennet (parmesan, brie, etc.) but queso fresco uses an acid – which makes it crazy crazy easy.
When you make queso fresco, you will separate the curds, strain them and press them into cheese.
These caseins and whey that are present in milk are usually suspended throughout – caseins are protein clumps that have amino acid chains sticking out, and they repel each other due to a slightly negative charge. When you lower the pH of fresh milk by heating it to 165, the casein run to each other and cling – forming very tight bonds.
Making queso fresco requires a really good, high quality milk that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized. We opt for raw milk, since the proteins are kept in their natural state and form curds easily. Grocery store milk is usually not an option since it has been pasteurized to the point that milk proteins have been damaged.
So find a raw milk farm near you and pick up a gallon or two. (Raw milk is wonderful for those who are lactose intolerant – find out why).
How to Make Queso Fresco
Are you ready to do this? Then lets get started!
Grab a heavy bottom pot, and pour your [raw] milk inside. Turn the stovetop on medium and carefully watch your milk at this stage to prevent scorching. You might want to continue to stir to keep the heat well distributed.
It’s better to go slow and steady to reach 165-185 degrees than crank up the heat and deal with a yucky pot of scorched milk.
When the milk has reached 165-185, remove from the heat.
Add in your acid – you can opt for lemon juice or vinegar – it depends on your desired flavor. Lemon juice will give it a little more tang, while vinegar will result in a neutral type of flavor.
Work to add the acid, 1 Tbsp at a time, stirring after each addition. Continue to use all the acid – you’ll notice that the curds start to separate from the whey. Once you have added all of your acid, let the milk sit undisturbed and uncovered for 5-20 minutes so it can continue to separate – we usually lean towards 20 minutes.
Then, ladle your curds into a colander lined with a cheesecloth – we usually use two placed diagonally over each other so we have enough give to tie up after it has drained. If you want to keep the whey, you might want to place the colander or strainer over another bowl to keep the whey.
The whey makes an incredible marinade for meat and can be used to soak grains, you can also give to your pets there are many other ways you can use the whey, too.
Allow the curds to strain for 15-20 minutes – adding a quarter tsp of sea salt over the curds and gently stirring it in as it drains. Then, work to press your cheese by tying up the ends of the cheesecloth into the middle and then placing a weight on top.
We have used a plate, topped by a full mason jar of water, and sometimes we have placed our dutch oven on top because that cast iron pot is very heavy too.
Let that cheese sit on your counter top with the weight for an hour – then remove the weight and keep it wrapped, and toss in the fridge for another hour or two. When you get ready to enjoy it, unwrap from the cheesecloth and cut into fresh slices.
Once you master making your own queso fresco you will never want to go back to purchasing in store.
When you are done making you cheese, keep the whey – it has so many amazing uses! You can use it as a facial cleaner, in your bath, as a meat marinade, in recipes that call for water or buttermilk, to soak your beans and much more.