Confession time, so I have not been making homemade cottage cheese as often as I would like the past year or two. What has gotten me back in the habit is the need for fresh whey. You may be asking yourself, who needs fresh whey?! The answer would be, ah me!
Those who know me, have learned that I love to lacto-ferment. A key ingredient is whey, as it is used to prevent the desired product from becoming putrid or rancid and to keep the alcohol levels down. I've mucked around with fermenting dairy (yogurt, kiefer, sour cream, cottage cheese and some day I hope to conquer hard cheeses), fruits (raspberry & wild blackberry syrup) and vegetables (sauerkraut, pickled rutabagas and garlic). I have also made several lacto-fermented drinks such as Ginger ale, which is the best thing on a hot summer afternoon, and beet kvass, which is just interesting. We have a bunch of apples right now and I wanted to try making some old school apple cider, hence why I need some fresh whey.
The times I have made cottage cheese in the past year, I had to do some improvising as it was while I was out in Connecticut and Iowa and did not have all my equipment with me. There were some changes I made that were for the better I think, as they increased the tasty factor and decreased the effort on my part factor.
The first change I made was that I stopped skimming the milk and just use whole milk, cream and all. I buy unhomogenized milk so the cream raises to the top and you have to separate it out, which is not impossible but an extra step that takes time. The result was a more palatable and creamy cottage cheese with a slightly yellow tint that comes from the beta carotene in the cream (the same thing that gives butter its yellow color) Technically, cottage cheese is made from skim milk, so maybe I shouldn't call it cottage cheese if I am leaving the cream in. Honestly, I doubt anyone is reading this so there is no one to call me out on that fact ;)
A bit of a history lesson. Back in the day before cream came in cartons, if you wanted cream for making butter or yummy desserts, you had to milk the cow and let the milk settle so that the cream would raise to the top and then skim the cream off the top. For a bit of perspective, in one gallon of milk only about 1/4 of the volume is cream (depending on the breed of cow, time of year and the cow's diet) leaving you stuck with about 3/4 of a gallon of skim milk to figure out what to do with. The usual thing to do would be to just drink the skim milk or to make cultured product that is going to store longer, so that is why cottage cheese is generally made from skim milk. Its a leftover!
Okay back to the cottage cheeese. The second change I made was that I stopped using the culture starters all together. I was off and on with them when I first started making cottage cheese but the last little while, I didn't have any on hand and I have just completely gotten out of the habit. For some things like cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt, I would highly recommend using a starters as the flavor is greatly influenced by "who is in there" but from my experience from cottage cheese making, if your using good quality fresh raw milk from healthy cows "the right guys" will be in there, so save yourself the five bucks.