Cream Cheese & Crackers

09 October 2013

Olive Oil Crackers

2 Cups all purpose flour, divided
2/3 Cup water
1/4 Cup olive oil
1/4 Teaspoon kosher salt

Course, smoked, sea, or other salt for topping 

Mix 1 3/4 cups flour, olive oil, salt, and enough water (up to thefull 2/3 cup) in a bowl until it comes together as a rough dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface (use the other 1/4 cup of flour for this) and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover the dough ball with a bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Divide into quarters, roll out to desired thickness, and cut into any size you'd like. Transfer to a baking sheet, poke with a fork, sprinkle with salt and bake at 425ÅãF for 10-15 minutes until golden and crisp.

Note: If you want herb crackers, cheddar crackers, etc., knead flavorings into dough before it rests and bakes. Try a couple of ounces of good sharp grated cheddar along with 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary for a lovely cheese cracker.

Cream Cheese

2 Cups whole milk
2 Cups whipping cream
1/8 Teaspoon dried mesophilic culture (see note)
1 to 2 drops of liquid rennet (see note)
1 Tablespoon bottled water
1/2 Teaspoon flaked non-iodized kosher (or pickling) salt
Notes on some of the ingredients above:

There's a debate in home cheese-making camps between raw and pasteurized and/or homogenized milks and creams. Raw milk can be finicky to work with and can carry bacteria that should be avoided by vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, etc.). That said it tastes better in the final product. We recommend that first-time cheese makers use good quality, small batch pasteurized, non-homogenized, milk from grass-fed cows. It's a close flavor match to raw milk, but will yield a more dependable product. Of course, if you regularly use raw milk, go for it!

Mesophilic culture is a broad term for lactic acid producing bacteria used in cheese making where the milk isn't heated above 105°F. If you're making a cheese that requires hotter milk, you'll need what's called a thermophilic culture. Cultures serve to convert the sugars in the dairy to acids and begin the lactic fermentation process. Though you can make your own cultures they are easily and readily available in powder form.

Rennet is an enzyme that works as a coagulant, allowing the whey to drop out and the solids in the milk to form into curds. It can come from animals or from plants and is sold in liquid or tablet form. We recommend liquid rennet in this recipe, from either source (based on your preference or what you have access to). Should you start looking online into making fresh cheeses, you may see recipes that call for a rennet product sold in the baking aisle at the grocery store called "junket." This isn't pure rennet, and isn't a reliable form of the enzyme for cheese making.

The Beer Nut and Real Foods Market are fantastic resources for cultures, rennet, and other fermentation supplies.

Clean and sterilize all items and equipment that will come in contact with the dairy and eventual cheese. Combine milk and cream in saucepan and heat to between 72-74°F, stirring constantly. Transfer warmed milk to mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the mesophilic culture and stir.

Dilute rennet in bottled water (if using "extra strength" vegetable rennet you'll only need one drop, if using animal-derived rennet you'll need two) and add to milk mixture stirring constantly for one minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside, preferably somewhere around 70°F, for 12-16 hours or until it has thickened to the consistency of yogurt.

Line a colander or wire strainer with rinsed muslin (if you're using cheesecloth fold it over a few times until the netting is 3-4 layers thick) and pour the milk mixture in. Tie up the corners of the cloth and let your cheese drain over a large bowl until it holds its shape. This will take between 4 to 8 hours, on average. Unwrap the cheese ball, and sprinkle with salt. Gently work in salt and any herbs, fruits, or any other flavoring you'd like in your cream cheese. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It'll keep a few weeks.