Many of us grew up with the heartwarming tale of Little Miss Muffet. If you happened to miss this short rhyme, here it is for reference.
“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating of curds and whey. There came a great spider who sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.”
This little poem likely came about in the 18th century – long before we had commercial processes that helped us to make cheese on a massive scale. If you wanted a treat like this, the cheesemaking happened at home.
It was not unusual to consume simple, curdled cheese as a snack. Whey from the separation would be an excellent protein source. Could it have been sweetened to make it more appealing?
That answer is for the history books. What we can do right now is embrace the idea of home cheesemaking once again. Having an understanding of the benefits that come when curds and why are available can help you to make delectable treats at home.
How Did Curds and Whey Become White Gold?
When milk separates with the help of rennet, we get two items: curds and whey.
Curds are the solid part that separates from the milk. The whey is what gets left behind as a fluid.
Most cultures produced a unique technique to separate curds and whey, offing using an acidic item that contained the bacteria needed to initiate curdling. Starter cultures, some likely found by accident, led to a fountain of human knowledge that points us toward the master cheesemaker today.
Our ancestral farmers often kept enough animals to provide milk and meat for the family. Raw milk expires quickly because the bacteria in the liquid multiply rapidly. Instead of throwing this resource away, human ingenuity decided to fight back.
Someone had to ask, “What can I do to keep milk fresh for a longer time?” After a series of trial and error, a fortuitous discovery happened. We found out that bacteria can break down sugars to raise the pH content in the liquid. That starts the separation process.
Milk became white gold because it was possible to make numerous items from the curds and whey. Different cultures added new ingredients to offer unique flavors and textures. It started a series of agricultural trades that eventually led to global commerce.
We wouldn’t be where we are without cheese. Miss Muffet may have run away from a spider, but we are not running from the fun of cheesemaking.
Was the First Product Cottage Cheese?
Most products get a name for a specific reason. When you look at the structure of cottage cheese, it is a simplistic item. It is, in many respects, something that Miss Muffet would have likely eaten.
Cottage cheese is separated milk without all of the whey. It is a simple technique to master, likely originating from our ancestral farms as an early way to preserve excess milk supplies.
Once the milk goes through this separation process, several recipes can let us make something that tastes fantastic!
The first step is to drain the whey from the curd. Once you get the gel to form, cutting it apart allows you to start making almost anything you want. Add starter cultures, herbs, spices – whatever the recipe you’re following calls for, you can create.
Some fresh cheese products are ready to eat in less than an hour. It can take about six weeks to make an excellent Camembert at home. If you want to be extra ambitious, a block of Bitto Storico could get aged for up to 18 years.
What Could You Do With Some Curds and Whey?
Once you have the whey drained away from the curd, you may need to heat the cheese. The recipe you’re following will let you know what steps to take.
The curd often needs to get broken into smaller parts, especially if you don’t want a lot of whey to remain in the product. Hard cheeses may require slicing to rice-sized pieces to achieve the desired result.
Once you finish with that work, the curd gets molded or folded before getting pressed into a specific shape. Adding weight to the solids works to extract more whey from the product.
Don’t forget to use the whey once you’re finished processing the curd! Ricotta is a useful end product from the leftover fluid. You could also dry it to form a solid that gets turned into a powder for protein drinks.
Cheesemakers can take the cream from the whey to turn the product into butter and similar products. It’s a useful alternative to what gets skimmed from the surface of the milk.
You may not sit on a tuffet eating curds and whey, but it may be tempting to find a spot on the sofa to eat some cheese you made at home. Let each bite remind you of our cheesemaking history and the quest of our ancestors to persevere.