This is a light cheese made with a nettle rennet and cow’s milk. Using a vegetable rennet rather than calf rennet allows you to make a vegetarian cheese. There are lots of plants that can be used as rennets and I have written a long blog about wild vegetable rennets here. To make this cheese you need nettles, sea salt, water and of course full fat milk.We can’t get raw milk in Scotland so I use the unhomogenised, pasteurised variety. Organic jersey milk is the best as the higher the fat content the more cheese you will get, and organic because who really wants a dose of Monsanto?
Firstly, pick your nettles. When I’m picking them to eat, I just take the tender tops. However, when cutting them for cheese I will take the young stem as well, as I’m after the nettle juice. So young nettles about 4 or 5 inches high are the best.
Make sure you pick plenty. For this batch I used 8 litres of milk and 700 ml of rennet made from 350 grams of nettles. This whole basketful. You can never have enough and if there is too much you’ll find something else to do with them! See my post about wild vegetable rennets for more details of how many ml of rennet per litre of milk you will need.
I like my rennet as strong as possible so will aim for a 1 to 1 ratio. So for my 350 grams of nettles I added 350 grams/ml of water. However, when cooking this small amount of nettle it wasn’t quite enough so I added a cupful more to stop them sticking to the pan. Simmer your nettles in the water for 20 to 30 minutes until the nettles are well cooked and gone limp, giving up their juice. Cool them and squeeze them out. I recommend thick builders rubber gloves for squeezing hot nettles (and carragheen bags!). Keep the squeezed nettles to use in dumplings, ravioli or pesto. To a litre of concentrated nettle rennet I add a heaped tablespoon of sea salt. So as I only had 700ml I added a roundish tablespoon of sea salt. Stir it well until it dissolves.
Heat your milk to 37.5C. Well thereabouts. I discovered afterwards that I had a bubble in my thermometer so it could have been anywhere between 35C and 40C. Once it is up to heat, add your rennet and take it off the heat. You should notice quite soon that the surface will start to crinkle. The yellow is some fat from the cream. The wrinkling is the curds starting to form.
At this stage cover your pan with bee wrap to prevent debris and dust getting into it. I would also add bacteria – but they’re pretty small so it’s the thought that counts!
Here is the wrapped pan sitting on a heat pad. This is a low heat pad I use for wine making, kefirs and other things I want to keep warm. Other options would be an airing cupboard or just any fairly warm place. The curds form better with some heat. If you don’t have anywhere warm just wrap it up in lots of towels or blankets. I left mine to incubate overnight.
The next day the pan is full of lovely big curds! Small ones on the top and big chunky ones all the way through to the bottom.
Ladle them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a very fine strainer propped over a clean saucepan so you can collect the whey. This is traditionally used as buttermilk for making scones and sourdough bread – it’s great in fermented type soups. I am going to make a hogweed borsch style soup with mine.
Once most of the whey has drained in the fine strainer, get a sieve and put a big square of muslin cloth over it. Then tip the curds into the cloth. Whey will continue to drain out of it. Draw up the corners and sides of the muslin so that your curds are hanging in a ball. Secure with a rubber band or tie with string.. Gentle pressure will encourage the whey but don’t squeeze hard.
The curd ball. I’ve tied a long string on it and found somewhere to hang it to drain.
I have an old metal grate hanging above my sink. It’s useful for hanging up pans, strainers and all sorts of things – including cheeses. There is a saucepan underneath to catch the drips. They are going to drain all day. My 8 litres has given me two large cheese balls and a smaller one.
Above is the finished ball of cheese taken out of the muslin bag. You can see when it is sliced open that it is firm inside.Now you need to get the flavourings ready.
Today I am using finely chopped wild rosy garlic (Allium roseum).
Using a fork to mix the chopped rosy garlic and some sea salt and black pepper into the cheese.
Now forming the cheese into balls using two spoons.
If you can’t wait just spread it straight onto cheese biscuits for a sneaky snack!
Once the balls are formed I roll them in powders that I put on a plate. Roll them unevenly to get different textures. Today I used powdered nettle, toasted nettle seed, wild mustard seed, ground winter beech leaf, turmeric and some sesame seeds.
For more about using wild plants to make natural plant-based vegetable rennets visit this page for a list of the plants you can use to make vegetable rennet.