The Quark Quirk

The first batch didn’t work out.  I tried to make “Cheve”, a soft cheese made from goat’s milk.  For some reason, the milk didn’t set.  Not sure what went wrong, but after the second day of waiting for it to form “the consistency of yogurt” that the book said it should, I had to toss it (I later realized that it was because the milk was ultra-pasteurized).  $10 worth of beautiful goat’s milk down the drain.  Oops.

The next day found some expired cow’s milk for free at work: score!  So it would have to be “Quark”, the same process of cheesemaking, only with cow’s milk.  I’d gotten a Mesophillic DVI MA culture and some Rennet tablets from the Brew It Yourself (BIY) Homebrew Supply store nearby.  Step 1: Heat milk to 86 degrees; I watched the thermometer painstakingly close this time as it crept steadily to the mark, as I thought heating it slightly over 90 degrees last time might have cost (or at least contributed to) the first failed experiment.  This time, I also tried a larger quantity of milk, as I had less than what the recipe called for the first one, and had to make some guesstimations on the quantities of the culture and rennet.  Let sit for 12 to 18 hours.

Sleep, breakfast, tea, work and 21 hours later I arrived at home and immediately took the towel-covered pan from the shelf where it was (hopefully) congealing.  All day at work, I’d waited anxiously for the clock to strike 8, so I could see if my creation had manifested.  I removed the towel.  A white mass sat at the bottom with an inch of snot-colored water atop it.  I dipped my wooden spoon through the mass and curdled chunks appeared in its wake: success!!!

Then the book said to collect the chunks with a slotted spoon into a colander lined with cheesecloth.  This took forever.  Those people who make cheve and quark by the gallons can’t do this; there must be a better whey (get it?).  But finally all the curds were collected and I tied the ends of the cheesecloth together and hung it over a pot on my dish rack and it hung there like a deflating balloon, steadily dripping whey.  It looked so quaint, and I was so proud of my accomplishment: halfway to CHEESE!

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It dripped for 12 hours.  In the morning, I forewent breakfast to deal with my lump of what now looked like (or what I imagine to look like) saggy old elephant testicles.  I scraped the mass from the lining of the opened cheesecloth into a bowl, tore through my cupboards to find my mortar and pestle to grind up some coarse sea salt, tossed it with the mass, hurled it into the ‘fridge and off to work: my boyfriend and I were celebrating our monthly anniversary that night and our dinner plans were hinging on my new creation.

Throughout the day, I thought about my cheese.  Co-workers even asked me if something was up because I wasn’t as chatty as normal and I said I was just thinking about my cheese.  It was a little runnier than I would have liked when I scooped it from the cheesecloth, I thought, mentally comparing it to the consistency of the logs of cheve drifting through my line on a regular basis.  How would it spread on the crackers?  Would it hold the prosciutto in place as it traveled from our fingers to our mouths?

When I got home, I discovered that the salt and the refrigeration had firmed the Quark up nicely.  It was perfect, soft, and refreshing, washed down with a Blue Corn lager on a hot, late-summer night.

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