1. Warm the milk to 72F. If using calcium chloride*, add it now. Add the starter and mix thoroughly. I will normally use skimmed milk for this cheese and save the cream for another recipe, adding a little cream back in at the end for a richer flavor. I make this cheese in a large, stainless steel pot with a very thick bottom. If you have a large double boiler or want to rig up a double boiler by nesting two pots, that might also be helpful.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of the diluted rennet and mix thoroughly with a gentle up and down motion. I use my potato masher to blend the rennet up and down through the milk. Cover and let set at 72F for 4-8 hours, or until the curd coagulates. The curd will be rather soft.
3. Cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes. Allow to set, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. use a long knife that reaches all the way to the bottom of your pan, and move smoothly and gently – don’t tear the curd. Try to keep your cubes as uniform as possible so your cheese cooks evenly.
4. Place the pot on low heat. Increase the heat by two degrees every 5 minutes, until the temperature reaches 80F. Stir gently to prevent the curds from matting. On my stove, I use my smallest burner set to 1 or 2, and set my kitchen timer for five minutes, and then watch, stir, and adjust the heat accordingly. If you have a Winware Stainless 8 Quart Double Boiler with Coverlarge double boiler, you may prefer to use that instead for more even, gentle heat.
5. Increase the heat by three degrees every 5 minutes, until the temperature reaches 90F, stirring gently to prevent the curds from matting.
6. Increase the heat by one degree per minute, until the temperature reaches 110F, stirring gently to keep the curds from matting. Again, watch your heat and try not to heat too fast. Slow, gentle cooking makes for a more tender curd.
7. Maintain the temperature at 110F for 20 minutes, or until the curds are sufficiently cooked and no longer have a custardlike interior. Stir gently every few minutes.
8. When the curds are sufficiently cooked, let them settle to the bottom of the pot for 5 minutes.
9. Pour off the whey. Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot. If a less sour cottage cheese is desired, wash the curds by dipping the bag several times into a bowl of cool water.
10. Let the bag drain for several minutes.
11. Rinse the bag in a bowl of ice water to cool and place the bag in a colander to drain for 5 minutes.
12. Untie the bag and place the curds in a bowl. Break up any pieces that have matted. If desired, add the heavy cream to produce a creamier texture. (I always add the cream, but the cream free cheese will be lower in lactose.) As you can see from the photos, this makes a LARGE curd cottage cheese, which we prefer. The Home Cheesemaking book also includes the recipe for small curd cottage cheese.
13. Add the salt and herbs to taste, if desired.
14. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.