We're between the winter CSA and the next one, and farmer's markets are not open quite yet. (Media's opens tomorrow.) And still no local asparagus at the Swarthmore Co-op. I refuse to buy asparagus from Mexico during Pennsylvania asparagus season. It feels like we're living in some kind of Bermuda Triangle in which all local fresh vegetables have gone missing.
Anyway, I decided, for a recent Cinco de Mayo party, to make cheese instead of tracking down the elusive asparagus or some other local vegetable in hiding. I had made queso blanco very successfully once with raw milk.I wasn't sure how to present it, but after browsing through cookbooks and searching online for a while, I found the idea to fry the cheese and then squirt it with fresh lime juice. Simple and elegant. And no asparagus.
Here is what I made. The cheese recipe is in Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll, and the frying idea is in Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by Karen Solomon. The narrative is mine and refers to my own experience making this. I thought the cheese would be much firmer than it was, but it worked out. I use the term "slicing" loosely. Start to make this the day before you want to serve it.
Please be forewarned that you may need to strictly ration these goodies. They disappear fast.
Fried Queso Blanco with Lime
One gallon raw cow's milk (pasteurized whole is fine, too; just don't use ultrapasteurized)
Quarter cup apple cider vinegar (Bragg's is the best)
A couple of limes
Heat the milk at medium low heat in a large pot until it reaches 186-190 degrees. It's very important that it not boil. Take the pot off the heat and slowly add the vinegar. You can move a spoon slowly through the milk to distribute. Wait for curds to separate from whey, and when I say "curds" I mean large blobs. You can add a little more vinegar. This will take a few seconds.
When curds have formed, spoon them into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Save the whey in a bowl; it's good for bread, soup, and smoothies and is very nutritious. You can just pour the last bit, as it's too hard to fish out all the curds. Tie up the cheesecloth and tie the bundle over a faucet and let the whey continue to drip out until the cheese gets to a consistency you want. This will take hours, or overnight. I wouldn't go longer than that. Refrigerate the cheese for a while before slicing. If you don't have a good place to hang this, you could wrap the cheese in the cheesecloth, and put a weight on top of it, like bricks or a cast-iron pan.
Preheat a large frying pan at medium heat. Slice the cheese as best you can and don't worry if it seems a little soft. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan and fry the cheese until browned, two or three minutes on each side depending on thickness and size.
Drain cheese for a minute and arrange the slices on a serving plate, salting and squirting lime juice over them to taste. Garnish with lime slices and serve. Can be warm or room temperature. Makes approximately a pound and half.