Flavored cheeses are fantastic additions to your buffet table and are delicious and attractive appetizers to serve at both cocktail parties and informal gatherings. If you start with one, simple, easy-to-whip-up basic recipe, you can then choose to flavor your cheese with sweet or savory ingredients. Surround your flavored cheese with dippers, and you're good to go.
Line a large colander with a piece of new, clean cheesecloth. Set aside. Dissolve 1/2 vegetable-based rennet tablet in 1/4 cup cold water. Set aside.
Fill the bottom pot of your double boiler three-fourths full with water. Place on your stove top over low heat.
Combine 1 3/4 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup buttermilk in the top pot of your double boiler. Place the top pot on the bottom pot.
Use your candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the milk mixture. Stir frequently.
Add the dissolved rennet mixture to the milk when it reaches 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir well to combine.
Cover your pot and allow the mixture to sit over low heat for approximately one hour or until a layer of whey (cloudy liquid) forms on top of the curd (yogurt-like compound). Check your candy thermometer periodically to ensure that you maintain a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice the curd into vertical, one-inch squares with a long knife, allowing the whey to seep into the crevices. Let stand for five minutes, then remove from stove top.
Place your cheesecloth-lined colander into the sink. Gently spoon your cheese mixture into the colander to drain. Allow the mixture to drain in your sink for eight to 12 hours or until it is no longer dripping.
Place a clean dish over the cheese and press down very gently to squeeze out any excess liquid.
Spoon the cheese into a mixing bowl. Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt. Flavor as desired.
Sweet Cheese Flavors
Add 1/4 cup honey, 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. nutmeg. Stir well until creamy and serve with honey wheat, cinnamon or graham crackers.
Stir in 1/2 cup of your choice of flavored fruit preserves. Serve with water crackers, pretzels or mini-bagels.
Add 1/4 cup chopped almonds, 2 tsp. almond extract and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Stir well to evenly distribute the ingredients. Serve with apple slices, strawberries and chocolate-covered graham crackers.
Savory Cheese Flavors
Spoon your cheese into the center of a large platter. Pour salsa (homemade or store bought) over the cheese. Surround with yellow and blue corn chips.
Add 1/4 cup each chopped green olives and chopped walnut pieces to your cheese. Stir well until creamy and thoroughly combined. Serve with celery sticks, crackers or white melba toast.
Sprinkle 2 tsp. each dried basil, thyme and cilantro over your cheese. Stir well to evenly distribute the herbs. Serve with wheat, garlic or sesame crackers.
Experiment and have fun with your own ideas for sweet and savory cheeses. Store homemade soft cheeses in the refrigerator in airtight containers for five to seven days. Store homemade soft cheeses in the freezer in airtight containers for four to six months (this may alter the texture of the cheese).
Discard cheese if it is moldy, tastes rancid or emits a foul odor.