Recreating Mom’s soda cheese

I am currently in the middle of an experiment.

Growing up here, as a subsistence farm, we had cows for milking and for beef. Even with 7 of us, we were milking enough cows to have excess milk. I remember my mother making cottage cheese (which I did NOT like), but that was the only type of cheese I saw her make until some years after I’d moved off the farm. I’d come out to visit, and saw some semi-hard cheese in an old ice cream bucket for a form. It was slightly harder than a cheddar, sort of tannish yellow in colour, with caraway seeds in it. It was quite tasty. I asked my mother about it, and she said she had made it.

A few years ago, I asked my mother about how she made this cheese I remembered. Unfortunately, she thought I was talking about cottage cheese, and the more I described it, the more perplexed she was.

After moving here, I was having a conversation with my mother about making and preserving food, when she mentioned a cheese she’d made. It was the one I remembered! I quickly took advantage of the moment, and got her to describe to me how she made it. I knew it had to be different, because my mother did not have access to rennet or any of the bacterial starters. She didn’t have a food thermometer, either.

Getting any sort of information like this from my mother has always been difficult. I remember the first time I tried to get a recipe for a soup she made. I remembered some of the ingredients, and asked her if she remembered how she made it. Instead of answering me, she started mocking me for not knowing how to cook and not knowing how to make soup. Never mind that I was already married and a child, by then, and had been feeding the family just fine.

I never did find out how she made that soup.

This time, I did manage to get the information down then, after I got off the phone with her, re-wrote it into more cohesive instructions, since the conversation bounced all over the place. When I was finally ready to try it, I was perplexed by some of the quantities, so I called her to clarify. Did she really start with 5 gallons of milk, or did I make a mistake writing it down?

Finding out was like pulling teeth! She kept avoiding answering the question, and kept saying, “you mean you’ve never made cheese before?” in total shock. Then giving me instructions on how to do different parts. I kept going back to the quantity, and asked her if she had used 5 gallons, only to be told how I should just use one gallon, because 5 gallons is such a lot… *facepalm* Then she talked about how she’d never made it using milk from a store, and how I could use lemon juice instead of vinegar, and on and on. It took a while, but I managed to explain that I have made cheese before, I did only want to use 1 gallon, and if the instructions I had was for 5 gallons, I’d have to know that, so I could adjust the other quantities.

What it came down to is, my mother never measured. She used whatever amount of milk she had, and went from there. I did know that. What I needed was some sort of approximation, because there is a heck of a big difference in quantities involved.

Finally, she told me she used about 1 gallon.


Once I had that clarified, I finally got a batch started. Here are the instructions I got from her, highlighted in blue, with my own commentary.

Milk – about a gallon
Add 1 tsp vinegar to make sour. May take all night.

This part actually ended up taking almost two days. The milk was supposed to rest at room temperature, but with how cold our house is – especially the kitchen – I put it in a warm oven.

When sour, put in pot/roaster into oven to warm (lowest heat) until forms curds and whey.

We finally reached that stage this morning.

This is how it looked.

I have no idea if this is how it’s supposed to look.

Drain through cheesecloth.

There is nothing about cutting the curds or anything like that, first. Just to drain it.

I did give it a taste at this point. It doesn’t have much flavour to speak of. The texture was a lot denser than I expected it to be, considering how it broke apart.

Set aside for a few hours or, preferable, overnight.

This is the stage we’re at now, though I’m cheating a bit. I dug out the stand I made to hang jelly bags or drain yogurt cheese, tied off the cheesecloth and hung it.

After taking this photo, I covered the whole stand and bowl with another cheesecloth, to keep out the dust and cat fur – and cats!

Since I got to this point so early in the day, I will likely continue after a few hours, rather than leaving it overnight, because…

Put solids into large pot.
Add about 1 tsp baking soda and mix thoroughly.
Leave overnight.
Will rise like bread.

… it will sit overnight again, after this stage.

As for the whey, I think it’s time to do some more bread baking! I love using whey as the liquid. It adds so much flavour!

The next instructions have me wondering.

Add salt to taste, if desired. Add colour if desired. Add herbs/spices, if desired.

This is all stuff that’s supposed to be added after the baking soda gets added, and after it rests overnight. Which seems odd to me, but that’s how she did it, so that’s how I’ll try it!

Put to frying pan on low heat, in batches, and heat. Mix while heating.
When melted completely, pour into form.

… melted?

It can melt at this stage?

I am really perplexed by this.

I’m not sure what I’ll use as a form just yet. It will depend on what I see when the time comes

Leave to rest until cool.
When cool, ready to slice.

If I hadn’t see my mother’s cheese, I would never guess that these instructions would get that result. As it is, I am still unsure of what I’ll actually get!

So this should be an interesting experiment. I hope it works, because it’s really easy to make, even if it does get spread out over several days.

The Re-Farmer

11 thoughts on “Recreating Mom’s soda cheese

  1. I only measure ingredients when it is essential for what I’m baking..otherwise I just add until it seems enough. I am interested in how this turns out for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic! I love your scientific nature and your resilience with your mom! HA! Cheese-making was my first love-craft before kombucha. I’ve made so many different kinds of cheeses now and have not ever come across anything like your experiment, I’m really excited to hear how it turns out. I have had the impression you can only make soft cheese without rennet. The baking soda method sounds like the ‘Mexican queso’ I make, which is so good, but is eaten fresh. So, did she, or will you, press it? I think that is essential for aging a hard cheese, no? Anyway, exciting stuff!

    I have been experimenting constantly with cheese making myself. I love to read the old-style ways and try them sometimes too, though it can be frustrating to ruin good milk and waste all that time. That rarely happens, luckily! Right now, since I’m using goat milk, I’m trying smaller batches and have created something I’ve not seen a recipe for before that reminds me a bit of a “Laughing Cow” type, it’s quite good. Problem is, often hard to recreate, using my own cultures, factoring in the weather, definitely an ‘artisanal’ process! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! 😀

      I would love to do “real” cheese, but we just don’t have the set up right now. We were thinking of turning our root cellar into a cheese cave, but after a year of monitoring the temperature and humidity, realized it wouldn’t work (and it’s not very ideal for a root cellar, either! LOL). In time, I do want to give it a try, but for now, I’m going with what we can actually do right now. And yeah, the idea of ruining good milk in experiments does concern me! Eventually, I want to get milk goats and we’ll be able to use our own raw milk to make cheese with.

      I’ll have to look up “Mexican queso” !

      And no, my mother did not press it or age it or anything. I am really, really curious, because the finished product looked so much like a cheese one would make with rennet and pressing, etc.

      Now that I’m seeing the volume of curds from 1 gallon, I’m thinking maybe what I wrote down originally about using 5 gallons was accurate to fill an ice cream bucket like I saw hers in!

      Also, I love Laughing Cow cheese! Recreating that would be fantastic. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • LOL

      I discovered I actually like cottage cheese, after trying some from a store, and some my sister had made. What my mother made was incredibly dry and harsh, and very different in texture. I now suspect she over cooked it by quite a bit!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; the next steps | The Re-Farmer

  4. Pingback: Recreating Mom’s soda cheese; final steps | The Re-Farmer

  5. Pingback: Recreating Mom’s soda cheese: the taste test | The Re-Farmer

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