“Since childhood I have been in love with the Brazilian folk culture of Minas Gerais: the greengrocers selling cornbread, squished cookies, maze porridge with thin slices of fresh, white artisan cheese, pão-de-queijo (cheese bread), with the smell of the jungle and the mountains, especially Canastra Sierra.”—Nívia Gomes.
The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is famous for its antique colonial towns, its gorgeous geography—green hills, waterfalls and mountains—traditionally delicious meals, and last, but not least, for its white cheese. The entire country of Brazil loves a slice of Minas-cheese (queijo-de-minas).
The home-made white cheese, however, is not the only type of cheese produced in Minas. In this article, I am going to share with you two secret recipes. First, the recipe for one of the best cheeses in our nation: the Canastra Sierra cheese. And the other is for the famous Brazilian cheese balls, or as we call them “pão-de-queijo.”
The Canastra Sierra Cheese
The traditional cheese preparation from Canastra Sierra uses production methods that have been perfected to such a point that they are still preserved in regions of the large Estrela Sierra and the Azores archipelago in Portugal.
The cheese was an indispensable nourishment for the original explorers, a form of conserving the milk during long work hours. Their methods to conserve the milk have been used for a few hundred years, and it is this very same method that I would like to reveal to you.
How to Make Raw Milk Artisan Cheese
First, wash your hands and sterilize all of your utensils and bowls. I will show you how to do that at the end of the article.
Milk the cow, if you have a cow, place the milk in a sterilized glass bowl and add rennet to the milk. For those who do not have a cow or access to lactating cows, I recommend you become a part of a co-op where you can obtain organic raw milk.
Rennet: A Quick Explanation
The rennet is composed by chymosin enzymes and pepsin which are responsible for breaking down the milk protein, also known as casein, and form the gel or coagulant that produces curds.
Rennet used to be produced from the stomach of a capybara or an armadillo. The animal’s digestive system was removed, cut into strips and kept in a tightly-sealed jar covered in water and salt.
Nowadays an industrialized form of rennet product is used instead; a product that yields 1,300Kg made with 10 liters of milk, being curated for at least 22 days. It has a creamy, yellowish color, thin crust with no cracks, and very buttered.
Back to the Recipe
Continuing with the recipe, cover the bowl with a white and clean cheese cloth.
After three hours, the milk forms into a compact type of dough. Using a knife, cut the dough in a few places so you can mix it a bit, not too much.
You can then see the separation of a yellow liquid from the dough. This yellow liquid is the whey or as we call it in Brazil “pingo” (which means droplet, because it keeps dripping from the cheese).
“I will be releasing a video on how to make this and other types of cheese. So if you are not one of those who like to follow the recipe—yes, it is a difficult and lengthy recipe, hopefully the video will help.”
And the Work Continues
Once the separation occurs, lay another clean cheese cloth over a colander, squeeze the dough by hand and place it in the cheese-cloth, stainless-steel colander. The whey will continue to be extracted so place glass dish underneath to catch it. The collected whey that drips in the glass container is the natural liquid yeast that will be used for the preparation of more cheese.
Keep pushing the dough into the colander until it is very compact and firm. Cover the top with salt. Besides a colander you can also use special cheese molds.
Twelve hours later, turn it over and cover the other side with salt for another twelve hours.
During the first twelve hours, there is a concentration of yeast and acidophilus that are beneficial to the maturation process of the cheese which, along with the salt, act as preservative agent and help form the yellow whey or “pingo.”
At the end of 24 hours, pull out the artisan cheese, place it in another clean cheese cloth, tie it with a cotton or jute string, and hang it over a bowl for another 48 hours in cool temperature.
I have found a form from the artisan cheese-making website that might be helpful:
“Pão de Queijo” (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
It is this particular artisan cheese that my family used to make the popular Brazilian “cheese bread.” Our recipe is the best in the nation and it has been kept a secret until now. In fact, in 2008, this recipe that I am about to share with you became a cultural patrimony of Brazil. I learned how to make it from my father. Here is my family recipe for the true “pão-de-queijo,” also known as cheese balls or cheese bread.
2 lbs. 20 oz. of tapioca flour
13.5 oz of organic milk
5 oz. of grapeseed oil (or lard)
1 tbs. Celtic salt
5 or 6 range-free organic eggs
1 lb. 10 oz. of hard cheese (if you don’t feel brave to attempt making my artisan cheese, then use any other hard cheese, even parmesan)
1 full tbs. of organic, grass-fed butter
Boil the milk, grape seed oil and salt in a stainless steel pan and let it cool.
Parboil the flour and the butter, whisk it while the butter melts, and wait until it cools.
Grind the cheese and add it to the parboiled flour, along with the cooled milk mixture.
Add the eggs until the dough is soft but it can be rolled.
Grease your hands with butter and start to roll the dough into small balls.
Place the small balls on a baking sheet, giving space between each one so that they can grow.
Place it in a hot oven, 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until it begins to golden.
After the “pão-de-queijo” is baked, let it cool and store it in a tightly-closed container.
Another option is to freeze the small rolled balls in a plastic zip bag and bake them whenever you wish.
How to Sterilize Your Cheese-Making Equipment
Fill out a large bowl with filtered water and add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide.
Let all utensils sit inside that for 10 minutes.
You can also wipe your counters with pure 3% hydrogen peroxide.