The perfect homemade Velveeta has been a work in progress for awhile now. Cheese scientists from around the world have continued the intense and important study of the replication of this popular American processed cheese food. Okay, actually, just me and CindyP, who first made the great discovery of this cheese, and Astrid, who recently got a cow, too. Astrid milks her cow twice a day and drives a school bus twice a day, too. Astrid is a super farmgirl. I am a whiny-baby.
Anyway! My problem initially was that I had trouble melting the cheese to a smooth product, and after conquering that problem, my remaining problem has been having a hard time setting it up with my pasteurized milk.
NOTE: This seems to work best with raw milk because you get a stronger curd. It will get to a sliceable consistency starting with raw milk. With pasteurized milk, it will get to a cheese spread consistency that is still perfectly useful for nachos, casseroles, etc.
I became enamored with the crazy idea of making homemade Velveeta when I saw this post for Quick Cheese posted by CindyP at Farm Bell Recipes. It’s based on an old-fashioned, down home method of cheesemaking that involves ripening the milk with vinegar. Back in the old days, commercial starters and cheesemaking supply houses, not to mention online internet sales, weren’t available. Farm wives made cheese how they could. Vinegar is still a perfectly valid way to make cheese, but the yield can be low. When I saw this recipe started with 2 1/2 gallons of milk, resulting in 1 1/2 pounds of cheese, I was fascinated with the idea of updating it to a higher yield on less milk. And equally fascinated with the promise of a Velveeta-style cheese. My kids love Velveeta! And I always feel a little guilty sticking it in their macaroni and cheese. Was a homemade Velveeta really possible? I had to find out! All I needed was the right cheese to replace the old-fashioned, low-yield vinegar-based recipe.
My favorite go-to soft cheese lately is lactic cheese. It’s a high-yield recipe on just one gallon of whole milk. It looks and acts like cream cheese, but without any cream, leaving me my cream for butter, whipped cream, coffee cream, and other delectable purposes. It’s also a forgiving recipe that lets me neglect it mercilessly while it’s in the making, which suits my busy schedule just fine.
Please do not be put off by the words mesophilic starter in this recipe. They’re just words. Mesophilic starter is just some stuff that comes in a little white packet and you just tear the top off the packet and dump it in your milk. It’s no big deal.
You can order starters from any cheesemaking supply company. I get mine here. (You can also purchase liquid rennet, cheese coloring, and butter muslin–a fine cheesecloth used for soft cheese draining–there.) Mesophilic starter is used in many hard cheeses, and also for soft cheeses. Starter is a culture of bacteria used to ripen the milk, converting milk sugar into lactic acid–a necessary part of the cheesemaking process.
You can also use store-bought milk, so don’t be put off just because you don’t have a cow. Homemade cheese can be yours no matter where you live, cow or no cow!
How to make Lactic Cheese:
1 gallon pasteurized milk
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
3 drops liquid rennet dissolved in 1/3 cup cool water
Heat the milk to 86-degrees. Turn off the heat. Add the mesophilic starter and mix thoroughly. Add one teaspoon of the diluted rennet and stir with an up-and-down motion. Put the lid on the pot and let it sit for 12 hours. I usually do this at night before I go to bed then I take care of the cheese the next morning. Or afternoon. Sometimes I let it sit several hours longer than the recommended 12 hours just because I’m busy. This cheese is forgiving of my neglect. I love that in a cheese. As this is a high-yield recipe, the pot will be almost all curd with very little whey. I use a big slotted spoon to scoop the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth and hang to drain. (You can see pics and a full tutorial about the process of hanging cheese in this post with an easy cream cheese recipe.) Hang the cheese to drain for 12 hours. This recipe yields two pounds of cheese.
There are other recipes and methods for making lactic cheese, and you can even go ahead and use the vinegar method if you want, though you may find your yield is lower. To make the cheese with the vinegar method: Heat 2 1/2 gallons of milk to 128 degrees. Slowly pour in two cups of white vinegar, stirring continuously until all the vinegar is poured in and mixed. Cover and let sit for one hour.
However you make your cheese, once you’ve got it drained, you’re ready to make Velveeta!
How to make Homemade Velveeta:
one recipe lactic cheese, drained (or one recipe per the vinegar method)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons salt*
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sweet light cream (optional–it works better for me without it)
cheese coloring (optional)
*Adjust salt to taste, more or less.
When using my lactic cheese recipe with starter above, this will yield two pounds of homemade Velveeta.
In a large bowl, mix baking soda and salt into the cheese curds. BEAT WITH AN ELECTRIC MIXER. Yes, really.
Let sit for 30 minutes. The cheese will be light and airy after the baking soda is mixed in. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the cream (if using), stirring to combine. I use a big stir-fry (wok) pan.
Add the cheese and stir to combine with the butter and cream. Melt on low heat. Add cheese coloring, if you like, while the cheese is melting. If you choose to add coloring, add as much as you like until it looks how you want it to look. You can use the cheese white, if you prefer. I used about a dozen liquid cheese coloring drops to make it look like Velveeta. In about three minutes, you should have a beautiful, smooth cheese ready to go into whatever you want to use as a mold–or just scoop into plastic tubs. If you use a mold where you can take the cheese out easily, you can slice it.
Look! Macaroni and cheese with homemade Velveeta!
You can customize this cheese by adding whatever you want to the cheese before pouring in the mold. Minced onions, peppers, garlic, etc.
This is a smooth, easy-melting cheese that is perfect for everything you’d use Velveeta for–and a lot of other cheeses. Macaroni and cheese, nachos, casseroles, soups, enchiladas, hot dips, grilled cheese sandwiches, anything! Leave it white, no cheese coloring, and use it on pizza like mozzarella. And unlike the “real” Velveeta, it’s not processed. It’s real cheese.
Finally, Velveeta that a mom can love as much as a kid!