|White pride of Sta. Cruz
by Nancy Reyes-Lumen / Cooks
The softest, lightest, whitest and loveliest kesong puti we ever experienced was at a breakfast served at Day Salonga’s home in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The white pillow-soft cottage cheese simply melted in my mouth. An author, Clifton Fadiman, wrote that cheese “is milk’s leap to immortality.” Translated in my Tagalog: “Grabe! Ang sarap ng kesong puti na ‘to, ever.”
TO put us in perspective, here’s a technical recipe for producing kesong puti as given by the DTRI (Dairy Training Research Institute). According to DTRI, kesong puti is a soft cheese, fresh, unripened, prepared from milk. An enzymatic milk-coagulating agent is used to solidify the solid particles of the milk to make it into a curd.
2 liters fresh milk (carabao, cow or goat’s)
2 tbsp DTRI coagulant/rennet extract
2 to 3 tbsp heaping table salt
What is rennet? It is an extract either from a ruminant animal’s organs, or from vegetable protein or bio-engineered from animal rennet. Okay, to make it easy—it is what solidifies the milk into curd that becomes the cheese. Commercial rennet is available in some gourmet or culinary stores or at the DTRI in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).
To continue with the recipe: the materials needed are kettle (casserole), perforated plastic tray, cheesecloth (katsa), basin, ladle, knife, cheese wrappers (wax paper or banana leaves), kitchen thermometer (optional), 8 pieces of cheese molds (ex: open-end milk can). The yield of the recipe will be about a kilo of kesong puti. And now to the procedure:
1. Dissolve the table salt into the milk.
2. Filter the salted milk into a clean kettle.
3. Heat the milk to about 72°C for 1 to 2 minutes (at this temperature, vapor or steam is seem rising from the surface).
4. Immediately place the kettle of milk in a basin of cold or tap water and stir the milk until lukewarm (about 40°C to 42°C).
5. Add the coagulant and stir for one minute. Cover and leave the milk undisturbed for 20 to 25 minutes. After this period, the milk should be coagulated (custard-like or has a texture similar to taho).
6. Cut the coagulated milk or coagulum across with the distance of 1 inch between cuts. Leave the cut coagulum undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes.
7. Arrange cheese mold in a perforated plastic tray lined with cheesecloth. The tray should rest on a basin.
8. For carabao’s milk, scoop the cut coagulum (2 to 3 cm thick) into the cheese molds.
9. For cow’s or goat’s milk, stir the coagulum slowly for 10 to 15 minutes (avoid shattering the coagulum into fine pieces). Remove about a liter of the liquid (whey). Pour or scoop the partly drained curd into the cheese molds. The thickness of the coagulum inside the mold should be about 2.5 to 3 inches.
10. Cover the molds and drain the cheese for 3 to 5 hours at room temperature, or 6 to 8 hours at refrigerated temperature.
11. After the draining period, lift the molds, leaving the cheese behind then, wrap each cheese cake with wax paper or banana leaves.
Soft or white cheese will remain acceptable within two days at room temperature and five to seven days when stored in a refrigerator.
- Shelf life of soft cheese or white cheese is longer if the amount of salt is doubled.
- The flavor and texture of the cheese is enhanced or improved 24 hours after its manufacture.
- If cheese becomes moldy within the predicted shelf life, do not discard, wash the surface of the cheese with water and it will still be acceptable.
(Prepared by DTRI, College of Agriculture, UPLB)
So, do you still want to make your own kesong puti or will you join us for breakfast in Sta. Cruz?
THE tedious process of making kesong puti is what will drive us in pursuit of the best kesong puti there is and to date, we are absolutely certain—it is from Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
Every month of March, the town holds a fiesta, and it is the best chance to visit and enjoy the local cheese. Several producers make huge quantities of it and these are retailed by smaller stores. You need not ask for any brand name, because all the kesong puti produced are of the same top quality and freshness. The kesong puti we got to bring home was from Aling Morita, in the town proper, by the poblacion.
Others would peddle them and at fiestatime, their goods are sold out in just one route. Lucky for us, we arrived in Sta. Cruz in time for breakfast. We were guests of the MonDay Chefs: Mon Acosta and Day Salonga. At the ancestral home of Day Salonga’s folks, we nestled at the table loaded with pan de sal na pipi (the breads were somewhat squished because they were still hot when bagged), muscovado sugar and the angelic-white pillows of kesong puti.
Our breakfast was a total pleasure of all the senses. As we sunk our teeth into the soaking wet cheese, it almost melted in our mouths. The satiny mouthfeel wants you to bite for more and when the slight brininess hits the taste buds, we salivate for more.
The look of every block of kesong puti is appetizing, because it is so smooth and appeals like eye candy! When we touched it, we felt a very smooth surface, like silken tofu, suggesting it is soft, creamy and easy to digest. Last, the smell of its weak acid suggested the smell of a newborn baby!
Underneath its delicate saltiness is a creamy acidic taste, which is the lactic acid contained in the cheese. The milky whey was still draining off from the fresh cheese, and we were told that this whey or kesong puti water can be added to vinegar. The lactic acid of this water added to the acetic acid of vinegar produces a rounded flavor in the vinegar.
We also partook of suman, honey, butter and fresh buko juice—how more charmingly rustic could it get? Kesong puti remained as the centerpiece and we know that it is a versatile protein food that can be done as dessert like with mangoes, in a salad, or as an ulam, which the locals eat with dilis. But breakfast had to be cut because we were needed at the town plaza. Our hosts loaded us with an icebox of kesong puti to bring home as we set out for the road to join the traffic that led to culinary competitions—but that’s another story.