Twice a week, we take a one-gallon glass jar to the farmer down the road and come back with a gallon of fresh milk, straight from the cow. If we time it right, the milk is literally still warm from the cow. The cows are grass-fed, no hormones or antibiotics.
We pour the milk from the glass jar into a metal pail that fits inside a home pasteurizer unit we bought on E-bay. We turn it on and fill the sink with cold water and two trays of ice cubes. When the buzzer sounds, we shut off the pasteurizer and put the metal pail in the cold water. After the pasteurizer has heated the milk and killed any bacteria, the milk has to be cooled down quickly.
After the milk has been chilled, we use a gravy ladle to scoop the cream off the top and pour it off into a mayonnaise jar. We don't get all the cream out, but we manage to lower it to about 2%. The cream is used in my morning coffee and whatever recipes we make that call for cream. When we have two quart jars of cream, we pour them into a large bowl, add a generous pinch of salt and beat them into fresh butter. Yum.
To make cheese:
Pour a gallon of 2% milk into a large pyrex mixing bowl. Add five drops of liquid rennet (available at most health food stores), and a pint of whey from the previous batch of cheese. If this is the first time you're doing it and you don't have whey on hand, add an additional fifteen drops of rennet and a cup of unflavored yogurt. You're trying to add the good bacteria. Leave the bowl in the oven for about two days. You don't need to turn it on, the pilot light is sufficient.
After two days, you will have a pancake of soft cheese floating in a bowl of whey. If you want to experiment with herbs and flavorings, add them to the bowl and mix, just before you put it in the oven. Think of the whey as being 'nutritious water'. Save a pint in the fridge for the next batch of cheese. The rest can be used in place of water when you bake bread. It adds a wonderful flavor. Or use it to water your flowers.
To make ricotta cheese:
If you skip the rennet, you will have a ricotta-like cheese at this point. The cheese will need to be separated from the whey. Line another large bowl with a large piece of cheese cloth. Pour the contents of the first bowl into the second bowl. Gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie a loop of string around it to bag the cheese. We usually hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet knob and allow the whey to drip back into the bowl under neath it. Periodically squeeze the bag to remove more whey. When the whey is all separated from the cheese, and the cheese is somewhat firmer, you can experiment by adding herbs and flavorings to the cheese. We make cheese spread for crackers this way. Again, save a pint of whey for the next batch.