“It’s like cheese, but…” is how a dinner guest may start to describe milk curd.
The experts, in this case Guanacaste chefs, say that there are several differences between the king of dairy and milk curd. The first, and the most important, is that milk curd is ground and cheese isn’t.
Milk curd also doesn’t require a mold to be made since it’s all done by hand (see recipe).
Fidelina Rosales is known in Nicoya as “La Gordita (The Fatty).” She says that she has been making milk curd since she was 13 years old and that the idea came from the Chorotega indians. She doesn’t have documents to back up her claim, but for her “milk curd, only the one from Guanacaste.”
“The story says that an indian bought a cow and only knew how to milk it,” says Fatty. But one day he said, ‘how am I going to drink all this milk myself.’ He discovered that “a small part” of the cow could be added to the milk and he would get something different.”
Its name refers to the process of separating whey from milk, a process known as “cutting” the milk, or “curdling it.” In the past, this process was done with a part of a pig or cow called “rennet.” Today there is a rennet pill available in pharmacies and supermarkets that causes the same effect.
Rennet is like an intestine,” says Chorotega chef Maria Elena Espinoza at her stove in Guaitil, Santa Cruz. “You would put it in a bottle and the water it released was what you added to the milk. That’s how it used to be done.”
Several things must be done in order for the flavor and texture of milk curd to be faultless —crumbly and salty, perfect for eating with a tortilla. One of those things is using the right amount of rennet in the milk so that it separates without losing its juiciness. Another tip is to use only the amount of salt necessary at the end of the process. Taste it several times in order to get it right.
There are some who say the secret of a good milk curd is in the hands of the one who makes it and, for that, there is no recipe.
That’s what Edgardo Gómez, Maria Elena’s husband, thinks.
“Miss Elena has her magic touch, that’s why it’s so good,” he says, raising his voice as he sits in a rocking chair next to the stove. “The process is easy, but it’s not something that just anyone can do,” he adds.