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In the Philippines, the carabao is a cash cow. Valued for its help in rice farming as well as for its meat and milk, this type of water buffalo also is the source of a popular native white cheese called kesong puti. This soft, creamy cheese is formed from a simple combination of fresh carabao milk, enzyme-laden cheese starter called rennet and a generous helping of salt.
The origination of kesong puti is unclear. Several regions of the Philippines have made this slightly salty cheese for centuries, from Balucan and Cebu to Laguna and Samar. Since carabou formed the backbone of Filipino farming for centuries before the advent of the tractor, some suggest the cheese has been made for nearly as long.
Making kesong puti requires a fresh batch of carabao milk. Otherwise, the bacterial balance will be skewed toward a more pungent-tasting cheese. For every 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of milk used, 8 tbsp (about 115 g) of salt is dissolved into it at the beginning of the process. All the utensils and bowls used in the cheese-making process are fully sterilized to exclude unwanted bacteria.
After the milk is salted, it is strained and boiled for at least five minutes to achieve pasteurization. When cooled again, rennet is stirred into the milk — about 16 tsp (or 240 ml) for every gallon. This rennet causes the milk to separate into curds, or solids, and whey, which is the liquid. Cheese cloth is placed over the kesong puti, and the whey is temporarily drained — for as long as six hours — until the cheese has fully formed.
In commercial operations, kesong puti often contains vinegar instead of rennet. This leads to a slightly pickled taste similar to Greek feta or Egyptian damiata cheese. Some add more salt for a more savory flavor or less salt for easier pairings with sweeter breads. A common way to eat this Pinoy cheese is at breakfast, with bread called pan de sal, or salt bread.
The carabao is not just prized for its milk and cheese, though. A popular Filipino candy is called pastillas de leche, or milk candy. This is a simple hardened mixture of carabao milk and sugar. As with the popular native cheese, it may utilize milk from another animal in 2011, since carabao are not as prevalently used in Filipino farming as in pre-industrial times.
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