Meet Mama Jessie and Her Famed Kesong Puti
Plus, try our easy recipe for this local white cheese.
How long does it take to make kesong puti? “Just a few minutes!” says Marivic Gatan. As a fresh (which means un-aged) cheese, kesong puti is the simplest, quickest cheese to make: Carabao milk is heated with salt, cooled, curdled, and then squeezed to form soft, creamy, delicate blocks. The finesse comes with the amount of salt the cheesemaker might use, and with the techniques used to create blocks of varying firmness. And this finesse, learned and passed down through generations, is what distinguishes Marivic’s kesong puti from the rest.
Firm and savory, but with all the delicate flavor and structure that makes kesong puti the joy that it is, Mama Jessie’s Kesong Puti comes from a recipe learned from (and named after) Marivic’s own mother, who in turn learned it from her own mother. Marivic learned how to make kesong puti as a young girl in her grandmother’s kitchen in Nueva Ecija, and brought it into her own household, making it for her three children.
As all good recipes go, Marivic’s kesong puti took on a life of its own. She first gave it away as presents to family and friends, but the clamor for the homemade cheese pushed Marivic to turn it into a backyard business in 2000. Sold without a label, and on a tiny scale, word of mouth eventually earned her kesong puti the attention of restaurateurs, who incorporated the cheese into their menus. This eventually pushed the business to grow even more.
The Mama Jessie’s label was the contribution of Marivic’s eldest daughter, Gretchen, who counseled her on branding and marketing. The business itself remains small—it’s still run out of the family kitchen—but the branding has only helped spread the word about the product, which is sold on their website, and at bazaars and weekend markets throughout the metro.
And while the best kesong puti may be found in the city, its roots are still firmly in Nueva Ecija, where the carabao milk comes from weekly, bought directly from farmers in the province. The recipe has been tweaked over the generations, but remains true to the original. “We still use the same process that I learned from my mother,” Marivic says. So how long does it really take to make Mama Jessie’s kesong puti? A few minutes and a few generations.
Game to try making your own kesong puti at home? This recipe by Chef Jun Jun de Guzman is as easy as it gets:
KESONG PUTI RECIPE
Makes 1 cup
4 cups carabao’s milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cane vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
banana leaves, cut into 12x6-inch pieces and passed over an open flame
1 Place milk and salt in a double boiler over medium-low heat. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring continuously with a sterilized spoon to prevent the mixture from boiling.
2 Remove from heat then add vinegar and lemon juice. Allow curds to form, mixing lightly. Allow to cool and set for 1 hour.
3 Line a strainer with a piece of cheesecloth, and set strainer over a mixing bowl. Once mixture has cooled, pour into the lined strainer to drain the liquid (whey) from the mixture; discard liquid. The curd is ready to use if you prefer creamy kesong puti. For firmer cheese, place a clean, heavy object (like a small plate) on top of the curds to drain more whey from the mixture.
4 Place curds on a banana leaf and fold to wrap. Tie with kitchen twine or a long strip of banana leaf. Place in a zip-top bag or covered container, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Feature on Mama Jessie appeared in the July 2015 issue of Yummy magazine. Kesong puti recipe by Chef Jun Jun de Guzman.