Making cheese is a great way to preserve your excess milk and it is fairly easy to do.
Do you remember the children's poem about "Little Miss Muffet?" She was eating her curds and whey, these are two parts of making cheese. Curds are the solids that form the different cheeses and whey is the liquid left over from that process. The whey is good for your animals or you can use it in cooking for your family.
The easiest type of cheese to make is cottage cheese since you don't age or press it at all. The next easiest would be the cream cheese type. It does need to be pressed and is usually eaten quickly since they will only last for a few weeks. The hard cheeses (like Cheddar) are the hardest to make and require both pressing (and if you want it to last) aging. The longer Cheddar is aged the sharper it becomes.
If you are talented with wood (or know someone who is) making a cheese press is a walk in the park. So let's get the press out of the way first.
You will need some scrap plywood, a piece of hard wood and a dowel rod at least 51" long and 1" in diameter.
The first thing you will need is a 2 or 3 pound empty coffee can (or similar,) punch a bunch of holes in the bottom of the can (from the inside!) or use a drill. You don't want any jagged points on the inside of the can. You will line the inside of the can with cheese cloth before adding the curds and another piece of cheese cloth over the top of the curds, before you add the follower.
This is simply a round piece of hard wood the fits inside the form (can.) It is used to press down on the curds to force out the whey. Now to the "hardest" part to make.
Cut 2 pieces of 3/4 inch plywood into rectangles about 12" x 8". Clamp the two boards together, so that their edges are flush. Mark diagonal lines from each corner and mark where the lines cross. This is the center and you will drill a one inch hole all the way through both boards.
Position the clamped boards in front of you so that the 12" length is in front of you. Measure in two inches from each side (centered on the 8" sides) and drill one inch holes through both boards.
Take the dowel and cut two pieces 18" long and one piece 15" long. Unclamp the boards and enlarge the two outside holes on one of the boards. You can do this with a file, sandpaper or by rocking your drill bit in the hole. The dowel needs to be able to slide very easily through these hole. Mark this board as the top of your press.
This may be a very tight fit, but glue the end of the dowels to the holes in the bottom board, making sure the dowels are flush with the bottom of the board. Set aside to dry.
Glue the 15" dowel to the center hole in the top board. Attach the hard wood follower to the end of this dowel with glue and a screw.
When the glue has dried add a coat of varnish to protect the wood from getting wet while pressing your cheese.
To use the press, set the form over the center hole in the base board. Line your form with cheese cloth, add your curds, followed by another piece of cheese cloth. The top of press (with the follower attached) will go on top, with the side dowels of the base going through the holes in the top board. You will be able to slide the top up and down and the flat top board is where you put your weights as the follower pushes down on the curds. Set the press over a large container in order to catch the whey as it is pressed out. Now you're ready to go to work. 8^)
2 Large pots Strainer Thermometer Long handled spoon Large knife Cheese cloth Weights (you can use clean bricks or rocks) Paraffin wax Your new cheese press
The best milk to use in cheese making is raw whole milk. You can use either cow or goat (sheep's milk, anyone?) to make delicious cheeses. Hopefully you have your own milking critters or have friendly neighbors who do as it is almost impossible to find raw whole milk in the grocery stores. Regular store bought milk has been known to fail to form curds.
The milk needs to "ripen" a little bit before making cheese. Let it sit at 60 to 70 degrees for 2 to 3 hours to develop some acid, which aids in the curd formation.
My Grandmother taught me using Rennet, however I can't find it in any stores including the little local small town stores. That being said, there are other ways to have a cheese starter (one is an herb that I am looking for more info on.)
The starter will allow the proper amount of acid to develop for your cheese to taste good. Buttermilk or yogurt make good starters and you can buy commercial starters from most cheese making suppliers.
You can also make your own by keeping 2 cups of fresh milk at room temperature for 24 hours or until it clabbers (forms lumps.) If you make cheese regularly, you can save a couple of cups of clabbered milk from each batch of cheese you make (similar to saving sourdough starter.) It will keep in the fridge for up to a weeks. Without rennet, the process takes longer, but remember our ancestors made cheese without it all the time!
Let your milk clabber until a firm curd forms and the whey begins to separates. This usually means 18 to 24 hours, then proceed as usual in the recipe. The danger with this is hot weather as the milk may spoil before the curds form. It will take longer in very cold weather, too.
"Flake" salt absorbs faster (if you can find it,) but plain table salt will work just fine.
Now for the cheeses! (I know, finally, you say!)
Bring 1 gallon of milk to 75 to 80 degrees, then add one cup of starter, cover and set in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. At this point a firm clabber should have formed and the whey has started to appear on the surface. When this happens, cut the curds into 1/2 in cubes (use the long knife) Set the container into a larger pot containing warm water. Heat the curds to 110 degrees stirring gently to keep it from clumping up.
When the curds reach 110 degrees, test to see if it is firm enough for your taste. When it is, pour it immediately into a strainer lined with cheese cloth and let drain for 2 minutes.
Lift the cheese cloth out of the strainer and hold the cheese under tepid water. Gradually run the rinse water colder and colder until you have rinsed all the whey out of the cheese. Put the chilled curds in a bowl and add salt and a little cream to taste. Serve chilled.
Cream cheese is quite a bit easier to make than hard cheeses are, however they won't keep for long especially without refrigeration.
Add 1 cup starter to 2 cups of warm milk and let
it sit for 24 hours. Add this to 2 quarts of warm milk and let it clabber
another 24 hours. Now warm it over a pot of hot water for about 30 minutes.
Pour it into a cloth bag, then hang the bag over a bowl to catch the liquid
that will drain out. Let it drip for about an hour, add salt to your taste
and wrap in waxed paper.
If you want to, you can add some chopped (finely) herbs to the curds before you hang it to drain. It is ready to use at this point. Keep it cool and remember it won't last for very long.
Now for a more difficult cheese, but one that pizza just doesn't taste right without.
3 cups whipping cream 1 1/4 gallons plus 1 cup
nonfat milk (29 cups total) 1/4 rennet tablet or 1 teaspoon liquid rennet
(available in pharmacies and health-food stores) 1/4 cup cool water (about
70° F) 1/2 cup freshly opened buttermilk brine (directions follow)
Before you begin, sterilize all tools and containers by pouring boiling water over them or immersing them in boiling water. During the cheese making process, have boiling water on hand to pour over tools, spoons and thermometer in particular, each time you return them to the milk mixture. This prevents certain bacteria from adversely affecting the cheese's flavor.
To make the curd, pour cream and nonfat milk into a 3-4 gallon pan; stir with a metal spoon to mix. Place pan on lowest heat until milk is 90°, stirring occasionally and checking temperature often; if liquid is cold, this may take up to 1 hour. But be patient, since higher cooking temperatures are harder to control.
As the milk heats, combine the rennet and cool water in a small bowl. Let the mixture stand until completely dissolved, about 15 minutes; you may need to crush the tablet with the back of a spoon. (Or mix liquid rennet with water in a bowl.)
When the milk reaches 90°, add buttermilk and stir thoroughly with a spoon. Ladle out any butter lumps. Slowly pour rennet mixture in a spiraling pattern over milk, stirring. Continue to stir for 3-5 minutes, using an up and down circular motion to distribute the rennet evenly.
Keep the milk at 90° until it forms a clot firm enough to hold its shape in a spoon, 30-45 minutes; check temperature about every 5 minutes, removing mixture from heat intermittently, if needed. As you check the temperature, insert the thermometer gently to avoid breaking clot more than necessary.
Next, cut through the solid clot to the pan bottom with a long knife, to release clear- colored whey. Cut a crosshatch pattern: first cut across, then at right angles for 1/2" squares. Then cut diagonally, holding knife at a 45° angle; turn pan at right angle and repeat. Let curds stand on low heat at 90° for 15 minutes longer (remove pan occasionally, if necessary, to keep temperature from fluctuating), then stir with a slotted spoon for 30 seconds. From this point on, you need clean but not sterilized equipment.
Quickly line a large colander with at least 2 layers of cheesecloth, edges overlapping rim; set in a sink with an open drain. Ladle curds into colander. Let stand until curds stop dripping, about 1 hour. To protect cheese's flavor, place colander in a large pan; cover airtight with plastic wrap. Chill until curd is ready to shape (see below), 1 to 4 days. Each day, replace cheesecloth and discard whey.
Testing the curd:
To determine when curd is ready to shape, cut off a small 1/4" slice and cover with hot water (170-180°). If after 15-30 seconds the slice begins to soften and melt and, when held by one end, the piece stretches from its own weight, it's ready. If the slice doesn't stretch but tears, chill the remaining curd, testing daily, up to 4 days. If curd still won't melt, the milk got too hot or sufficient acidity did not develop. Slice and cover with hot water (170-180°), stirring. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again. Season with salt; eat like cottage cheese.
Shaping the curd:
Divide the ready curd into 4 equal portions; let the number of portions you want to use come to room temperature. Cover and chill remaining curd in a cloth-lined colander until you want to shape it, no more than 5 days from when you started.
In a corrosion-resistant bowl, make enough brine to cover the cheese, using 1/2 cup of salt for each quart of water.
Working with 1 curd portion at a time, trim off
and discard any dried looking bits. Cut curd into 1/4"-thick slices and
put into a large bowl. Pour about 1 quart hot water (170-180°) over
slices to cover; let stand 30-60 seconds to warm and begin to melt.
With the back of a large spoon, gently push slices together and lift them from beneath, also on the spoon back, so the weight of the cheese makes it stretch. Repeat, lifting cheese along the length to stretch it; don't let rope fold back onto itself.
When cheese is flowing softly, lift one end of the rope from the water and roll it under itself to form a smooth surfaced ball 1-2" thick; pinch from rope and drop into brine. Working quickly, repeat to shape rest of cheese; if handled too slowly or roughly, cheese looks uneven, but it's fine to eat. Repeat to shape remaining cheese.
Keep cheese in brine 5 to 15 minutes to flavor (saltiness depends on length of time in brine). For tender texture and most delicate flavor, remove the cheese from the brine, rinse and serve at once; or keep cold, covered, no more than 4 hours. Flat to bitter flavors develop when cheese is past its prime, although it is safe to eat.
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, depending on how long the curd drains before shaping.
Now for a harder to make cheese. These are the ones that last for a long while. If you let them, that is.
Take 1 1/2 gallons of milk at room temperature and add 2 cups of starter. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours.
If you are using Rennet, add it now or let the milk sit another 24 hours or until the curd has formed and the whey is separated. If using Rennet add 1 tablet to 1/2 cup cool water and dissolve. Stir the milk after adding the Rennet. Cover the container and let it sit for about 45 minutes.
At this point the curds should be well set and it is time to cut it. Use the direction given with the Mozzarella recipe. You want them cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Take your time, cheese making is a slow job.
Stir gently with a spoon. You don't want to break
them. If you see any large curds cut them smaller.
Put your pot into the larger pot and heat slowly, 2 degrees every 5 minutes is what you want. It should take you 30 to 40 minutes to heat the curds and whey to a temperature of 100 degrees. Stir gently so that the curds don't stick together.
Hold the cheese at 100 degrees until the curd is firm. A good test of firmness is to take a small handful and squeeze gently. If it breaks apart easily and doesn't want to stick together, it's firm enough.
Pour the curds and whey into a container lined with cheese cloth. When you lift the cheese cloth the whey will remain behind.
Place the cheese cloth with the curds in it into a large strainer to drain. When the whey stops draining, place the curds into a large bowl and work it gently with your hands to keep it from sticking together. Pour off any whey that appears.
Once the cheese has cooled to about 90 degrees
add 1 or 2 tablespoons salt. Sprinkle the salt over the curds, mixing it
in well. While the salt is dissolving, line your cheese form with cheese
cloth and ready your press.
When the curds reach 85 degrees, put the curds in the form and cover with a circle of cheese cloth. Place the form on the press, insert the follower and place 3 or 5 bricks or weights on top for 10 minutes.
Remove the follower and drain any whey that is in it out. Return the form and follower to the press. Add more bricks or weights to the top until you have 30 pounds of weight. Pressed under this much weight the cheese should be ready to be dressed in about an hour.
Turn the form upside down and remove (gently!)
the cheese. Unwrap the cheese and dip it in warm water. This will remove
any fat clinging to the surface of the cheese. Use your fingers to smooth
out any small holes or tears in the surface of the new cheese.
Wipe the cheese completely dry. Cut a piece of cheese cloth about 2 inches wider than the cheese is thick and long enough to wrap around the circumference of the cheese. Cut 2 circles of cheese cloth to cover both ends and wrap your cheese. Place the cheese back in the form and the form into the press. Place 5 or 7 bricks on top and leave for 24 hours.
Remove the cheese, unwrap it and wipe it with a clean, dry cloth. Wash the cheese in hot water and seal any holes by dipping it in warm water and smoothing with your fingers. Then put the cheese on a shelf in a cool, dark, dry place.
Turn the cheese and wipe it down daily until the surface feels dry and a rind has started to form, about 4 to 5 days.
While the rind will help protect the cheese, you don't want an entire cheese of rind... so, you will want to cover the cheese with paraffin wax. Heat 1/2 pound of wax in a disposable pan (or dedicate a pan for wax only, you can use the same pan to make plain candles (no scents or colors) please) over hot water. Do NOT use direct heat. That's one of the fastest ways to set your kitchen ablaze I know of BTDT. The pan should be deep enough so you can submerge half a cheese at a time.
Dip the cheese in the wax and hold it there for about 10 seconds. Remove it and let it harden for a few minutes. Flip the cheese and dip the other half. Make sure the entire surface of the cheese is covered with wax.
Now comes the really hard part keep your hands off until it ages! The longer it ages the sharper the paste of the cheese.
Put the cheese back on the shelf and turn it daily.
You need to remove the shelf once a week to wash it and let it dry in the
sun. Put your cheese back on the clean shelf and in about 6 weeks of curing
at 50 to 60 degrees you will have a mild cheese. It will be Colby in 60
to 90 days and cheddar (depending on how sharp you want it) in 6 months
to 2 years.
Have fun everyone!
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