Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kind of Cheesey

Now that my contract job has ended and the garden is in maintenance mode, I  am finding time to makes some cheeses with our milk abundance. We make mozzarella weekly for pizza nights (not to mention ice cream, yogurt, butter and panneer), but I am still a beginner at hard cheeses.
Making cheddar is a putzy process, Here are photos of most of the steps for making a wheel of  Farmhouse Cheddar. First,  two gallons of raw milk are heated to 90F with the 1/4 tsp of mesophilic starter. Then it is left covered to ripen for 45 minutes.
Next, the rennet is stirred in gently with an up and-down-motion. It is left to sit for another 45 minutes while the curd forms.  The curd is sort of like a very firm pudding. Then comes my favorite part: You use a large knife to cut it into 1/2-inch pieces - I cut it into a grid and then slice at an angle.  As you slice, the curd separates cleanly from the whey and you have little pieces floating in yellowish, clear liquid.
The pot of curds and whey is placed in a sink full of hot water and the temperature is gradually raised to 100F. Keep stirring gently. The curds get bit firmer and the proportion of whey increases. The curds are allowed to rest for 5 minutes, then poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth to drain off the whey (the whey can be saved to make ricotta cheese, or fed to the grateful critters.)
The cheesecloth is tied up and the package of curds hung up to drain. I am fortunate to have a pot rack above my stove, so I hang it from the rack and put the pot beneath to catch the drips.  They drain for an hour.
This is my extravagant new cheesemaking tool - a cheese press ordered from Hoegger Supply Co.. The ball of drained curd is broken into walnut-sized pieces, a tablespoon of fine salt mixed in, and then the curds are packed into the cheesecloth-lined press.

The wood cover on top of the  curds is called the  Follower.   I also splurged on the springloaded pressure gauge accessory that allows me to apply pressure without a bulky, precarious system of weightlifting weights that we used in our previous home-made cheese press invention.
After ten minutes the  cheese is carefully removed and  unwrapped.   The  cheese press has squeezed out a lot more whey and the curds are beginning to  form into a wheel. The wheel is turned over, re-wrapped and placed in the press again at 20 lb. pressure for 20 minutes. A third re-wrapping and repressing is done at  50 lbs. for  12  hours.
Here is the beautiful  wheel after the third pressing. Next, the cheese is air-dried on a wooden board for several days, being turned over frequently so it dries evenly and the bottom does not get soggy.
My first two wheels  have now dried enough to form a hard rind. I am experimenting with a new product, cream wax, to coat the new wheels before I cover them with hard cheese wax.  [There is nothing more disappointing than cutting open a wheel of cheese after patiently aging it for months and finding mold inside.] The cream wax is supposed to prevent mold from forming under the wax.

The coated wheels are now in a 50-degree cooler to dry for a few more days before I coat them with the hard red cheese wax.

These photos showed the steps for making Farmhouse Cheddar; which will be ready to eat after just one month aging (August 26th, inscribing it on my calendar). I have also made some traditional cheddar,  which has several more steps and requires three to twelve months to age before eating. In the past we have had a 50% success rate on hard cheeses, but I am hoping with my new, more professional equipment and more practice, our success rate will improve.  After making my own, I realize that paying $8 for a wedge of well- aged, delicious raw cheddar is a real deal!


Mary Ann said...

Thank you for picturing and describing your steps. I am a neophyte cheese maker and am retiring within the next few weeks. I hope to begin making hard cheese... and your story has helped. I'll take a look at Hoegger, I've bought from New England. Thanks for such a great post.

Kristin said...

I've had that press for 5 or 6 years now. The spring loaded gauge too. If you want to do 4 gallons (and in a year, you will), it is very hard to get the gauge on. I have not used the cream wax but have had cheese made locally that used it. I did not like it when it came to eating.....I could not peel the cream wax off. To prevent mold (and molds on the outside of cheese is rarely a dangerous) try rubbing the surface with salt after it comes out of the mold. You can also vacuum seal. There isn't quite the complexity as with wax, but if you make a lot and are pressed for time, it really helps. Vac sealing is to wax what wax is compared to natural rinds. And if you've not been, is a great resource.

Pam said...

What a wonderful job you did explaining and photographing each step. Thank you for taking the time to post!