Matty and I consume a lot of cheese. Also, what goes really well with beer? Cheese. And mustard. And pretzels. And burgers. What doesn’t go well with beer? I digress. So I’ve always wondered what it would be like to make cheese, and thanks to a cheesemaking kit from one of our friends, now I know.
Well, I know the steps involved. I won’t know how it tastes until a month from now when it has had aged.
I used the Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses book by Ricki Carroll. Cheddar is my first love when it comes to cheese, so I started with the Farmhouse Cheddar recipe. Now I realize I probably should have started with a soft cheese to get oriented.
The Farmhouse Cheddar recipe uses a water bath method to heat the milk, rather than heating it on the stove. When the milk is up to temp, you add the starter and let it “sour.” Next, you add the rennet and let it set. It was difficult for me to determine whether it was “set” enough since it’s still kind of fluid and gelatinous-looking. Yes, it kind of parted around the thermometer I poked it with, but did it look like the picture? Was there enough clear fluid around it? I waited 5 more minutes (just to be safe), then forged ahead with the curd knife, attempting to cut in a criss-cross pattern.
Heating the curds was also a nerve-wracking experience. The directions are very specific. Heat the curds by no more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes. Trying to control the temperature in a water bath so precisely was challenging. If my instant read thermometer is any indication, I didn’t get it quite right, but I did end up with curds.
The curds are then strained and wrapped in cheesecloth to drain.
The leftover byproduct after removing the curds is the whey. Lots of it. I found a few suggested uses for the whey here.
Once the curds have drained, they go into a mold and pressure is applied. As with the curd-cooking, the schedule for applying pressure is also very precise. Ten pounds for ten minutes, 20 pounds for 20 minutes, etc. At this point, I realized I didn’t have a cheese press so I would just have to wing it.
This worked fine until it called for 50 pounds. I stacked a really heavy cast iron lid and every set of weights I own (all two of them!), but I’m not sure it ever got up to 50 pounds. This may mean my cheese won’t really be as compact as it should be, but hopefully it’s still edible.
It is currently in the “drying” stage, sitting on a wooden cutting board until a rind forms. Then it will be waxed and set aside to age.
Maybe next time I’ll try a soft cheese.