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How to Build a Cheese Press

Oct
27

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A cheese press is a must to create hard cheese, and if you’ve already ventured into, or are thinking of venturing into, the making of soft cheeses such as chevre and ricotta, you can bet that visions of homemade hard cheese will be right around the corner. Cheese is so enticing, you know. And addictive. Especially when you discover how easy it is to make!

Without a cheese press, it’s almost impossible to make anything other than soft cheese. A cheese press allows the use of weights to press out more whey than draining alone, and it’s that added pressure that creates hard cheese. Purchasing a cheese press can cost hundreds of dollars. Making one at home can be free or nearly free, depending on what you have onhand. (Which option do you think I picked?)

A cheese press is a very simple device and can be constructed a number of different ways. Here’s how we made ours:

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Supplies:

one 2 x 6 piece of wood, about 20 inches long
two floor flanges
eight 1-inch screws (four for each flange)
two 1/2-inch diameter/12-inch long pipes
one 1 x 4 piece of wood, 20 inches long
one 6-inch diameter piece of PVC water pipe, about 8 inches long
one 3-inch diameter piece of PVC water, about 8 inches long
two 1/2-inch circles of plywood, cut to fit the inside diameter of each PVC water pipe
50 pounds of weights
one salad plate
two 1/2-inch wooden dowels

Instructions:

Using the 2 x 6 x 20 as a base, screw two floor flanges down then screw the two 12-inch pipes into them. Using the 1 x 4 x 20 as your top board, drill 3/4-inch holes the same distance apart as the flanges/pipes. (We used galvanized metal for the 12-inch pipes and flanges.)
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The distance between flanges/pipes is determined by the diameter of the weights to be used (at least twice the radius of the biggest weight). Put the two biggest weights side by side and measure between the holes then set the flanges/pipes an inch or so farther apart. Mount the flanges then use them as a template to locate where the holes in the top board need to be. If it doesn’t slide smoothly, make the holes a little bigger.

Note: Check the hole size in the weights before you buy the pipe and flanges. The pipe, of course, has to be smaller than the hole, and pipe size is usually sold listing the inside diameter rather the outside.

The PVC pipes are used for the cheese molds, one large, one small, to make different sizes of cheese rounds. You must use a food grade material, so only use potable water PVC pipe. (Do not use sewer-grade PVC pipe!)

Cut the “follower” out of plywood to fit the inside diameter of the PVC pipes. The follower is placed on top of the cheese inside the mold. A “pusher” (which can be anything that suits the height required) transfers the pressure from the weights to the cheese inside the mold.

Cheese actually spends a relatively small amount of time inside the press–anywhere from several hours to a day or so, depending on the specifications for your recipe. When you’re ready to use the press, place the salad plate upside down on top of the 2 x 6 x 20.
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Set the small or large mold on top. The cheese, wrapped in cheesecloth, goes inside the mold. Place the follower on top of the cheese then add a “pusher” and load on the weights (using the amount of weight according to your recipe instructions). Now you’re pressing cheese!
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I had this sitting outside for picture-taking purposes, but the whole press can be placed over a pan or the sink to catch the whey as it drains.

When you need to add more weights than may fit on the tops of the 12-inch pipes, you can put the 1/2-inch wooden dowels into the pipes to add height and support. (The 12-inch pipes are used for the standard size in which you can buy them. Dowels extend their height as needed.)

Here are photos taken from another view to demonstrate how the press is used. (Again, the press would not be sitting on my dining room table during actual use.) Here, you see the larger PVC pipe sitting atop the salad plate on the press base. A salad plate is used to keep the base from becoming soaked as the whey is pressed out of the cheese.
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I’m putting something, anything, in there to simulate the cheese. I stuck an upside down measuring cup in there. (Not a perfect simulation, but I want to demonstrate the use of the follower and the pusher.)
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Here you see the follower, cut out of plywood to fit the inside diameter of the PVC pipe.
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The follower is dropped inside the mold on top of the cheese.
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A pusher is placed on top of the follower. The pusher will move the weight down to the cheese. Any number of items can be used for the pusher. In this example, the smaller PVC pipe is being used. Depending on the size of the cheese in the mold, whatever suitable item at hand that fits can be used. A block of wood could even be cut if you can’t find anything that suits. The key is that the pusher must fit so that it bears the weights down onto the follower below (and therefore onto the cheese).
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Once you have a suitable pusher in place on top of the follower, place the top board on and load the weights as per your recipe.
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After the cheese is pressed for the duration specified, it’s removed from the mold, taken out of the cheesecloth then air-dried, waxed, and aged. Each step in making hard cheese, as with soft cheese, is easy if you just take it one step at a time. If I can do it, so can you–so build a cheese press (or find some handy hero to build it for you) then make farmhouse cheddar with me! One step at a time.

Farmhouse cheddar is a popular choice for first-time hard cheesemakers because it’s a sort of cheddar shortcut that can be aged in a month rather than the three-to-twelve month process of aging traditional cheddar. I’m not patient enough to wait a year for my first hard cheese. Farmhouse cheddar, here I come! (Come with me?)

*See all my posts in Cheesemaking.

Update: See me use this cheese press making farmhouse cheddar. And see some minor modifications I’ve made in the year since I started using this press here.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on October 27, 2009  

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  1. 10-27
    2:18
    am

    Yep….Only been here a week,but from what I see and what I read,in the next life Im surely gonna marry me a Mountain Gal

  2. 10-27
    5:01
    am

    I’ve voted for you every day! Hope you get the job–I LOVE your blog!!

  3. 10-27
    5:44
    am

    Good morning!

    Where do you get your cheese starters from?

    I really hope you can land the Good Mood blog…If you do, will you be able to keep up with the Chickens in the Road, or will you slow down with the posts on this spot?

    Best wishes, Amy

  4. 10-27
    5:49
    am

    I get my supplies from New England Cheesemaking. (Just put that in your search engine and you’ll find them online.)

    Thank you! No, If (huge if) I were to get the job, it would mean no changes here on this site at all!

  5. 10-27
    6:05
    am

    You amaze me!!!! That is absolutely brilliant………and more brilliant – FREE! (or close) Good luck on your Farmhouse Cheddar! Is it getting close to making some??

  6. 10-27
    6:12
    am

    Now that you’ll be making hard cheeses…..Another source for supplies is http://www.dairyconnection.com/
    Good Luck!

  7. 10-27
    6:20
    am

    I read your blog ever morning before I go to work. I have learned so much! I honestly think everyone has a special calling and this one seems to be yours. I don’t think you realize how very much you help your fellow homemakers with your knowledge and your instruction. It is a blessing for sure.
    P.S. I made your home-made doughnuts for hubby and son and between the two of them and my nephew they disappeared quickly! Absolutely delicious!
    Keep up the wonderful work and thank you for all that you do.

  8. 10-27
    6:47
    am

    Oh, Lord, if you tell me I don’t have to MILK anything to make cheese, I am SO IN! (I’m about the only thing that can be milked around here…and even those days are over!) I wish I could taste these cheeses before embarking on a new obsession!

  9. 10-27
    6:48
    am

    Now I need some goats! What great plans for a cheese press…my hubby could make this for me and we could be eating home made cheese one day. Maybe I’ll ask for one for Christmas!! I’m so happy to hear that your blog will stay the same if you get the new job. I vote every day Suzanne! Oh…my hubby told me last night that if he can bring your web site up at work he’ll vote for you too…isn’t he just the greatest! Well next to your 52 of course ;) :hungry2:

  10. 10-27
    7:09
    am

    Whew, I thought I had missed the instructions on this one! I soooo wanted to learn how to make a press! I have been super busy lately with job hunting and now apartment hunting that I have missed a few days–I will never catch up.

    Where are you at on the voting? I hope you get the job!

  11. 10-27
    7:37
    am

    You can make cheese with milk from the store! I’m going to! I don’t have a goat in milk right now. I will be making my first farmhouse cheddar with storebought milk. Hopefully I’ll have goats in milk next year, but I’m not waiting for that!

  12. 10-27
    8:26
    am

    Good Mornin’ We had a massively busy weekend….so busy I should not have had the time to stop by every single day and see what Suzanne had decided to post about that day…but guess what? (ssshhhhh!) I did!!! LOL My hubby caught me once…Rolled his eyes and said I had 5 whole minutes before he put my butt back to work! LOL Then he kissed me and ran off to make sure the kids had not escaped off down the road on some new adventure without us! We had bought an older home last year and the couple had their own personal landfill in the back yard and we have worked for a year cleaning up, tearing out and rebuilding to get the property value up. Saturday was the last major day of clean up and burning old out-buildings that they had torn down and left sitting in piles. We found an old foundation which will be our new chicken coupe!! So needless to say alot of hard work later – We have a great yard, garden area, and lots of family memories! Now that I have your website…we are on to start a new adventure to see if the kids can survive my experiments in canning, homemade quick mixes and CHEESE MAKING!!! Fingers Crossed. :0)

  13. 10-27
    8:36
    am

    Voted! :sheepjump:

    Don’t forget to vote, people! Suzanne is in SECOND place! :snoopy:

    When is the voting over?

  14. 10-27
    8:45
    am

    Thank you! I’m not actually sure but I think on Nov. 6.

  15. 10-27
    9:27
    am

    Wow this looks like fun. I’m a huge cheese lover. I will have to see if my brother can make the press for me. I wonder if making cheese would make a good 4-H project?

  16. 10-27
    9:57
    am

    You amaze me………I am still working on decent Grandmother Bread…….

  17. 10-27
    10:04
    am

    I used to make cheese from our milk. We even coated some with wax and let it age. Loads of fun.

  18. 10-27
    1:04
    pm

    I’ve just about decided there’s nothing you won’t try. I think you’ll make great cheese.

    I made your cheddar biscuits Sunday. Everyone loved them.

  19. 10-27
    2:45
    pm

    Suzanne.You say you are getting milk from the store for your first cheese? I was always given to understand that cheese is made from Raw Milk,ie. full fat,non pasturised.Can you get this? I think store bought milk is either full or skimmed and pasturised. At least it is here.

  20. 10-27
    3:09
    pm

    You can make cheese with any type of milk EXCEPT ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurized or non-pasteurized doesn’t matter. You can use whole milk, skim milk, and low-fat milk. You can even make cheese from reconstituted dry milk. Of course, farm-fresh milk is the best! But it’s not necessary in order to make cheese. (Reconstituted dry milk and soy milk is best used for soft cheeses only.)

  21. 10-27
    4:53
    pm

    I just ordered by kit and now I have cows milk to use so I wait for you to go first. Thanks for posting I will follow along with you. I love your step by step instructions.

    By the way I just made my first batch of goat milk soap and can’t wait to try it. Easier than I thought. Next getting hubby to make a loaf mold.

  22. 10-27
    7:00
    pm

    In answer to Becky above….if she is in West Virginia….a cheese press would be a GREAT 4-H Project. In WV 4-H there is a “Self-Determined” project where you “make your own project.” It can be anything/hobby that the 4-H member wants to do and wants to write up in the project book. Just check with your 4-H leader or County 4-H Agent.

    Suzanne – you have become a woman of many talents. Would you please have 52 to explain to your Cousin Mark the VALUE or “honey-do” projects? After 25 years of marriage, Cousin Mark still doesn’t seem to understand this. :hissyfit: :yes: :lol:

    Enjoy the cheese press…I will volunteer to be your “taster-in-chief.” I know that this is hard work, but I think I could bring myself to eat 1 or 2 pounds of cheese in the interest of research.

  23. 2-26
    3:40
    pm

    Suzanne, I wonder if this cheese press would work as a cider press as well…? thoughts? I’m dying to make my own cider, my dad has apple trees, but cider presses are COM-PLI-CA-TED to make, and I sure as heck won’t buy one! but I really want some cider…..really really bad….

  24. 2-26
    4:40
    pm

    Kim, I don’t know. I’ve never made cider, but I want to!

  25. 11-15
    12:45
    pm

    Hi Suzanne,

    Loved your Monteray Jack blog and the photos were terrific. Thanks.

    I did have a comment about your cheese press. There is a lot of “noise” about using Hardware store PVC pipe for food processing. I think the consensus is it is OK for home use but would never be approved for commercial food production. There is another plastic product called HDPE which is food grade and the FDA recognizes it as safe for food contact. In fact Milk jugs are made from HDPE.

    Problem is HDPE pipe, especially large diameter pipe, is difficult to find. If any of your fans have any ideas for a source for this it would be much appreciated. I, personally have chosen to not use PVC for any part of my cheese making process.

    Bruce

  26. 11-24
    7:32
    pm

    For safety, it is advised to use food grade pvc pipe.
    When you order the PVC, request that
    the manufacturer provide a copy of the
    certificate that clearly states that the pipe
    meets the requirements. If you need 3Acompliant
    pipe, a certificate to confirm
    this is necessary. Some manufacturers
    will provide a letter stating that the pipe
    meets FDA requirements, but without the
    certificate it is unlikely that the process
    has undergone the rigorous review that is
    required to be certified to the 3A Dairy
    Standards. AIB
    Dairy Standards for Multiple-Use Plastic
    Materials #24.
    https://www.aibonline.org/newsletter/Magazine/Nov_Dec2007/4IceChips.pdf

  27. 1-24
    1:38
    pm

    :dancingmonster: I bought all of the materials to make this press but cant find 6″ or 3″ diameter PVC. Should I go with 2″ and 4″ diameter PVC and stay at 8″ long? Or should I add a few inches so I dont waste alot of cheese that wouldnt fit in? Any ideas?

  28. 1-25
    2:45
    pm

    :dancingmonster: Thank you for your help! I went ahead and made a double barrel cheese maker. I used 2 4″ pvc so I can age one for just a few months and age the second for years.

  29. 4-24
    5:38
    pm

    I can’t help but be technical, it is in my genes. When you press cheese, the recipe usually specifies a number of pounds of weight. My question would be, over what surface area is the weight applied? If the mold (round) is 6 inches in diameter, the surface area is 28.27 square inches, so the pressure with a 10 lb. weight is 5.66 ounces per square inch. If the mold is 10 inches in diameter, the surface area is 78.54 square inches, so the pressure with a 10 lb. weight is only 2.04 ounces per square inch, or less than half as much as with the 6 inch mold. The only way to get it right is to specify a weight for a given size mold.
    If a girl in slippers steps on my foot I would laugh, but the same girl in spike heels will have me screaming.
    Any suggestions? :moo:

  30. 4-24
    6:05
    pm

    J. Whitmor, I can’t answer that the way you phrased it–too many numbers in there, LOL. But I can tell you from working with cheese presses that the weight is distributed evenly across the surface, so no, you don’t need a specific weight per a specific size mold, just a properly working press that distributes weight evenly.

  31. 4-25
    3:17
    pm

    I guess you experiment until you get cheese the way you like it. When a recipe says, “20 lbs. for 10 minutes, then 40 lbs. for 24 hours” it is not enough information to duplicate the cheese the author made. It would be if you had the same press and the same mold, but usually that is not the case. What we do know, is that more weight gives us drier and harder cheese, and that we can adjust it to our liking using our own equipment. This is a lovely site and with good cheese selling for $20 or more a pound in my area, I am glad you help and encourage us to make our own.

    Thank you,
    J.W.

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