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:
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
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.)
Here you see the follower, cut out of plywood to fit the inside diameter of the PVC pipe.
The follower is dropped inside the mold on top of the cheese.
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).
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.
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.