Behold, the cheese!
Farmhouse cheddar, set out to air dry on a wood board before being waxed and aged.
At last! I have started my first hard cheese. And it was so easy. I’ve been wanting to do this for months. I got a homemade cheese press made. Then I procrastinated. Then I realized I didn’t have all the right supplies. But I finally got it all together and started some farmhouse cheddar–and it’s no more difficult than making soft cheese. There are a few more steps, yes, but it starts out with the same basic process.
If you’re interested in making homemade hard cheeses (and how can you not be? we’re talking about CHEESE here!), I would definitely recommend starting with a soft cheese first just because you can familiarize yourself with the process in an immediately edible form. I have a ricotta tutorial here. (Ricotta is SO EASY. And you can use it right away.)
If you’re ready to try your hand at hard cheese, check out my homemade cheese press plans. (Cheap. Easy. You can do it!) Hard cheese must be pressed in order to remove a high percentage of the moisture. Farmhouse cheddar is often referred to as a shortcut cheddar. It’s a drier, flakier style of cheddar, but it only requires a month to age and acquire flavor. It’s a great first-timer hard cheese because you can get some cheese satisfaction without waiting months and months.
To make cheese, you need a large pot (stainless steel, glass, or unchipped enamel) and either a perforated ladle or large slotted spoon. If you’re using only a gallon of milk, the quantity specified in most soft cheese recipes, your average large kitchen pot will do. Hard cheese recipes generally call for two gallons of milk. You need a huge pot.
You also need a dairy thermometer, or any cooking thermometer that registers temperatures in the correct range. (Many candy thermometers, for example, don’t register low enough. For dairy purposes, the thermometer needs to register below 100-degrees F and up to 220 F. With farmhouse cheddar, for example, you start out heating the milk at 90 F.) I have a couple of different thermometers I use for cheese. One is a “real” dairy thermometer and the other is actually a meat thermometer but it’s digital and registers in the lower temps needed for cheesemaking.
I also keep butter muslin (which is a fine cheesecloth, primarily used for soft cheeses) and regular cheesecloth (used with hard cheeses) on hand–which type you use depends on the recipe. For farmhouse cheddar, I used regular cheesecloth. For hard cheeses, you’ll also need cheese wax and a wax brush. (Cheese wax keeps the cheese from drying out during the aging process.)
Other supplies such as rennet, starters, molds, cheese salt, and so on vary per recipe. I get all my supplies from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and use the book Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll as my guide and recipe resource. Starters come in little packets and can be kept frozen for a long time. Liquid rennet should be refrigerated and also keeps well.
Along with the basic cheesemaking supplies discussed above (large pot, ladle or spoon, thermometer, cheesecloth, and cheese wax/brush), you’ll need the ingredients specified below for farmhouse cheddar.
How to make Farmhouse Cheddar:
2 gallons whole milk
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter (or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter)
1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/2 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup unchlorinated water
1 tablespoon cheese salt
I use direct-set starter and liquid rennet because it makes life so much easier. I’m also using store-bought whole milk here, but you can use goat’s milk or fresh cow’s milk if you have it. (I don’t have it right now. CLOVER!)
Let’s get started!
Heat the milk to 90 F in a large pot. (Heat goat’s milk to 85 F.) Add the starter and stir thoroughly. Cover and let sit for 45 minutes. Add the diluted rennet and stir gently in an up-and-down motion for 1 minute. (If using fresh cow milk, only top stir no more than 1/2-inch deep.) Cover and let sit, keeping the pot at 90 F (85 for goat’s milk) for 45 minutes or until you can get a clean break with the curds. Use a butter knife to cut the curds in 1/2-inch slices back and forth across the pot. (If you’re not sure the curds are ready, slice some then lift the curds with your ladle or spoon to see if the curds remain intact and hold their shape–if they do, they’re ready.)
Place the pot in a sink full of hot water and gradually bring the temperature in the pot up to 100 F. This should take about 30 minutes. For me, I don’t have hot enough water in my tap to bring it up to 100. I boiled a small pot of water and periodically (and repeatedly) added the boiling water to the sink water to slowly bring up the temperature. (Use only a small pot of boiling water–you don’t want to add too much boiling water at a time to the sink. You shouldn’t increase the temperature in your pot by more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes. Check the temperature frequently.) Stir the pot occasionally (and gently) to keep the curds from matting.
Once the pot reaches 100-degrees, cover it and let sit for 5 minutes. Line a colander with cheesecloth and transfer the curds to the colander.
Tie up the ends of the cheesecloth and let the cheese drain in a warm, non-drafty location. I tied the ends of the cheesecloth over a long paint stick.
I propped the stick atop a bucket, allowing the cheese to hang and drain into the bucket. Let drain for 1 hour. GET IT AWAY FROM KITTEN AND LITTLE.
After an hour, place the drained curds in a large bowl.
Remove the curds from the cheesecloth and break the pieces up with your fingers. (This part is messy, like making bread. You gotta get in there!) Mix in the salt as you’re breaking up the curds.
Now it’s time to press! Get out your cheese press. Line a large mold with cheesecloth.
Transfer the curds to the lined mold and press them down firmly. (You can use something such as the bottom of a glass to press the curds down.)
Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds.
Place the follower (the wooden circle cut to fit the mold) on top.
Put the cheese press together by adding the pusher (the smaller white cylinder) over the follower then the wood bar across the top.
When using only one weight, you can place the weight in the middle of the wooden bar, as pictured here (in the first pressing period using one 10-pound weight).
When using dual weights, place dowels in the holes on the bar….
….and place the weights over the dowels.
The mold sits atop an upside-down plate on the drain board. As the cheese is pressed by the weights, moisture seeps out the bottom. I set the cheese press across one of the sinks in my kitchen to allow the cheese to drain into the sink.
Press the cheese as follows:
1. Apply 10 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. Remove the cheese, turn it over, and re-dress it in the cheesecloth.
2. Apply 20 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. Remove the cheese, turn it over again, and re-dress it again in the cheesecloth.
3. Apply 50 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.
This is the first time I’ve used my homemade cheese press and it worked fantastic!
I made this cheese in the evening in order to pass the 12-hour final pressing period overnight and have the cheese ready to deal with at a decent hour in the morning. After pressing for 12 hours, remove the cheese and place it on a wooden board to air dry. The cheese will have the imprint of the cheesecloth on it and may be slightly uneven on the surface, but don’t worry about how it looks–you’ll be waxing it later.
Air drying forms a protective rind to prepare for the aging process. Depending on temperature and humidity, it takes two to four days for proper rind development. After the rind develops, the cheese is ready to be waxed and aged. Turn the cheese several times a day while it’s air drying.
With winter and low humidity, I expect the cheese will be ready for waxing in a couple of days. The one thing the directions left out was where to put your cheese if you have 10 cats. (I can’t believe they left that out!!!!) I set the cheese on a small cutting board inside a cabinet, leaving the cabinet doors slightly ajar to allow for air flow.
Look for a cheese-waxing post in a few days as I continue the process of making farmhouse cheddar. I’ll also share the final results with you in about a month, after it’s aged! In the meantime, I plan to start some other hard cheeses!
My first experience making hard cheese has left me eager to make more. It’s easy. Are there are a lot of steps? Yes. But it’s mostly a hurry-up-and-wait sort of thing. You spend more time not doing anything than you spend doing something. As you go through the various steps, you can carry on about other chores or watch TV or whatever. Most of the time spent making cheese is not spent actually working with the cheese. The process of making hard cheese is very simple, no more difficult than soft cheese, and as long as you keep the right temperatures and times, you can’t really mess it up. Fear not. If I can do it, so can you! And you do not have to have fresh goat’s or cow’s milk to do it–you can use milk from the store, just as I did. I hope to have fresh milk someday (CLOVER), but I’m not letting the current lack of farm-fresh milk stop me from learning to make cheese.
Okay, who’s making a cheese press? Who’s making cheese? Who just wants to come over and eat at my house?