Building a Cheese Press

The finished press (exc. Mold, pusher and linseed oil finish). The legs and vertical poles are galvanized, the drip tray is a simple cake pan. Dumbbell weights will be used to push down on the top board.

After some cool results with our other dairy products I think we are nearly ready to give hard cheeses a go, but before we get stuck in we are going to need some sort of press. After all, by draining the whey and pressing the curds we can achieve a hard, moisture free cheese that will safely age at temperatures which would usually spoil soft cheeses and other dairy products.

You could get away with a makeshift press but I’m going to show you another way. The design here is based on a few presses that I found while browsing the web but I have added and changed a couple of things. One important thing to consider when thinking materials is that the bottom and top board must be able to withstand and accommodate 25kg (50lbs) of weight. This is usually the most weight that will be used during pressing.

The cost involved in building a press can be next to nothing to very expensive indeed, depending on the materials used and how nice you want it to look. As soon as I realized that I was going to need a press I thought about what I could use that was already available to me. I knew that there was plenty of nice old timber at the farm and a cake pan at home, as well as some old dumbbell weights that could come in handy later. I did need to buy the gal legs and uprights ($5.00 each) but you could get away with timber dowel uprights beveled into the based (no legs) if you wanted to do it cheap.

Here are some photos, which will hopefully help to explain the process.

Drilling 22cm holes 3cm in from each corner. Be sure to attach a bottom board and drill into NOT through this extra board, this will ensure that the underside of your timber doesn't split. You will need 2 boards 400 x 250mm or larger for the press.

The top board can be used as a guide to mark the holes for the bottom board. Note: the top board needs 25mm wide holes to accommodate free movement when sliding on the 21mm gal poles, the bottom board only needs 22mm holes. The gal feet are high enough to ensure that the timber doesn't get wet + a pan can be placed under the whey drip tray.

Making a traditional timber finish is as simple as boiling some raw linseed oil. The Boiled linseed found in hardware stores usually contains chemical drying agents, which I don't really want on my cheese press. Boiling raw linseed somehow allows it to dry faster once cooled and applied. The old saying for oil application goes "Apply once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year and once a year forever". Note: this timber finish is not a waterproofing treatment but hopefully with the drip pan in place I wont be getting the timber wet anyway.

The timber I used and was lucky enough to have available to me is Australian Red Cedar (Toona ciliata var. australis). It is one of the rarest and finest furniture timbers in Australia, with much of it logged in the pioneer days. This press is particularly special to me because of this and the colour and smell of the timber is just magnificent.

If you have any questions or suggestions on any of my blog posts by all means throw me a message. One more thing, does anyone have any experience with setting up a cheese fridge or something similar for aging hard cheeses?

Farmer’s Cheese

Farmers Cheese

Since some of our successes with other dairy products I thought we would try our luck at making some basic cheeses. For me the idea of Farmer’s cheese is exciting. It drums up images of felt-hatted European dairymen collecting the morning milk, adding some farm made yoghurt and rennet made from nettles or more gruesomely, calves stomach and making a fresh batch of cheese to have on their morning bread. This is probably a little more imaginative than reality but I thought that Farmer’s cheese would be a nice place to start. The cheese itself is an unripened cheese made using a bacterial starter (in this case home-made yoghurt) and rennet. The cheese is pressed in cheese baskets for 4 hours under about 1kg (2lbs) of weight creating a soft textured not unlike Mozzarella and Halloumi in taste and feel (It has a similar ‘squeeky’ feel to it).

Lets make it!

We used 3.8L (1Gal) of fresh milk from the farm, which I ended up pasteurizing in our double boiler (I wanted to try pasteurizing so I used the fast method of heating the milk to 72°C (161°F) and holding for 15 secs prior to placing the milk pan in ice water to rapidly cool to 4°C (40°F). You can also heat the milk to 63°C (143°F) however you must hold it at or slightly above this temp for 30mins).

You will also need 1 cup of plain yoghurt, which is the culture, 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup of unchlorinated 15°C (60°F) water, which allows the enzyme rennin to work its magic (separates the curds from the whey), 1-2 tsp of Cheese salt/De-iodized salt, enough Butter Muslin to line a colander and two molds and some string to hang the butter muslin up.

Heating can be tedious in a double boiler. However the even distribution of heat reduces the risk of scalding the milk.

I suggest that before you start try and have everything sterilized, clean and cooled to the correct temp. I didn’t do this well and it was stressful having to cool pasteurized milk with minimal ice. It was also kind of annoying having to wait for the rennet water to cool. If you are pasteurizing your milk it will take about 45mins-1hr to heat your milk in a double boiler. It will also take some time to cool.

The first step in making Farmer’s cheese is to combine the yoghurt and milk in a larger heavy based pot or double boiler and heat to 35°C (95°F).

Next, combine the rennet and cool water and slowly splash the mixture onto your slotted spoon and into the milk, stir gently for 30secs.

Remove from the heat and let sit until the curds produce a ‘clean break’ (usually within 30-45 mins). A clean break is when you can insert a sterilized thermometer or very clean finger into the curds and gently lifting, snap the curds. You are ready to take the next step when a neat crack (see photo) occurs.

A clean break

Cut the curds into 25cm (1 Inch) pieces with a long blunt-ended knife/curd knife. Heat the curds and whey to 50°C (120°F) gently stirring the curds from bottom to the top (stir for 5 mins). Stir every 5 mins until 50°C is reached. Transfer the curds into a colander lined with Butter Muslin. Tie the butter muslin and hang drain for 1 hr (see photo).

Curds and Whey

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and add the salt, gently crumbling it through. Line two cheese molds with butter muslin, add the cheese, cover the tops with the excess butter muslin and press in the fridge under a 1kg (2lbs) weight (I used a small ceramic ramikin to press down onto the cheese and a larger ceramic bowl on top to equal the 1kg). Press for 4 hrs.

Remove from the molds and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week. You are now the proud consumer of Farmer’s Cheese 🙂

Draining the Cheese

Something smells fishy…

Fishing for dinner in the Howqua River, Snowy mountains, Victoria.

We were walking through the isles of one of our major supermarkets here in Australia doing the weekly shopping, when we stopped at the fish fridge. Usually we try to buy our meat and veg from farmers markets and butcher/fish shops but today the fish shop was closed. One thing that struck me when looking at our fish options for the week was that the cheaper and often larger fish all came from Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and even Tanzania. How can our food system be so inefficient that supermarkets are offering a fillet of ‘fresh’ fish that has come from TANZANIA for AUD$15/kg cheaper than fish from Australian waters/fishermen. To give anyone an idea of how silly this concept seems Tanzania is roughly 11,500Km from Newcastle (East coast Australia) where we live, while our house is roughly 3.5km from the ocean and a fishing cooperative shop. I would love to here anyone’s opinion on this issue, as it seems to me that someone is being screwed, whether that is the Australia or Tanzanian Fishermen or us as consumers.

Chalk board fridge

The whiteboard marker wasn’t working for us.

Last week I started writing some of our cheese/dairy recipes on our fridge, however the whiteboard marker that I was using didn’t want to wipe off very easily (our fridge is pretty ugly and old anyway) so I thought I would turn it into a chalkboard. All you need is some fine grain sand paper (about 70c a piece) used to roughen the fridge surface, a can of chalkboard paint ($12), a paint brush, some sponge offcut, masking tape and mineral turps for wash up.

Cheap and Simple

Sponging the second coat

Happy New Year!