Waxing and Storing Hard Cheese

Simple equipment for waxing cheese - Note: you will struggle to get the wax off everything so use a pot and brush that you dont need for cooking

Our freshly made Cheddar took about 3 days to air dry. We knew it was ready when a thin, hard, yellowish rind had formed around the cheese and it was just dry enough to touch. It seemed to dry fine with only 2-3 turns a day, although if we were at home through the day more turning would have been ideal, the real struggle was keeping the cat away! Waxing was easy though. We ordered some natural coloured cheese wax a few weeks ago and already had a small saucepan and natural bristled brush to use for the messy stuff. The wax dries quite fast so it doesn’t take long to finish the job. I found that holding the cheese over the pan and painting on the wax one side at a time worked well. Simply paint the top, wait until it dries and then repeat the process for the bottom and sides. I have read that you should give the cheese at least two coats and include a paper label between the first and second coats stating the date of making. This is where you can get a bit creative 🙂 (see photos).

Lauren getting creative with the cheese label

Painting on the cheese wax. You can re-melt and wash the old wax after eating your cheese and use it for further cheese making adventures.

It was really exciting to finish our first hard cheese, now all we have to do is store the cheese correctly, turn the cheese daily and wait. Note: I wrote the date of making as the date of first aging. We also made a slight mistake, it should have read farmers Cheddar.

Storing the cheese at 13°C (55°F) and as close to 85% humidity as possible. I had lots of trouble getting the humidity high enough with only one cheese in the fridge so I got clean, damp teatowel to cover the shelf above the cheese and I sat a bowl of water next to it. I also placed a damp, clean sponge on a higher shelf. Humidity is now at 83% so I'm happy with that. Note: A hygrometer for measuring humidity is a very worthwhile investment (a couple of dollars on Ebay).

I actually found this cheese more simple and enjoyable to make then some of the soft cheeses, maybe this is because we have had more practice and were more organised. I upgraded my thermometer to a digital version, which has an alarm and I found that if you spend some time planning you can even leave the cheese at certain points in the process. For example, during the Cheddar making process I picked Lauren up from work and by adding the rennet at the correct time I was able to leave the cheese for 35  minutes. It took 45 minutes for the milk to cooagulate so it was possible to do this. I then had time in the afternoon to continue making and by the time pressing came along it worked out perfectly. I was able to remove the cheese from the press after 12 hours and just before I started work the next day. On that note, record keeping can be one of the most important things in cheesemaking, especially where time management, quality and experimentation is concerned.

I hope you have enjoyed our adventure in making a hard cheese and hopefully soon I will get onto making a smoked Farmer’s Cheddar 🙂

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Farmers Cheddar

Draining the Curd

Finally we are organised enough to try some hard cheeses. At first I thought I could just use a makeshift press like some bricks on a piece of timber and store the cheese under the house, however I quickly realised that there is a little more to it that, plus I didn’t really want to crawl under the house every few days to turn cheese. So, Instead of making the cheese and worrying about the specifics later I thought it best to keep checking the classifieds for used wine coolers and in the meantime I would build a cheese press, order a couple of different cheese molds, followers, wax and cultures and get set up for success (hopefully).

It wasn’t too long before I found a used 16 bottle (should hold 12 cheeses) wine cooler on the net for $50.00. The cheese press also turned out to be simple, cheap and quick to build, all the ingredients turned up on time and I was able to bring 7.6L (2Gal) of raw milk back from the farm. Sometimes everything just seems to run smoothly 🙂

I chose Farmers Cheddar (aka Farmhouse Cheddar) for my first hard cheese because it is reasonably quick to make and matures in just 1 month, although longer is better. This is ideal for us as we often eat a block of Cheddar a week and eventually, when we move to the farm we will not be able to spend 5-6 hours making traditional Cheddar, although it would probably turn out tastier. The first step is to get everything clean and sterile. I will not go into every every detail or the exact equipment needed as there are many good books on the subject, instead I will roughly detail some things that I thought important and helpful.

Maintaining 32°C (90°F) was easy in our kitchen sink

1. Warming the milk to 32°C (90°F) was easy and quick in our double boiler, but be careful to monitor the milk as the temp can rise rapidly when you don’t expect it.

2. After the target temp is reached in the double boiler the kitchen sink can be filled with 33°C water and the milk drum placed in the water prior to adding the starter culture (1/2 tsp mesophilic to 1-2 Gal). This keeps the milk at the correct temp for the 45mins culturing time.

3. Prior to adding the rennet to the milk I heated the water surrounding the milk slightly as it had dropped 1-2°.  Top stirring (gently stir with an up and down motion in the top 1/4 inch of milk using a ladle) raw cows milk for a couple of minutes after stirring the rennet through ensures that the rennet is mixed throughout the creamier milk that separates to the top in unhomogenised milk. Remember, don’t disturb the milk for 45 mins (or until a clean break) as this will ensure that the curds develop correctly.

4. After cutting the curds you can again used the double boiler to heat the curds slowly (2° every 5 mins) from 33°C-43°C (90°F-100°F), this requires constant attention and the curds should be stirred gently to ensure even heat distribution.

Success with the press. After 12hrs in the press the cheese was shaped with a slight slope but thats fine

5. Be sure to collect the whey that is drained off when you are ready to hang the curds as you can used it for many different recipes or if time permits re heat it to near boiling (foamy surface), drain through butter muslin for 2-3 hrs and you are left with the best Ricotta ever :). Just be sure to refrigerate after drainage and keep for 1 week.

6. When hanging the curds in cheese cloth I recommend not tying the top with wool yarn as the fibres can end up on your cheese.

7. After the 1hr of hanging, gently break the curds into roughly 1inch round pieces and mix through 1 tbs of cheese salt.

8. It was exciting using the press for the first time. It goes like this: Line a 1kg (2lbs) cheese mold with cheese cloth, apply 5kg of pressure (10lbs) for 10 mins, re-dress the cheese mold, 10kg (20lbs) for 10 mins, re-dress the cheese mold, 25kg (50lbs) for 12 hrs.

9. Remove and un-dress the cheese, place on a cheese board/mat away from pets and pests and air dry for a few days, or until dry. I have read that you should turn the cheese multiple times every day but this was unrealistic for us as we were both working. I think that by placing the cheese on a cheese mat (see bottom photo) a good compromise can be met as it allows moisture to escape and some airflow to reach the bottom of the cheese, just be sure to turn it when you get home.

This cheese is still air drying and will soon be placed in the wine cooler (12°C @ 80% Humdity) so time will tell whether it is successful or not, it sure looks alright though 🙂

Drying the cheese on a cheese mat will hopefully reduce the need for constant turning. Note: I will soon attempt to make thistle rennet with the thistle flowers seen in the jar.

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

Buttermilk Pot Cheese & Biscuits

Fresh Buttermilk Pot Cheese

I still had left-over Buttermilk after drinking some and making Quark so I decided to try Buttermilk Pot cheese. Pot cheese is half way between cottage cheese and farmers cheese and is similar to Cream Cheese and Ricotta. I ended up using it as a base for an Avocado dip. Buttermilk Pot Cheese consists of only Buttermilk and salt and varies from Quark in that it is heated to a higher temperature, which seemed to separate the curds and whey to a greater degree than in the Quark making process.

Make it!

1. Obtain or make 2L (2 quartz) of buttermilk and a little salt and heat slowly to 93°C (200°F), stirring to ensure the milk doesn’t boil.

2. Remove from the heat and pour into a heat resistant clear tub (see photo).

3. Let sit for 2 hours until the curd has separated from the whey. The whey will look like a yellow watery substance and the curds will be kind of chunky and white.

4. After 2 hours pour the curds and whey into a double layer of butter muslin, draining the whey into a container to be used later. Let the Pot cheese sit and drain for 1 hour at room temp or 5-6 hours in a sealed container in the fridge.

Pouring into the butter muslin

It ended up getting late during the time I made this so I let it drain over night, which created a drier cheese. Hint: Dont over-drain unless you like dry cottage cheese ;).

5. Salt can be added at this point to reduce the risk of spoiling and to add flavour. Refrigerate and keep for up to 1 week.

Whey: Lots can be done with the whey that is left over from cheese making. I dilute it with some water and use it to feed my plants, in particular the tomatoes, which tend to tolerate a little acidity (lemon juice was used to make some of the buttermilk). Be careful if using whey from acidic sources (Any cheese making where acid was added to aid the curdling process) as some plants don’t like acidity. There are many other uses for whey and there is a great blog post by The Prairie Homestead that lists 16 of them.

Using whey to water pot plants

Buttermilk Biscuits (Cookies)

I STILL had left over buttermilk after making the Pot Cheese so I decided to make some Buttermilk biscuits. Buttermilk is great for baking. It has acidic qualities, which react with baking soda (an alkali) in a flour based batter. The reaction that occurs causes carbon dioxide bubbles. These bubbles give whatever you are baking a fine, moist, yet stable texture. These bickies are best eaten when they are warm straight out of the oven, however you can freeze them. This is a really simple recipe, it takes about 20 mins to make and yeah its a little unhealthy, but its not intended to be eaten all at once.

The Ingredients are:

1/2 cup butter (made during an earlier post)
1 cup sugar
1 egg (will hopefully one day come from our own chooks :))
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 cup buttermilk (made during an earlier post)
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour

Cook it !

Buttermilk Biscuits

1. Mix the sugar and butter together with an electric whisk

2. Add Soda, Vanilla extract and Egg

3. Mix in the flour slowly while adding small amounts of Buttermilk to keep the moisture up.

4. Form small dollops of biscuit mix onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 10-15 mins or until lightly browned.