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?

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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.