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 🙂

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.

Dairy – Yoghurt & Quark

Heavy based pots help with heat distribution

Many of the soft, un-aged cheeses and dairy products are very easy to make. Yoghurt is one that is particularly easy. Yoghurt is produced by adding a yoghurt culture to milk, which can come in either a packet form or you can use store bought, living culture yoghurt. The introduction of yoghurt culture leads to the bacterial fermentation of the lactose in milk, which then reacts and leads to the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid is what gives the final product its tangy flavour and lumpy characteristics. Buying a commercial yoghurt maker is a good idea if you are going to make a lot of yoghurt as it regulates the yoghurt to the correct temperature throughout the incubation period, however I will explain another option.

Yoghurt

1. I used 1L of whole store-bought milk and 1/4 cup of store bought yoghurt which contained living cultures for my first batch and it turned out well. It is a very cost effective way to make yoghurt as you only need a small amount of bought yoghurt to culture milk.

Adding yoghurt culture using store bought yoghurt

2. Firstly heat and stir your milk to 85°C (185°F). A heavy bottomed pot is ideal for this purpose as it will reduce the risk of scalding your milk.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 45°C (113°F) before adding 1/4 Cup of yoghurt (containing live cultures), this will ensure the bacteria have ideal conditions to function.

4. Place the mixture into your yoghurt maker or an insulated cooler with a few jars of hot water and leave for roughly 8-12 hrs (depending on how tart you would like the yoghurt) I found that 10hrs in a commercial maker produced good results.

5. Turn the yoghurt maker off and allow the yoghurt to cool a little before refrigerating.

Breakfast time tastes so much better 🙂

Quark

Quark is an unripened German cheese that is similar in consistency to sour cream. The Quark I made contains nothing but buttermilk and has quite a bland, and at the same time refreshing taste. Quark is hard to find in Australia therefore it usually has to be home-made, which is very easy as it requires no additional ingredients (rennet, etc). Some dairy producers, mainly in eastern Europe, do add a small amount of rennet to make a firmer quark, however the German Quark is usually smoother and creamier. Note: to make Quark from store bought pasteurised milk you must add a live buttermilk culture to your buttermilk or see my earlier post on making your own buttermilk.

The process

Fresh Quark can be a nice substitute for sour cream

1. Start with 2 L (2 Quartz) of buttermilk from the butter making process or homemade buttermilk (I used 1L for my first batch and it only made a small amount of Quark so I suggest that if you can, use 2L).

2. Pour the buttermilk into a ceramic, oven-safe pot and place in an oven for 24 hours. The oven will not be turned on, however if you can keep the pilot light on it will help to maintain an ideal temperature for the Quark. Because I don’t have a pilot light on my oven I placed the Quark into my yoghurt maker for about 12 hours, which produced good results.

3. Strain off the liquid through a double layer of butter muslin lining a colander. Wrap the sides over the Quark to cover the top and let drain for over 2 hours and under 6. Place a small plate on top of the Quark to encourage drainage of the whey.

4. The whey can be used for cooking, watering your plants or feeding the cat :). Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Sniffing out the whey

Dairy – Butter and Buttermilk

We took a drive to the farm a few days ago and picked up about 7 Litres of creamy milk straight from the dairy vat. The milk was carted home in an icebox (simple insulated cool box) with the milk bottles surrounded by ice and the temperature measured on arrival. This was crucial to ensure that the temperature would not rise above 5°C (41°F), which would allow harmful bacteria to develop. I wanted to start with a couple of simple products at first, with the eventual aim at making hard cheese in the future. I chose Kefir (see earlier post), Buttermilk, Quark, Buttermilk pot cheese, Yoghurt and Butter for the first recipes. I must give credit to the author Kathy Farrell-Kingsley and her book ‘The Home Creamery’ as I got many great ideas from her recipes, some of which I heavily relied on.

Cleanliness is the key to success

Cleanliness

It is always important to be extremely clean when working with hazardous foods, such as raw meat or dairy. All utensils should ideally be sterilized and if this is not possible they should at least be washed in very hot, soapy water, rinsed with hot water and air dried on a clean surface. A quick note on equipment: Try to avoid using aluminium cooking equipment as it can taint the cheeses/dairy products. You will need a milk thermometer, assorted bowls, strainers and general kitchen wear. I have found that a kitchen food processor is extremely efficient in churning cream into butter, however you can hand churn or use a food mixer with spinning beaters. The NSW food authority here in Australia has guidelines for using the 4 hour/ 2 hour rule for food temperature control, which is a very useful resource.

Separating cream from milk

5L 'separator' container

The great thing about raw, unhomogenized milk is that you can do so much with it. You can make butter and buttermilk from the separated cream, which in turn makes various cheeses and cultured dairy products, you can drink, make yoghurt, Kefir and other low fat dairy products from the separated milk and all without destroying beneficial bacteria, which is often removed during commercial milk processing procedures. With a little effort and attention to food hygiene the benefits are numerous.

The first thing for me to do in making my dairy products was to separate the milk from the cream. I ended up finding a really simple 5L (a little over 1 Gallon) plastic, food grade container with one screw on tap and one sealed cap. This container was cheap and allowed me to collect 5L of milk, which would sit in the fridge for roughly 12 hrs, allowing the cream to rise to the top of the milk. Because I collected 5L of creamy milk from the top of the still vat (not stirred) I only ended up with about 3cm of milk in the bottom of the container, allowing me to make lots of butter for freezing.

Caution: If you are lucky enough to have access to raw milk you must be particularly vigilant with handling it to ensure that bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella are not given an environment in which they can function. Having said this it is quite easy to do, as long you are 110% sure that the livestock you are receiving the milk from are healthy and the farmer has adequate dairy wash-up procedures in place. HOWEVER, I am not condoning the sale or use of raw milk because I don’t want to be held responsible for any issues surrounding this product, I am simply showing you why I use and like it. I grew up drinking raw cows milk right up until leaving home, when it was no longer practical to go back and collect some and I never once got sick from it. For more information about raw milk Raw-milk-facts is a great website that states the facts without all the extreme opinions which often surround this simple product.

Butter

Unhomogenized milk and cream contains very small globules within its structure. These globules have membranes, which contain proteins and fatty acid emulsifiers (phospholipids). These membranes prevent the fats in milk from sticking together. When we churn the cream, the membranes are damaged or destroyed and the fats are able to stick together and separate from other parts of the cream, hence producing butter and buttermilk.

Modern day household butter churn

1. Pour the cream off the milk from the tapped container, the cream can then be placed in a sturdy container and left on a benchtop or surrounded by warm water until it reaches 15°C (60°F), this will ensure that the cream will churn into butter. At this point you can simply place the cream into the food processor (750ml into a 2L food processor bowl) and whir on low speed for 5-6 minute or until the buttermilk has separated from the butter. It is really that simple, but wait there’s more.

2. Strain the butter from the buttermilk (you may want to save the buttermilk for drinking, cooking, making pot cheese, culturing).

Working the butter

3. Place the butter in a bowl and massage with a very clean spoon until more of the buttermilk drains out. You may like to wash the butter multiple times with some clean water and keep kneading until all water has become clear and completely removed from the butter.

Freshly churned butter

4. I like to scoop the butter into a small container lined with plastic cling film, which molds it into a rectangle, I then wrap the butter and freeze it for later use.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is traditionally the liquid remains after cream has been churned into butter. However if you need more (as I did) or would like to make buttermilk without churning cream and without buying it from the supermarket you can mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice OR white vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk, which makes a bit over 1 cup of buttermilk. More on the practical uses of buttermilk later.


Dairy – Kefir

Kefir (pronounced Ke-fear) Ingredients. The green stick is an airlock for the culture sachet.

Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk drink. Sounds kind of gross doesn’t it, but it is supposedly one of the healthiest cultured dairy products that we can make in our kitchen. Kefir originated in the Caucasus mountains in Russia where shepherds carrying fresh milk in their leather pouches would occasionally find a fermented beverage after their days work. It is prepared by inoculating milk with Kefir grains (small tapioca like grains that grow and produce additional grains during fermentation). Traditional Kefir was made in skin bags, hung over a door way and purposely knocked by passers-by to help with the fermentation process.

Let sit at room temp, in a dark place/dark containers for 24-36 hrs

The Process

I decided to start making Kefir with a Kefir culture rather than Kefir grains. The culture also reproduces and can be used up to 3 times per packet/half packet, etc.  I plan to use Kefir grains in the future to give the traditional way a go.

Note: All utensils should be very clean before use. That means either sterilized or washed in hot water with detergent before air drying.

1. Obtain Kefir grains or Kefir culture sachets.

2. Stir in the culture to the recommended rate or 1/4 cup of Kefir grains to 2 cups of milk.

3. Leave covered in a dark spot or a dark jar for 24-36 hrs at room temp depending on how strong you would like your Kefir. At the end of this time your drink should be thick and some whey may be present on the surface (just stir it back in).

Straining the thicker Kefir off for re-culturing.

4. I strained the kefir through a fine strainer to catch about 1/3 cup of thicker Kefir culture to re-culture the next batch.

5. Pour your Kefir into a clean/sterilized container and refrigerate for 12hrs before consuming. I used some old spice bottles (see photo) so we can have a small Kefir ‘shot’ each day. Mmmmm 🙂

Half a litre of Kefir was made for the first batch, but I found that 1 litre would have been better so I just used the thick Kefir that I collected and added it to another 1/2 litre of milk. It ended up re-culturing well (I kind of wasn’t expecting it to work) and it should be ok to use once more.

Re-using spice bottles for Kefir 'shots'.