Saturday, January 29, 2011

So You Want to be a Cheese Maker: Part Four

The Basics, Part Four: Mold Ripened Cheese and Other Dairy Products

I hope you have been enjoying this series. 

Mold ripened cheeses include Brie, Camembert, and Munster. For me, mold ripened cheeses are not a high priority to learn to make for several reasons. First, I’ve never developed a taste for them and second, the mold cultures and the linen wraps add a major cost difference over the other cheeses. There is increased complexity to these cheeses and I’m still working on getting the hard and soft cheeses right before moving on to the mold ripened cheeses.

Some mold ripened cheese have the mold added into the milk with the cultures and the mold works its way out to the surface of the cheese. Some are washed with a mold solution as it ages in the cave. Blue cheeses have the molds inserted into the cheese.

The Basics, Part Four: Other Dairy Products.
Yogurt, Kefir, sour cream, and buttermilk fall into the category of “other dairy products” as they are not cheeses per se but are often made by home cheese makers. For the most part these are simple products to make once you figure out how to make it the way you like it. The simple way to explain this process is like this: You heat the milk to a specific temperature: You add the cultures required: You go to bed: In the morning you have yogurt or sour cream or, or, or.
Time and temperature differences will produce differences in the taste  and texture of these products. Yogurt has several different cultures available and it is worth trying each of them at least twice to find the one you like the best. Typically, you can use store bought plain yogurt as a starter to make your own home made yogurt (see “Greek Style Yogurt” post from Sept. 10, 2010, or “Making Yogurt and yogurt cheese” 5/7/10). However, store bought sour cream is usually pasteurized before it leaves the plant and therefore will not work to make your home made product (Yes, I tried and failed before I found this information.).

So there you have it: A very brief look at cheese types.

I’m not trying to write a book about cheese making, there are already plenty on the market already, and I’m not experienced enough to believe that I have the knowledge to write a full book. The internet is also a wonderful source of information and recipes for making cheese. I’d just like to share my interest in cheese making with those interested and maybe help those of you just starting out and need a place to get started.

Next week I plan to write about what things I wish I knew when I first started making cheese.

George "the Cheesy Geek"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So you want to be a cheese maker: Part Three

The Basics, Part Three: Hard Cheese

Are you hooked yet? Fresh Ricotta is not only easy to make and delicious, it comes out less expensive than store bought. The recipe for ricotta I posted last week is only one way to make it. You can make ricotta from whey after you have made a hard cheese.

Hard cheeses are typically aged under a controlled environment, and consist of such cheeses as Cheddar, Gouda, jack cheeses, Colby and Parmesan/Romano types. For these cheeses you will need all of the equipment listed above plus a few more items. Many of the recipes start with 2 gallons of milk or more. Therefore, you will need a stock pot large enough to hold the two gallons. I use a 12.5 quart pot for this purpose and can put it into a 16 quart pot as a double boiler.

You will also need a mold that will hold the amount of curds you will be using per batch. I started out with a small hard cheese mold 4 1/2'” wide and 5” high with an open bottom. It is suggested for cheeses up to 2 lbs. Most hard cheese molds include a follower (think…plunger) which is used to apply weight to the curds in the mold to compress them. Oh, and the fun part, weights to stack on top of the follower. You can purchase a cheese press or find plans for one on the internet, which makes the pressing process much more stable. I have attempted to stack weights on top of the follower and have had them come crashing down in the middle of the night. (Many hard cheeses are pressed 12-24 hours.)

Cultures are the organisms that convert lactose into lactic acid in milk and give cheese the flavors. Cultures come in two types: direct set and starter culture. Direct set is introduced to the milk right out of the package and is available in a pre-measured package for a set amount of milk and is put directly into the milk. Starter culture is put into milk and let set for 12-15 hours. This milk is then used in the batches of cheese at the appropriate time indicated in the recipe. It can be frozen in ice cube trays to produce one ounce portions. (When you get low, take the last cube, thaw it and use it to re-culture another batch.)

Cultures are of two types: Mesophilic and Thermophilic.
Mesophilic is used in the hard cheeses that are incubated in moderate temperature. Cheddar, Jack cheeses, Gouda and Colby’s are a few that uses this culture. Buttermilk is often set out at room temperature over night to produce a starter culture to use in making these cheeses. (See above Starter culture).

Thermophilic is used in cheeses that are heated to a higher temperature. Parmesan, Swiss, Mozzarella (the “long” way,) and Gruyere use this type of culture.

There are different blends of these cultures and there are combinations of cultures that produce unique tastes in the final product. But to start out, stay with the basics and learn the techniques of making good cheese. Then as you become more proficient and have a larger stock of different cultures you may want to experiment with custom blending.

Other ingredients you will want to have on hand:  
Cheese salt or salt without iodine. Iodine kills the cultures needed to make the cheese.
Calcium Chloride is added to pasteurized, store bought milk and goats milk to help form a firmer curd. This is usually not included in the recipes for hard cheeses but if you buy milk to make hard cheese you will need it.
Lipase powder, either Capilase (sharp) or Italase (mild), adds more flavor to Italian cheeses. Capilase is a goat enzyme and is used in making Romano and Provolone. Italase is used in milder cheeses is used in Mozzarella, Parmesan, and cow’s milk Feta.
Cheese cloth made for cheese making. The so called cheese cloth you get in the grocery store is closer to gauze than cheese cloth as the weave is to open to hold the curds in.
Bamboo Mats to air dry the cheese prior to waxing.

You can get these items from a cheese making supply company. I have included hyper links to many of these items.

Did I mention waxing yet? Hard cheeses may be aged with a natural rind, bandaged rind, and waxed. I’ll cover natural rind and bandaged rind in future posts and an earlier post shows how I am currently waxing my cheese.

Last item on the list for hard cheese making is a cheese “cave”. Most hard cheeses need to age at 50-55F and 80-85% humidity. Unless you live in a house with a basement that has a cool room that stays consistent for months at a time, you will have to make do. I, and many other home cheese makers, have enlisted a mini-fridge as our “caves”. The one I have will maintain a 50F temperature with the thermostat set at the very highest setting. I’m using a couple of bamboo cutting boards on the wire shelves to hold the cheese.
My Cheese Making Supplies

Making Ricotta from whey.

Heat the whey remaining in the pot after making a hard cheese to 185-195F (Within 3 hours) The top of the whey will foam and you will see small bits of ricotta forming and floating in the whey. 
Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes
Ladle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin (or a piece of 100-130 tread count cloth). 
Tie the corners together and hang over a pot or sink for 30-45 minutes. 
Ta Da: more ricotta. 
The yield will be smaller than the whole milk process but you can add a quart of cream to the whey to increase the yield but waste not, want not.(-:

Til next week 
George "the Cheesy Geek"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

So You Want to be a Cheese Maker: Part Two, Soft Cheeses

Welcome back Cheese Maker

I hope you enjoyed making the Queso Blanco last week. Have you gotten the bug to continue? I hope you read the article on milkGood. Let’s begin with soft cheeses.

12oz of Ricotta
Soft cheese includes cream cheese, mascarpone, Neufchatel (New-sha-TEL), ricotta, mozzarella and yogurt cheese. These don’t require any specialized equipment to make and most kitchens have what is needed to make these cheeses. You may need to purchase some butter muslin to drain the cheese. You can make do with fabric from a cheap sheet (100-130 thread count) but usually takes longer to drain. A thermometer that reads from at least 40F to 200 is necessary to monitor the correct temperatures needed to make cheese properly.

 Most soft cheese recipes call for between one quart and one gallon of milk per batch so a double boiler with a 5-quart capacity is very helpful. (No Aluminum pots, Please. The acid in the milk reacts with the aluminum in a not so positive way.) For larger recipes, I’ve used my 8 quart stock pot inside the 12.5 quart stock pot to serve as a double boiler. Stainless steel is best. A large colander is also needed. I have a plastic one that works fine and it didn’t have the high price tag of stainless steel.

A long-handled slotted spoon to stir the milk/curds, measuring spoons, a knife long enough to reach the bottom of the pot and a stainless steel flat ladle complete the list of equipment you need for making soft cheese.

Depending on the type of soft cheese you make you may need some plain yogurt, cultured buttermilk (unsalted), lemon juice, and/or vinegar. You can purchase cultures for yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream etc from a cheese making supply company if you wish (I use New England Cheesemaking Supply Company at .) Only a few recipes for soft cheeses call for rennet. Rennet comes in liquid and tablet form and may also be purchased from the cheese making supply companies. The tablets will last two years in the freezer and are, therefore, a good choice for the casual cheese maker.

Soft cheeses have a short shelf life. Containing over 45% water, they are subject to drying out if not kept in a sealed, full container. Kept in the refrigerator they will typically last 5-10 days. One important thing to remember about storing soft cheeses is they get stronger tasting the longer they sit, even in the refrigerator. Cultures in the cheese slow down but do not stop working at refrigerator temperatures. Mild cream cheese becomes sharp and tangy after 4 or 5 days. Of course, we know that you are making this cheese to eat and it won’t last long enough to go bad anyways.
Soft cheese may be stored in the freezer for four to six months, however the quality will degrade and the consistency of the cheese will change often causing it to be more crumbly. Your results may vary. (-:
My makeshift double boiler

My first attempts at making cheese came from the 30 minute Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit See “The beginning of my journey” post from 4/30/10 for my write up of my experiences with making mozzarella the first few times. As I look back at my blogs most of the cheeses I have made are of the soft types; mascarpone, yogurt cheese, ricotta etc. They are easy (mostly) and are ready to eat in less than 24 hours.

Ok, now let’s make some ricotta.

Curds forming in pot at 175F
Get a ½ gallon of milk and two cups of cultured buttermilk (unsalted) and about 1 ½ hours and you are set to make some ricotta.
Put the milk and butter milk in a pot and heat to 100 F stirring to prevent burning. (a double boiler is perfect for this.) continue heating stirring occasionally until the milk reaches 175 F. You should notice the milk “thickening” as the curds are forming.
When the temperature reaches 175F  turn off the heat and let the milk sit for 5 minutes without stirring.
Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, take the curds out of the pot and put into a colander lined with butter muslin.
Let the curds drain for 10 minutes or so.
Tie the corners of the cloth together and hang it over a pot or the sink for another 45 minutes.
Remove from the cloth and put into a bowl and break apart.
Removing curds from pot
Lightly salt if desired.

You’re done. Keep it in an air tight container and it will keep up to 10 days.

I found this recipe to not need salting and has flavor from the buttermilk which is different from other recipes I've made.

Please feel free to check out my blog archives for additional information about my adventures making Mascarpone and other soft cheeses over the last year.

Draining the Curds


See you next week for Hard Cheese,

Saturday, January 8, 2011

So You Want to Be A Cheese Maker: Part One

Cheese making: The Basics (Part One)

So you want to make cheese, do you? Great! I think it is a fine hobby for me. It is a “slow food” endeavor, eliminating additives and preservatives from your diet. Using local dairy resources, you get the advantage of fresh and minimally transported milk. You get to know what you are eating, and have the satisfaction of saying it is home made. Best of all, it tastes good.

A word of warning:  Cheese making can be addictive. A large portion of your kitchen can be over run with pots, colanders, molds, cheese press and a variety of other tools of the trade. Not to mention the cheese “cave”. Your family will have to put up with cheese drying on the kitchen table. The crock pot becomes a wax pot. Oh, and did I mention the smell of fresh cheese permeates the entire house as you spend an entire day making a batch of fresh Feta.

My "Corner" of the Kitchen
I am very thankful that I have a very understanding wife. My “little” hobby has taken up half of one wall of the kitchen and the kitchen table is usually half to three quarters full of my cheese making “mess”. In the past she has put up with my plant hobby, taking over one corner of the living room. She suffered in silence as I pursued the “dangerous” sport of hang gliding. At least with cheese making, my worst mistakes can be sent down the garbage disposal.

So, how do you get started? My quick answer is: It depends. Mostly, it depends on you. What kinds of cheese do you like and want to make? How much patience do you have, both in the preparation time and the aging process? What sources of milk do you have? How much money you have to spend on your new hobby?

There are three basic types of cheeses. The soft cheese, the hard cheese, and the mold ripened cheese. A fourth category would be “other dairy products”. While not cheeses, they are made from milk and have similar techniques to making soft cheeses.

Now, If you are ready to try something fairly quick and easy, get a gallon of whole milk and ¼ cup of white vinegar.

My strainer/stirrer
This is a simple recipe to make Queso Blanco Cheese. Queso Blanco is similar to Indian Panir cheese and makes a great cheese for cooking. Many South American recipes use Queso Blanco. It is fairly crumbly when cold or room temperature but becomes creamy when heated. Some say it is a good substitute for Monterrey Jack.

You will need a pot big enough for a gallon of milk, a colander (not aluminum), some butter muslin or a piece of cloth with a 130 or less thread count, cut to the size of a cloth dinner napkin, a thermometer that will read from 40F to at least 200F. I use a CDN DTQ450x quick read thermometer I got from for $14. It reads from -40 to 450F. You will also need a long spoon or skimmer to stir the milk. Remember that aluminum reacts with the acid in the vinegar and is not a good choice for cheese making utensils.

Curds forming
Heat the milk to 185-190F stirring to keep the milk from scorching. Or use a double boiler although it will take longer to heat it won’t scorch the milk.
Then add the vinegar slowly while stirring constantly
You should notice that the milk has begun to curdle at this time.
Continue stirring for 15 minutes.
Line a colander with either butter muslin or the 100-130 thread count piece of sheet.
Transfer the curds to the colander.
Allow the curds to cool for 20-25 minutes.
Tie the corners of the cloth together and hang the curds over the sink or a pot and let it drain until it stops draining. (2-6 hours)
Take it out of the cloth
You can break the cheese apart and lightly salt to taste. (or don’t salt at all if that is your preference. Taste it before salting.)

1lb 6oz Queso Blanco
Draining the curds
Congratulations, you are now a cheese maker!!!

Next Week “Soft Cheese”

Please read about milk for cheese making for information about "good milk".