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"

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