Monday, February 21, 2011

So You want to be a Cheese Maker: Part Seven

What I have purchased to support my cheese making habit: Part Two.

You will notice the box on the right side of the picture. This is what I call my “Freezer Box”. It is actually a sectioned container for small hardware parts and was only $4 at WalMart (Rubbermaid Storage Case 151200) . As I began acquiring cultures and other items which should be stored in the freezer it was soon apparent that I needed something other than plastic bags to keep them in. Not only was it inconvenient searching all the little pouches amid all the other freezer residents, they sometimes froze to the bottom of the freezer. This box was actually my third attempt at keeping these items together. First there was a quart sized plastic bag, then a small sealable plastic food container. As you can see the packets can be kept visible and each item is easily identifiable.  I can now go to the freezer and remove just the packets I need for the current cheese making project without exposing the rest of the cultures from any thawing.

Below is a list of what I would consider a fairly complete “Beginner’s Cheese Making Kit” for someone who wants to get everything at one time.
Rennet tablets $6.50.  My first 10 tablets came in the “30 minute Mozzarella and Ricotta kit”. I have since purchased the Tablet Vegetable Rennet -1 box (100 Tablets) at $39.95 to restock my own supply and to provide to people who have attended one of my Cheese making parties. Since they last 3 years in proper storage, I’m not too worried about them going bad before I have a chance to use them.
Citric Acid $5.95 C13N.  Also included in the Mozzarella kit, Citric acid does not need to be stored in the freezer but should be keep in a sealed container or zip lock plastic bag to prevent moisture from getting into the package.
Lipase L3 $6.95  I purchased the mild lipase originally to add flavor to the Mozzarella. One important note is that when using lipase in mozzarella you need to increase the amount of rennet to ½ tablet or your curds will be not be so good. Lipase is used in many of the Italian cheeses such as Romano, Provolone, Feta, and others. The Capilase Lipase Powder is the very sharp version of this enzyme.
Calcium chloride C14 $4.95  This is an essential ingredient for making hard cheeses from store bought milk. Added to the milk prior to adding the culture this aids in setting the curds firmer and makes cutting the curds easier. Storage: no refrigeration required
Mesophilic cultures C101 $5.95 This package contains 5 direct set culture doses for making a variety of hard cheeses including cheddar, Gouda, Colby and a number of others. You could also purchase this as a part of a “Hard Cheese Sample Pack” $14.95 which includes the thermophilic culture pack (for Parma and Romano cheeses) and a 5 pack of Buttermilk Culture.
Yogurt cultures $14.95 I would call this pack an option. If you don’t like yogurt, or yogurt cheese, then skip this one. Containing one pack of Bulgarian starter culture and 5 packets each of a tangy and a sweet direct set cultures, this sample pack lets you discover which one you like best and you can reorder the one you prefer. My personal favorite is the Y-5 “Sweet” yogurt because the flavor intensifies as it drains and becomes yogurt cheese. The “Tangy” becomes stronger than I like. 
Cheese cloth U1 $5.95 Cheese cloth is included in the kits you can purchase and you should not rely on the common cheese cloths sold in most grocery or hardware stores. They often have a larger weave and the poor quality does not hold up to washing.
Butter muslin u2N $5.95 is used to drain many of the soft cheeses including ricotta and mascarpone. I have noticed that many of the recipes call for a double layer of butter muslin to drain the cheese. I have started to use a 130 thread count sheet to make napkin sized squares to drain many of the cheeses I make, and they work very well.
 4.5” mold M3 $15.95  If you purchased “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll, you will want this mold. All of the two(2) gallon recipe hard cheeses have been tested and calibrated for this particular mold. If you want to make larger batches you not only have to increase the size of the mold but also the pressing weight.
2 reed mats SM1 @$3.00ea  = $6:00 I recommend two of these reed mats so when you are air drying your hard cheese you can rotate the mats so they don’t stay wet and start growing mold. While the cheese is sitting on one you can sanitize and dry the other. It works for me anyways.
Cheese salt  $2.95 For using in making cheese you need to have a salt that melts easily and doesn’t contain iodine. This is it. I use this when adding salt to curds and mixing it in.  However for brining I use Morton’s Kosher salt because it is a whole lot cheaper.
Cheese Wax- 1 lb 5.50 Naturally if you are making hard cheeses which require waxing then you have to have at least a pound of it and a cheese wax brush $7.95

$95.50 Sub Total
$14.05 Shipping to Florida (Your cost may vary)

A couple of other items in my box include:
Crème Fraiche (DS) $5.95 If you never had good crème fraiche, try making it with half and half and this culture. You will be amazed by the difference.
Sour Cream (DS)-5 packets $5.95 Here again is a classic example of how making it fresh is so much better than store bought. Turning a quart of light cream or half and half is as simple as heating it to 86 F, adding the culture and letting it sit on the kitchen counter for 12 hours. No additives or preservatives.
Fromage Blanc(DS)-5 pack I liked this one so well that I purchased 5 packs of 5 when they had a clearance on short dated products. If you look back on my previous blogs you will find several blogs dedicated to Fromage Blanc including last weeks strawberry heart. 

Now before you go out and buy all the the above, plus the hardware from last week: STOP!!! Get the book first, look it over and decide what cheeses you want to make. Then, look at what is needed to make those cheeses. Then, order what you need. 

Have a great week
George "the Cheesy Geek"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A mid week break: Valentines Day Treat

Here is a Valentines treat I made for my Honey. I have written before about making Fromage Blanc before. It is a cream cheese like white cheese but tends to be much lighter. After making the Fromage Blanc, I took some fresh strawberries (Local and in-season here in central Florida) and put them through the food processor with a couple table spoons of sugar. I combined two cups of the cheese and half cup of strawberries with a fork although you could probably use the food processor for mixing them. I "cook" more by taste than recipe and after combining the cheese and strawberries, my first taste said: "More sugar, Please". a little more sugar. . .  a little more mixing. . . and a little more tasting. . .I lined two Coeur a la creme molds with damp cheese cloth and spooned the mixture into them. After a few hours draining on a pan in the refrigerator it was ready to be turned out onto a plate. The addition of some sugared strawberry finished off this dessert. I suppose you could add a bit of whipped cream but would probably be too rich. For pretty, you could dust it with some confectioners sugar. But, we liked it just the way you see it above.

The cheese was much lighter than I expected considering that the leftover Fromage Blanc became pretty dense. Chef Paula called it "Fromage Blanc Strawberry Mousse". I'm not sure it is as light as a mousse but it is surprisingly light and delicious. I believe we could use any in-season berry to make this special dessert. I'd like to try peach next time they are available. Blueberry, Blackberry, Raspberry...oh my.

Until next time
Make more cheese
George "the Cheesy Geek"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

So You want to be a Cheese Maker: Part Six

Things I bought to support my cheese making habit: Part One

Over the past year I have spent a fair amount of cash on my cheese making habit. The picture above is only a part of what I have purchased. This week I'm going through the hardware I've acquired to make cheese. Next week I'll be discussing the "consumables" and a few specialized cheese making items.
This was my first purchase as an introduction to cheese making nearly a year ago. The price at the time of this blog post is $24.95 with shipping an additional $10.60 for shipping to Florida. CONTENTS: Dairy Thermometer (E3), Butter Muslin (U2), Citric Acid (C13), Vegetable Rennet Tablets (R4), Cheese Salt (S1) and Recipe Booklet. Buying the kit saves $2.30 over the cost of the individual items.
The Good: This kit does contain everything needed to make Mozzarella and Ricotta except for the pots and spoons/ladle etc. The instructions are clear enough and have some recipes in the back using the cheese made with the kit. It might be helpful to include the URL for the recipes with pictures on their website, but overall, this is a good kit for the beginner.
The Not As Good: The Dairy Thermometer was not practical for me. With 50-something eye sight, it was difficult to read and did not have a pot clip which means I had ld it in the milk while it reads the temp then take it out to read it. For the Mozzarella this wasn’t a big problem but with the higher temps for making Ricotta holding a 6 inch thermometer in a pot of 180F milk was not a pleasant experience. After the third use, I dropped it on the counter and it broke (it is a glass thermometer). I’m now using an “instant read” thermometer which I’ll discuss later.
The Bad: Shipping costs seem a bit high. One online seller only charges $6.95 shipping for this kit and is further away from me than New England Cheese Making Supply Co. has the same kit at $25 with free SuperSaver Shipping (as of 2/11/11).
Next is my choice of thermometers. As I said above, the glass dairy thermometer that comes with the kit was pretty useless to me. Joan had an “instant read” thermometer and it was ok. It was an inexpensive model from WalMart. It wasn’t waterproof and didn’t have a way to calibrate it. To replace the battery the case had to be taken apart, exposing the innards. There was a wire going from the bottom half to the top half and it broke when I tried to get it apart.
I then purchased a CDN DTQ450 ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer. It is water resistant (I’ve dropped it into a pot of milk three times and it still works). The battery replacement is though a screwed, gasketed battery cover. And the temperature range is -40 to 450 degrees F. The average read time is 6-8 seconds. At $12.69, it is a great deal even though it doesn’t have a pot clip.
The next step up is the CDN Proaccurate Digital Programmable Probe Thermometer. ($21.95)It is made for cooking meats in the oven with a stainless steel probe and cable which leads to the display/control unit. With a temperature range of 32 to 482 degrees F. it is more than adequate for use in making cheese. It does come with a pot clip and has a folding stand and a magnetic back. Two of my favorite features are the count down timer and the programmable temperature alert. The count down timer is convenient for timing your set times for both culture and rennet. The target temperature can be set and the display shows both the target temperature and the current temperature and it beeps when the target temperature is reached. NIIICE!!! The only down sides are that you can’t set it to alert when the target temperature is lower than the current temperature (would be nice for cooling milk for making yogurt), and the stainless steel cable could be a bear to clean if you get milk in the mesh. So make sure you clean the cable after every use.
One of the reasons I chose these two thermometers is that they do read higher temperatures and could be used to check temperature of melted wax and can be used for candy making or deep fat frying.  (Just make sure to thoroughly clean them after every use). 

Two things I bought early on were the Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel Skimmer at $10.95 and Progressive GT-3520 International 19-Piece measuring Cup and Spoon Set at $9.95. The skimmer is perfect for stirring the milk and mixing cultures and rennet as well as removing curds from the pot.  The measuring cup and spoon set seemed like a good value with spoons from 1 Tbs all the way down to 1/32 tsp, and measuring cups from 1/8 cup to 2 cups.I also purchased a large strainer scoop from WalMart that is excellent for getting the curds out of the pot quickly. It is a Faberware Scoop/Strainer and was $6.95.  Plastic Colander from WalMart also for draining curds was only $1.95.

One of my favorite purchases for its versatility is the Cuisinart 77-7 Chef’s Classic Stainless 7-Piece Cookware Set. It was priced at $76.45 with free shipping when I purchased it in May of 2010. I was looking for a stainless stock pot to use for cheese making when this came up on my search. The set included 1 ½ quart, 3 quart sauce pans, an 8 quart stock pot and 10 inch skillet with lids. I use the 8-quart for one gallon batches of cheese or yogurt (for yogurt cheese). And often use the 3 quart sauce pan to make ½ gal yogurt batches.  The 18/10 stainless steel is heavy enough to hold temperatures better than the thinner pots I have. I do use the fry pan to cook with regularly as well.

Speaking of pots, I purchased the Heuck 26003 4 piece Stainless Steel Stock Pot Set when I needed to make cheese using more than 2 gallons of milk. (Reminder: an 8-quart pot is full to the brim with 8 quarts of milk in it). At $40.87 I didn’t expect heavy duty stainless steel and I got what I expected; Light-weight stainless steel pots made in India.  Although the lead description says “4 Piece” it is actually an 8 piece set including lids. They nest inside of each other and serve well as double boilers in 8, 12, 16 and 20 quart pot sizes. A plus with this less expensive alternative to 18/10 stainless steel is they do work with my induction burner. The down side is that they do dent easily and I had several small dings on one of the pots when it arrived. As long as you are willing to take a small risk of having dents in your pots, this is well worth the money for the weekend cheese maker.

When I decided to show my cheese making (cough cough) talents to some family and friends, I knew that standing around the stove in our kitchen was not going to be the best experience for them. So I purchased a Max Burton 6015 Portable Induction Cooktop Stove and Interface Disk Combination Set. The price at the time was $139.99 with free Super Saver Discount shipping. (on 2/11/11 it was $159.99). I like that it has 10 power levels with variable temperature controls and a 180 minute timer and the interface disk for using it with non ferrous pot and pans. Putting on the kitchen table was perfect for having 6 people watching the demo and learning how to make cheese. It did take a little getting used to and getting familiar with the settings available took some patience but now I love it for most things when making cheese. The unit is easy to clean and the switches are all protected from spills.

Next week I'll reveal the contents of my "freezer box". (That's the box on the left side of the picture above.)
Until then enjoy the week and happy cheese making.

George (the Cheesy Geek)

>>Disclaimer: I have not "Monetized" this blog. I receive no compensation for posting any links to other websites or merchandise. Prices quoted were correct at the time of publishing the post.>>>

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"So You want to be a Cheese Maker: Part Five

"Things I wish I knew getting started"

Being a geek, I started on the internet in my quest for knowledge about cheese making. The information can be overwhelming and the seemingly contradictions in methods for the same cheese can be confusing and might discourage some of you.  The “30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta” kit is a very common starting point for many cheese makers. It provides the beginning cheese maker the means to eat their results “instantly”. I wrote earlier in my blogs about my first attempts at making “Mozz”. “Mozz” was my first choice because it was the cheese I was most interested in learning to make at the time. Would I start with “Mozz” again if I had it to do over again? Probably not: I was lucky that the first batch came out ok. I was encouraged by the results and kept trying to perfect the process.

First thing I wish I knew when I started is someone who could show me how it’s done.  Reading about making cheese, seeing pictures, even the videos on YouTube are no substitute for in the kitchen, hands on experience. The ability to ask questions and get first hand advice can be a real boost to your confidence when it comes time to go solo. I have had a couple of “Cheese Making Parties” this past year to share my limited experience with some family and friends. To see them get excited about going home and making cheese makes the effort worthwhile. Jean told me after she made her first batch of mozzarella she would not have had the confidence to try it without having been shown how it was done (and not done. We had a “failure to stretch” during the demo.)

Second: a good book about cheese making. The one I ended up with is “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll (278 pages, paperback). With 75 cheese recipes, 25 other dairy product recipes as well as chapters devoted to cheese making equipment, cultures, waxing and cheese caves and recipes using the cheeses you have made, this book is well worth the purchase price of $16.95. However, the shipping cost of $12.71 to Florida makes the total price around $29.66. The “Starter Special” with the Mozzarella kit, DVD and the book is $50.00 and shipping is $13.53 to my house for a total of $63.53. that pretty much makes the book free.
For you geeks or semi geeks out there, this book is also available for the Kindle ($9.86 on 2/3/11) or Nook ($9.99 on 2/3/11). Even if you don’t have a Kindle or Nook, you can download the FREE reader software for your PC, Mac, IPad, Blackberry, Droid, or Iphone. (for Kindle), or  (for Nook Apps)  I bought the paperback before I found out about the E-Reader software and it shows the stains of dripping whey from frequent use. In a year’s time, I have made 18 cheeses and 4 of the “other dairy products” from the recipes in this book. The recipes are geared toward the home cheese maker and are tested with pasteurized, store bought milk. If you have access to “Fresh” milk there are adjustments you need to make esp. the amount of rennet used. 

Third: a source of online help. The New England Cheese Making Supply co. not only has a website but also maintains a page on FaceBook and has been responsive to email requests for help at It appears that responding on Facebook is sporadic and tends to be a once a week event from the company. Email requests that I’ve had have been answered within 2 days. I had one item missing from an order I received on a Friday. I emailed the company on Sunday evening and got a reply at 8:13AM Monday morning (they open at 8:00AM EST) that the missing item would be shipped that day. I received the item on Wednesday. So kudos to them on customer service.

The website is easy to navigate and finding what you want is intuitive with three categories on the left side of the page; “Store”, “Educational” and “Help Section”. Each section is divided into sub categories making it simple to get into the right spot for what you are looking for. I especially like the recipes section with the “Recipes with Pictures and Step-by-Step Directions”.  

Another source of information I found is “”. It has wiki style articles about all things cheese, links to other sites of interest to cheese makers, a glossary of terms and even has “unit converters” tables to convert volume or temperatures to help you get it right. The forum is, of course, the highlight of the site. Most questions are answered within 24 hours and some within hours of posting. It has a wealth of information and is searchable after a simple registration process. You can browse the topics without registering but you can’t post if you don’t. 

Until next week,
George "the Cheesy Geek"

>>Disclaimer: I have not "Monetized" this blog. I receive no compensation for posting any links to other websites or merchandise. Prices quoted were correct at the time of publishing the post.>>>