1/13/10

13 Say Cheese! Homemade Farmhouse Cheddar: Part 1

If you have ever wanted to learn how to make cheese, here's your chance!  I love cheese; it's right up there with homemade bread ~

My very first cheese was mozzarella.  You can read the post here.  From that, I also made ricotta.  These soft cheeses were very simple, easy to make, and tasted fabulous!



I purchased a kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.  It was a group order purchase and in the end, only cost me $20.  After looking through the instruction booklet, I chose the Farmhouse Cheddar as it was labeled "the easiest cheddar to make...only takes 8 weeks to age; however it improves in taste if aged over 6 months."  The kit includes the following:
  • Recipe Booklet
  • Cheese Mold (small plastic basket)
  • Thermometer
  • Cheesecloth
  • Rennet Tablets
  • Mesophilic Direct Set Culture
  • Thermophilic Direct Set Culture
  • Calcium Chloride

So, welcome to my first journey ever in making hard cheese:  Farmhouse Cheddar ~
The ingredients seem simple:
  • 2 gallons milk
  • 1 packet Mesophilic direct set culture
  • 1/4 t. calcium chloride + 1/4 c. water, mixed
  • 1/2 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 c. cool water
  • 1 T. cheese salt ( I used Real Salt)
I read through the instructions and added the times needed to make the cheese:  at least 3 hours and 45 minutes.  So....plan accordingly and give yourself enough time.

I had a struggle following the directions given in the booklet, so I am going to simplify them by adding my notes in ITALICS.  Look for my printable directions on my Part 2 post coming up...

First, milk selection is important.  Homegenized milk (which is any store bought milk) needs to have a special mixture for hard cheeses.  For this 2 gallon recipe, take 15 pints (which is 1 pint shy of 2 gallons) of skim or 1% milk and add 1 pint of heavy cream to give it a richer, creamier taste.  I used skim milk and whipping cream (same as heavy cream) for this recipe.

First, my largest stock pot would NOT hold 2 gallons of milk.  I decided to cut this recipe in half to fit my stock pot.

Is that wise?  A voice inside my head said.  Sometimes it is not a good idea to cut recipes or even double them. 

I quickly dismissed the thought and forged ahead. 

Step 1: Heat the milk to 90ºF. 
I prefer my instant read thermometer, even though the kit included a simple gauge thermometer.


Step 2:  Add starter culture, stir in well, and leave the pot where it can maintain its temperature for 45 minutes.

Do I leave the pot on the burner?  Off the burner?  It doesn't say!

I turned the gas burner down to low and watched the thermometer carefully.  The temp climbed to 93ºF, so I took it off the burner.
The temp did not fall below 90ºF for 45 minutes.

(not pictured)  Step 3: For each 2 gallons of milk, add 1/4 t. calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 c. water.

Calcium chloride comes in this kit in a little dropper bottle.  Fortunately, I had 1/8 t. measure, as I was halving this recipe.


I added this directly to the milk and culture mixture.


Step 4:  Add rennet tablet (dissolved in water) by pouring it into the milk through a perforated skimming ladle which "strews" it into the milk, and stir it very gently right down to the bottom of the pot for at least 1 minute.  Then, "topstir" with the flat underside of the ladle (not more than 1/2" deep) for 1 minute.

O.k. I'm lost.  What's a skimming ladle?  What does "strew" mean?  Aughhhh!  This is where a video would be really helpful!
I think this utensil thingy is close....


(not pictured) Step 5:  Cover the pot and leave undisturbed for 45 minutes.

O.k. this is sounding a lot like making bread.  Mix.  Wait.  Knead.  Wait.  Form shape.  Wait.  I can find something to do for 45 minutes.  Be right back!

(not pictured) Step 6:  Test curd for a "clean break."  Insert the thermometer into the curd at a 45º angle and lift it towards the surface.  If the curd breaks in a clean slit, it is ready for cutting.  If not, add a little more rennet the next time you make your recipe.  


Step 7:  Cut the curd into 1/2" blocks.                                            There is a picture in the booklet that describes this technique pretty well.  I found my long bread knife to work well in cutting the curd.  You cut into 1" squares only 1/2" deep and repeat the process, sinking the knife down 1/2" deeper each time, layer by layer.
Step 8:  Place the pot into a sink of hot water and bring the temperature slowly up to 100ºF.  (not more than 2º every 5 minutes)  This will probably take about 30 minutes.  The curd pieces will shrink noticeably in size as the heating continues and you continue to stir gently.  The yellowish whey will seem to grow while the curds shrink.
Step 9:  Cover the container and let the curds settle for 5 minutes.  Pour the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander.  Knot the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang the bag of curds to drain in a convenient spot for one hour.                                  
This would be a good time to watch a movie.  Put in a load of wash.  Be right back!
Step 10:  Pour the drained curds into a bowl and break them up gently, into walnut-sized pieces.  Mix in salt.   
It is important to use salt with NO added ingredients such as iodine.  It does more than enhancing the flavor.  It aids in draining the whey from the curd and in the final preservation of the cheese.  If you are on a salt free diet, you may choose No-Salt or dried herbs.  Sage or caraway seed are good for this purpose.     
Step 11:  Line the mold with clean cheesecloth.  Pack the curds firmly into the mold, tugging on the the cheesecloth slightly to prevent folds in the cloth and fold the cheesecloth neatly over the top.                              

Step 12 Place mold into a shallow pan to catch the whey and apply 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.                                            
Good thing my son is into weight lifting!  I scrounged around the house to find a plastic container/plate that was the same diameter at the cheese mold and put the weight on top of it.  The instructions suggest using a brick and gradually increasing to a heavier weight as instructions direct.       
Step 13: Turn the cheese over and increase weights to 20 pounds for 12 hours.
 I found that the increased weight caused the plastic container to "tip" and threaten the weights to slide off.  I put the mold into a deeper pan and put wooden spoons in on either side to support the weights.  I had to include the "Do Not Disturb" sign for my curious boys...

  Are you excited?  Stay tuned for Part 2.....                             



 




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