The Universal Guide to Cheesemaking

Perhaps, driven by the economy or just for the fun of it, people are more and more interested in home wine making, beer brewing, cheesemaking and similar “hobbies.” Perhaps it is even driven somewhat by the growing numbers of seniors and retirees. These three hobbies are a mixture of art and science much like cooking because of the attention that must be paid to careful measurements of ingredients, temperatures and times.

Ingredients And Equipment

  • Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk are most common.
    If pasteurized milk is used, the addition of calcium chloride to about a 0.02% solution (3/4 tsp crystals/5 gal) is recommended. Whole milk, low fat or skimmed milk may be used but the butterfat provides richness in flavors.
    If raw milk is used, the cheese should be aged for 2 months.
  • Calcium Chloride: (supply house)
  • Starter Bacteria: Bacteria must be added for acidification (some recipes add acids like vinegar) to activate the rennet to aid in the curing process.
    Cultures for buttermilk or yogurt making can serve.
  • Rennet: (supply house or supermarket) Rennet provides an enzyme (rennin) that converts milk’s casein (protein) to an insoluble form.
    Look in the pudding section in supermarket or obtained from a cheese maker’s supply house. A single tablet of “Junket rennet” equals 20 drops of rennet liquid.
  • Heavy stainless steel (not aluminum) pot with lid
  • Measuring Cups: 1/4 cup to a quart
  • Thermometer: Candy or cooking thermometer if it measures from 32-225°F (0-100°C)
  • Whisk: The mixer of choice for incorporating the starter and rennet
  • Cheesecloth: Some home cheese makers recommend cotton dishtowels or handkerchiefs.
  • A Cheese Press: These can be purchased or constructed from various materials.

Culturing and Coagulation
In culturing, the acidity of the milk is raised (pH lowered) by the addition of “starter” bacteria to the cheese pot at the temperature required for the bacteria to ferment the milk lactose to lactic acid. The choice of some bacteria used by the cheese maker varies the cheese product by producing additional chemicals. The starter is added, with vigorous whisking, to the heated milk (temp 20-40°C or 40-45 80-90°F – depending on the starter) and maintained at that temperature for about 45 min before turning off the heat. Add the rennet, stir, cover and let stand undisturbed for 45 min.

Draining

When the curd is ready, the mixture of curd and whey (water soluble waste and small particles) is termed the cheese milk. While it is still in the pot, cut the curd into small blocks (1/2”) and cool for another 45 min. The whey is then drained off for initial dehydration of the curd. In this way, the quality and storability of the final cheese is ensured.

At this point the curd may be may be simply further drained by placing a cheese cloth or other cloth strainer inside a colander and pouring in the curds, knotting the cloth and letting it sit or better hang over a container for 90 min. and you have fresh cheese for pressing and molding. Alternatively, the curd is heated at between 34°C-39 °C and (95°F-102 F) to form soft to very firm curd. When satisfied, the curd is strained and salted.

Pressing And Molding

Pressing the cheese into a mold is the final step in the process. A simple press can consist of a large tin can with both ends removed placed over a plate and lined with a soft white sterile cloth into which the curd is placed and wrapped over. A wood, metal or plastic cover is placed over the curd inside the can and weight is placed on top and left overnight. The pressed cheese is rubbed with salt, wrapped and refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.

Mold Ripening

Mold ripening more closely resembles art than science with constant attention by the cheese maker required to pass the cheese through a series of aging stages at controlled temperatures and humidity. These conditions promote the growth of select fungal spores added to the milk or curd.