Cheesy Comestibles

June 24, 2011 · 10 comments

Farmhouse Cheddar

My first attempt at cheese making was successful, but it was also the simplest of techniques. I decided to up the ante and make a hard cheese, cheddar, “the single most popular cheese in the world.” I still had three methods – farmhouse, stirred curd, traditional – to choose from, with the farmhouse method being both the least complicated and having the shortest time to a finished product.

I needed two gallons of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) milk, which was available in bottles. When I was a wee lad, my first household chore was retrieving the half gallon milk bottles that were delivered to our milk box each morning. Those bottles had plastic handles, unlike their modern equivalents.

I poured the milk into a heavy pot, which I lowered into a sink full of water at 100 °F.

When the milk reached 90 °F I added a packet of direct-set mesophilic starter, covered the pot, and let the milk ripen for 45 minutes. The starter contains the bacterial cultures that will ferment the cheese as it ages.

I uncovered the pot, added a half teaspoon of liquid rennet (much easier to work with than tablets) dissolved in a quarter cup of water, and gently stirred the milk for a minute. I drained some of the water from the sink, added more 10 °F water, and let the milk set for another 45 minutes. When the curd had formed, I cut it into half-inch cubes.

For the final heating step I added 110 °F water, which would raise the temperature of the curd to 100 °F over about thirty minutes. I stirred the curds to keep them separated and watched them slowly release whey.

After giving the curds a five minute rest in the covered pot, I transferred them to a colander lined with cheesecloth. (Real cheesecloth is sturdier and has a finer weave than the stuff you find in cooking stores.) I tied the corners of the cheesecloth into a bag and hung it over the sink, letting the curds drain for an hour. I now have a bungee cord attached to the cabinet over the sink, which I’m sure will be a future conversation starter.

The drained curds formed a solid mass which resembled a huge blob of mozzarella.

I broke the mass into smaller walnut-sized pieces, a process the pros call “milling.”

After salting the milled curds with a tablespoon of fine salt, I packed them firmly into a cheesecloth-lined mold (a plastic tube perforated with fine holes).

I covered the top of the curds with another piece of cheesecloth, then added the follower (a disc-shaped top for the mold) before adding ten pounds of pressure. I don’t have a professional cheese press, but I discovered that a 28-ounce tomato can fits exactly inside the mold. Two cans, plus one of the bricks I use for pressing terrines, added up to ten pounds. I set the rig over a drip tray to catch the remaining moisture that the salt was drawing out of the curds.

After ten minutes, I removed the cheese from the mold, and peeled away the cheesecloth. The curds were more densely packed.

I inverted the curds, re-wrapped them in the cheesecloth (“re-dressing”), and placed them back in the mold, to which I applied twenty pounds of pressure: the same rig as before, with an additional ten-pound weight (snatched from She Who Must Be Obeyed, who uses it for sit-ups) added.

After another ten minutes, I repeated the procedure with a shorter, denser curd mass.

One more inversion and re-dress, and it was time for the final press, fifty pounds for twelve hours. A cinderblock (you have those lying around, don’t you?) plus two bricks plus a tomato can totaled 52 pounds. I had to push the assembly agains the wall to provide stability – notice the level, which I used to make sure the curds would be pressed evenly. I wanted to avoid a cheese with a sloping top.

After an overnight stay in the press, I unwrapped the cheese, which is what you see at the beginning of this post. I set it on a bamboo mat resting on an old cutting board, and let it dry for two days, rotating the cheese every four hours to promote even drying. As the drying progressed, the cheese developed a yellow rind and a dry exterior.

I melted a block of cheese wax in a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water, writing off the bowl as the permanent wax receptacle.

I brushed the wax over the cheese, making sure I didn’t leave any air voids where mold could grow. After a few coats I added a label with the kind of cheese and the date it was made.

I stored the finished cheese in the Belm Utility Research Kitchen Aging Cave (an old mini-fridge retrofitted with an external thermocouple-regulated temperature controller), where it will age for at least a month. You can see the hygrometer/thermometer at the upper right, it shows the internal temperature as 53 °F and the humidity at 62%. I’ll flip the cheese over once a day to prevent condensation from forming on the bottom.

If I’m patient enough, I’ll wait two months before trying it, but I suspect I’ll give in before then. I might come over all peckish, esurient, hungry like, but at least there will be some cheese and not the situation Mr. Mousebender found himself in with Mr. Wensleydale.

Sources:

Milk: Thatcher Farm
Mesophilic Starter, rennet, cheesecloth, wax: New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

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