The fermenting arts are making a great comeback in the world of home chefs. Most people focus on the fermented drinks such as beer, wine and kombucha or even breadmaking. Cheese is also a product of fermentation and basic cheeses are readily accessible to just about anyone with a kitchen (I mean they are REALLY easy). Even the challenging cheeses can be tackled by beginners with enough nerve and the appropriate materials.
This first week, I didn’t really know what I was doing so the goals and the subskills came after the work I did.
Research – find some recipes to follow and learn the cheese making language
- Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll
- Kitchen Creamery by Louella Hill
- Cheesemaking.com – free recipes and information here, you don’t even need to buy a book
- Getting things to the right temperature – when working with microbes, temperature is paramount. Too hot and you kill them all and scald the milk. Too cold and growth is retarded. Get to know how responsive and hot your stove is and how quickly the milk heats in whatever size pot you are using.
- Assessing the stage of the cheese – you will need to be able to look at the curd and know when it is ready. With the hard cheeses you will need to know when the rind has developed and if the cheese is becoming contaminated.
- Improvising – there are a lot of tools that can be used in cheese making that can be bought at exorbitant prices. Most of these tools can be made at home out of materials you have. Learn to go with the flow and adapt if something funky happens in the cheese making process or if your cooking time ends up being longer than the recipe calls for.
- Following directions/research – my main research book is vague with details and in cheese making, all the details are what is important. If something doesn’t work, like your paneer doesn’t set, go do some research online. It could be something as easy as not rinsing your curds in cold water for 10 seconds as the book recommends.
- Sanitization – all implements, surfaces, pots and containers should be sanitized before being used in the cheese making process. You only want the cultures you add to grow in the milk and not the nasty stuff that grows on your pets or on your phone to contaminate your cheese. Sanitize items by boiling for 5-10min and or use diluted household bleach. Be careful to thoroughly rinse off any remaining bleach so it doesn’t corrode your equipment or make stuff taste funky.
- Pasteurized or raw dairy products – ultra high pasteurized products will not work for cheese making. Make sure you inspect what you buy. If you can, also avoid homogenized products as they have an additive that makes it hard for the curds to come together. The better the product you use, the better your cheese will be. However, you CAN make cheese from grocery store milk and cream.
- Calcium chloride – if you can’t avoid homogenized milk, buy this stuff from Amazon or a beer making store that has cheese supplies. It will help homogenized milk curdle. You absolutely need it with goat milk.
- Stockpot – A starter pot should be able to hold 1 gallon with agitation of the milk. I would also recommend having one that can hold between 2 and 4 gallons of milk as many recipes call for that quantity.
- Thermometer – get one that can clip on to your stockpot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped mine in the pot on accident.
- Sieve and colander – usually lined with cheesecloth to filter curds from whey.
- Cheesecloth – super cheap and can be found at a grocery store. If your recipe calls for butter muslin, order it online or use a sanitized linen. Butter muslin has a finer weave than cheesecloth and if the curd is fine, you can lose it all through the weave down the drain.
- Wooden/silicon spoon – cultures need to be evenly distributed through a pot of milk and milk needs to be stirred while being heated so that it doesn’t scald on the bottom of the pan.
- Ladle – for scooping curds into a colander. Not necessary but dumping a huge stockpot into a colander usually means splatter everywhere.
The whole cheese making process involves getting a milk or dairy product to coagulate and bacteria to grow. Depending on the cheese or dairy item that you wish to make, the following items will need to be purchased:
- Lemon, vinegar or citric acid – ricotta, paneer, mascarpone
- Rennet – found in most of the non “soft” cheeses
- Buttermilk – butter, sour cream, crème fraiche
- Mesophilic/thermophilic culture – used in most cheeses.
These are pretty much the minimal items you will need and they are fairly cheap. If you want to make hard cheeses or mold ripened cheeses, more will be necessary (like caves, presses and waxes).
I would do some practice and see which cheese you are really yearning to make before you settle on a goal. I knew fairly quickly off the bat that there were two cheeses I most wanted to make.
Learn to make a soft mozzarella like I had in a sandwich at Purdue in 1 month and learn how to make an edible cheddar cheese in 5 months (cheddars take 3-6 months to age).
Start with something easy and build your confidence. Or start with something hard, realize you won’t get it right the first time and then go back to the basics (my path). I failed a mozzarella (below) and chèvre (not pictured because it went down the drain).
Seeing the cheese curd up for the first time will get you hooked!
Easy projects from my cookbooks – start with one of these:
- Cream cheese
- Crème fraîche/butter
- Sour cream
I made the first three this week. Kefir is a yogurt drink. You need to start with a milk kefir culture. Until you know if you want to be a slave to propagating a kefir culture, get the freeze dried variety NOT the grains. Heat 1 quart of milk to 86F, remove from heat, stir in the culture, put the lid on and then let sit for 12hrs at room temperature.
Kefir is wonderful if you are trying to get more probiotics in your diet. Blend as part of a yogurt smoothie with fruit if so desired. If you have never tried kefir before, look for Lifeway Kefir near the yogurt section to get an idea of the general taste. However, homemade will not have sweeteners or thickeners which is preferable if you want it as part of a healthy diet.
Another easy item to make is cream cheese. Warm 1 quart half and half to room temperature (72F), remove from heat and then mix in a mesophilic culture packet and cover. When it has thickened, 12 hours later, ladle into a cheesecloth lined colander. Hang the cheesecloth for 12 hours to drain it.
Homemade cream cheese is tangier than the grocery store variety. Also depending on the method you use to make it, it will be looser than a block of Philadelphia. Use to make delicious baked goods like a raspberry cheesecake.
To make crème fraîche, use a quart of heavy cream at room temperature (72F) and add two tablespoons of cultured buttermilk. Pour the mixture into mason jars and loosely cap them. 24 hours later, the product will be thick, creamy and tangy.
To churn into butter, pour your crème fraîche into a blender or food processor and blend until you see the whey separate from the butter fat. It can take a few minutes and nothing appears to happen and then BAM! It separates. Make sure that nothing is overheating while you are doing these or the fat will melt instead of separating. Keep it cold. Then separate out the butterfat from the whey with a ladle or sieve. Rinse with cold water, massage with a wooden spoon and form into a homogenous ball of delicious fat without any watery whey left inside.
From here you can press into a butter mold, process into ghee or make a compound butter and eat with fresh bread. My favorite compound butters are: roasted garlic (add mashed roasted garlic and salt) and cinnamon honey (add cinnamon and honey to taste).
While you can get these items cheaper from the grocery store, it can be an incredible feeling to make these yourself. Additionally, if you are able to secure a fresh source of milk, you can make higher quality items than you can buy at a grocery store. Finally, these are all stepping stones to make more complicated dairy products and will build your confidence as well as accustom you to your kitchen and how culturing works.
Steps to making cheese:
- Read up on cheese making so you know some basic terms.
- Purchase any necessary tools/materials at your local beer/wine making supply store, grocery or Amazon.
- Pick a few easy recipes to start with (I know you wanna make a mozz but hold your horses!)
- Get to know your range, practice making stuff so you can identify the stages of cheese making and make sure you always thoroughly clean everything before you begin.
- Get out there and practice ASAP!