I mentioned recently that we were going to attempt to make our own cheese, using a kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. We believe in the health benefits of using raw milk rather than conventional store-bought dairy products, but don't have sources for raw butter, cheese, and other products. We do, however, have a great, affordable source of raw milk and cream...so, we're learning to make our own stuff! So far, we've successfully made kefir, butter, and buttermilk. Now we can add cheese to the list. Soon, we hope to try yogurt, sour cream, and more different types of cheese.
We decided to start with cheddar, since this is one of the types of cheese we eat most. To do this, we gathered:
- 2 gallons of fresh raw milk
- 1 packet Mesophilic direct set culture (included in the kit we bought)
- 1/2 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water (included in the kit we bought)
- 1 tbsp cheese salt (this can be purchased from the website, but we used our Real Salt, which is non-iodized and won't kill the lactic bacteria and ruin the cheese like regular table salt)
We also gathered the equipment we needed:
- large pot (I used my water bath canner)
- cheese mold (included in the kit)
- cheese wax
First, we heated the milk to 90 degrees F. We accomplished this by setting our pot in a sink full of hot water. It took about 30 minutes to bring the milk up to temperature.
Once the milk was at 90 degrees, we added the packet of starter culture and left the pot in the sink for 45 minutes, refreshing the hot water periodically to make sure it maintained temperature. Next, we added the rennet dissolved in water, pouring it through a perforated ladle to "strew" it into the milk (as opposed to just dumping it in and stirring). I'm thinking a slotted spoon would also work for this in a pinch. We stirred the rennet very gently down to the bottom of the pot for about a minute, then "topstirred" with the flat underside of the ladle for about another minute. The topstirring is only necessary when using raw, unhomogenized milk, to keep the cream from rising to the surface...for goat's milk or store-bought milk, it can be omitted.
Next, we covered our pot of milk and let it sit, undisturbed, for 45 minutes while the curd formed. We used a knife to cut the curd into equal, 1/2 inch pieces, increasing the surface area and allowing the whey to drain more efficiently.
The pot went back into the sink of hot water and we slowly, over a period of about 30 minutes, brought the temperature up to 100 degrees. During this time, we gently stirred the curds. They shrank in size somewhat, and the amount of whey in the pot increased as it drained from the curds.
Once we achieved 100 degrees, we covered the pot and let the curds settle for five minutes. Next, we poured them into a cheesecloth-lined colander, knotted the cheesecloth, and hung the "bag of curds" to drain into a bowl.
After about an hour, we poured the drained curds into a bowl and broke them into walnut-sized pieces (we also sampled them...they were delicious, with a "buttery" flavor) At this point, we mixed in our salt.
We packed the curds firmly into the cheesecloth lined mold (which also came with our kit), folding the cheesecloth neatly over the top, and applied 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. We had to get a little bit creative at this point...we cut an old plastic lid to fit down into the mold and set a couple of my husband's weights on top. If we continue to make our own cheese (which we plan to!), we will hopefully make a cheese press. We found instructions online for several different ways to make a simple, inexpensive press.
After 15 minutes, we turned the cheese over and increased the pressure to 20 pounds. At this point, we left it overnight.
The next morning, after about 12 hours, we turned the cheese again and left it at 20 pounds of pressure for another 12 hours. That evening, we removed the cheese from the mold and peeled away the cheesecloth. We allowed it to air dry on a wooden board for about 3 days, turning it every so often so it didn't get too moist on the bottom. You can see in the picture that it started to develop a rind.
After we let it dry for several days, it was time to wax it. We did have several tiny spots of mold develop on it...probably because we weren't home for most of one of the days and didn't turn it often enough. Our directions said we could carefully shave it off and rub more salt on the spot, which we did.
We simply melted the wax and dipped the cheese round by hand into the pot of wax, one side at a time. It took several coats to make sure it was well covered.
Now, we must let it age for at least 8 weeks. It's in our second refrigerator in our laundry room. Every few days, we turn it and check it for signs of mold.
The whole process was fairly simple, although it's always a little bit hectic the first time. I fully expect that we'll develop a system, just as we have for making butter.
Besides being delicious and super healthy, this cheese is quite economical! Prices for raw milk cheese run about $12 per pound! On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can buy a five pound block of conventional cheddar at my local Sam's Club for about $11. Our raw milk costs $6.50 a gallon. We used two gallons to produce almost two and a half pounds of cheese, so we spent $13 plus about $1 on the culture and a few cents worth of rennet and salt...less than $15 total.
Besides over two pounds of cheddar, we also yielded almost a gallon of whey, which I can use for soaking my bread, making sauerkraut and pickles, and multiple other uses, and produced almost a pound of ricotta cheese (details on that here). Not bad for under $15!
So, this costs more than conventional cheese, but not outrageously so, and costs less than half the retail cost of raw cheese.
All in all, it was a successful venture!
I've had store-bought raw cheese in the past and know that the taste is light years ahead of any cheese in the local grocery store. I have no doubt that ours will be delicious too...and the health benefits unsurpassed. Our hope is to begin making enough cheese to supply at least half, if not more, of our cheese needs. We have supplies and directions to make cheddar, mozzarella, monterey jack, cottage cheese, gouda, and colby.
Nothing gives me more satisfaction than providing healthy, delicious, real food for my family!
I'll be sure to report back in 7 weeks or so with taste test results!
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