For as little as $15 you can assemble a homemade cheese press and enjoy a higher quality of fermented curd.
The completed homemade cheese press w/ PVC cylinder at left, platform and pressing blocks at center, and a block of pressed cheese at right.
I love making cheese at home and find the majority of store-bought varieties lacking in many respects. However, mass-manufactured cheese presses that remove the supermarket middleman can run you up to $100, taking much of the fun (and all of the cost savings) out of it. I happened upon a very simple homemade cheese press design a few years ago, which I put together for nothing. (If you have to buy the parts I had on hand, they will run you about $15.) Our source of pure milk is Daisy Mae, a holstein-jersey mix I received six years ago as partial payment for some carpentry work.
The first thing I did was to scrounge through my boxes and coffee cans for long bolts with nuts; these determine the height of the project. I came up with two bolts, 12" long with wing nuts, and a slightly longer section of 5/8" threaded rod with a nut. I did a little more digging and found a section of #4 threaded rod with a nut. I did yet more digging and found a 4" diameter PVC pipe that I cut to a length of 9". For the base I used a scrap of 3/4" plywood, 7 1/2" x 8 1/2" with the corners cut off, sort of an elongated hexagon. To this I added an X-brace underneath for support, and cemented plastic laminate to the top. I tacked a wooden molding around the perimeter to hide the edge of the plywood, but I've since found that that's not entirely necessary. You could even use the cutout section of countertop from a kitchen sink and save time.
The press screw nut is encased in the center of two 9" lengths of 1 x 2. Clamping the two boards together, mark the center and drill a hole through both pieces at once, the same time as the threaded rod, in my case 5/8". Partially thread the nut onto the bolt and slide it through the hole, trace the nut with a sharp pencil, turn the boards over and do the same on the flip side, being careful to align the nuts similarly (I found that a few parallel lines drawn on the boards help). Remove the clamps, and chisel out half of the thickness of the nut from each piece. When the two boards fit together without any gaps, I glued and screwed them together with the nut inside.
Centering this finished screw block along the longer dimension of the base, I marked, then drilled the two holes that hold it all together. Planning to use a 6" pipe if I can find a small section, my holes are 6 1/2" apart, using the encased nut as center. To turn the press screw, I ground a flat spot on one end of the threaded rod, then drilled a hole just slightly larger than a 30- penny spike, slid a nail through, and hammered the end until it wouldn't pull back out.
The round plug that does the pressing is 3/4" plywood and laminate with a 1 x 2 added on top. I used a countersink bit to provide a spot for the bolt. I cut the circle with a jigsaw and used a belt sander to smooth the rough edges. Using a chain saw file, I notched the ends of the PVC pipe for the whey to drain and assembled the finished press. Along with a 6" mold, I plan on making a fruit basket for it out of thin strips of wood and metal banding. I used vegetable shortening to finish the wooden parts of my press, which are black walnut. You could paint or polyurethane them. Including drying time, my press took three days to build, half of which was treasure hunting.
I'll let you know how the cheese tastes in about 60 days.
MOTHER gratefully acknowledges Keith and his family's help and photographic skill in the production of this article.
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