Who loves cheese? Well, being a self-confessed curd nerd, I certainly can’t get enough of making this amazing food. Not only do I love making my own cheese, but I also enjoy sharing my creations with family and friends whenever I get the chance.
So, as I am new here, please join me fortnightly as I share cheese making recipes, tips, and video tutorials about the art of making cheese at home.
I have produced cheese as a hobby regularly since 2009, so I thought it would be practical to share with some valuable tips that I have learnt along the way in my first post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
These five cheese making tips have served me well during my journey!
Tip #1 - Cleanliness
Firstly and most importantly is cleanliness. The area that you intend on making your cheese, and your tools that you make your cheese with, must be spotlessly clean and sanitized. I cannot stress this point enough.
Some people use bleach to clean their surfaces and utensils, but I prefer vinegar and bicarbonate soda, and to boil all the utensils for 15 minutes. It doesn't take long, and this is one of the first things I teach everyone in my cheese making classes.
I spray all surfaces with white vinegar, including the utensils that I can't boil to sterilize, and let them dry naturally. This kills any wild mold spores that can inoculate your cheese unintentionally. I even spray my hands with vinegar and give them a good rub together every time I handle the cheese during the process to alleviate this problem. I have not had a problem with bad mold to date.
Tip #2 - Preparation
Have everything all prepared and laid out before you start, or, as the French say, Mise en place. When I am waiting for the 15-20 minutes for the pot, stainless steel utensils and cheese cloths to sterilize, I get a clean tea towel and lay it on the kitchen bench next to the stove top, ready to place all the tools on.
I select the recipe well in advance, and get out all the necessary ingredients and put them on the side ready to go. Cheese making requires un-chlorinated water for diluting some ingredients, so I have to pre-boil some rainwater from my rainwater tank and let it cool to room temperature. You could use bottled water, but I don’t due to environmental reasons. I pre-mix the diluted calcium chloride with this water, and do the same with the rennet.
Tip #3 - Plan Your Time
Although the process of cheese making is not particularly difficult, it can be time consuming. Ensure you take into account all factors involved in culturing the milk, renneting, stirring, milling, and pressing. If making a simple hard cheese, allow at least 4-5 hours to entirely finish the process. I make one cheese, Wensleydale, which takes over 9 hours from start to the final pressing! Mind you the final product is well worth the effort.
Tip #4 - Start Simply and Simply Start
Start off with a simple cheese to build your confidence.
Try an easy soft cheese, such as yoghurt cheese (or Labneh), which is basically putting 1 kg (2 lbs) of natural yoghurt into a cheesecloth and draining for a few hours, then gather into a ball and suspend over a large pot overnight in the fridge. Simple yet tasty, and you can mix in different flavors, either savory or sweet to liven it up as a dip.
Ricotta is another easy cheese to make. Take 4 litres (4 quarts) of whole milk, bring to about 93 degrees C (200 degrees F) and add 1/4 cup (67 ml) of white vinegar or lemon juice and stir. You will see the milk separate into curds and whey. Ladle into cheesecloth-lined colander to drain.
When cool to touch, tie the corners of the cloth into a bag and wrap the ends around a large wooden spoon and drain over a large pot. After a few hours of draining, you can add salt to taste and it will keep for about 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container. Great for lasagna and any other dish that requires a large amount of ricotta.
Simple successes give you the confidence to try something a little harder next time.
Tip #5 - Share Your Success
Don't forget to have fun and share the final product. I usually make my cheese on a Friday night, with a glass of wine to relax after a tough week at the office. I find it very therapeutic. I also enjoy breaking out a small cheese platter when friends drop by whereby sharing all the different tastes. Most say I should sell it at a local farmers market, but I think it would spoil the fun of the hobby.
Some of my friends have never heard of most of the cheese types that I make, because the main cheese consumed in Australia is cheddar or processed cheese slices. I love the variety that home make cheese making gives you.
Who would believe that you can make so many different types of cheese with plain old milk? After all, it is milk’s immortal leap. Cheese making is great fun, so why not give it a go? But remember the most important curd nerd rule: Keep calm and make cheese!
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