Cheesemaking Trials

Reader Contribution by Ilene White-Freedman
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I pulled two gallons of goat milk out of the deep freezer with cheddar cheese on my mind. It’s winter and I have time to dedicate a day to cheesemaking. I milk a goat from May to October. I have enjoyed making easy goat milk products — yogurt and chevre. This spring I may have two goats to milk, so I want to be prepared with extra ways to use the milk. I want to try out cheddar, feta, soft cheese and mozzarella. This begins my cheesemaking trials.

During the busy farming season I froze extra milk, preparing for this day. I spent all day heating to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, add enzyme, let it sit. Add rennet, let it sit. Cut curd, let it sit. I liked this one: Raise the temperature of the curds slowly, increasing temperature no more than two degrees every five minutes. Maintain 95 degrees, letting it sit. Fill the plastic mold with the curds and press for 15 minutes at twenty pounds pressure; an hour at thirty pounds pressure; 12 hours at fifty pounds pressure, gently peeling off the cheesecloth and flipping the cheese in between each. Amazingly, at the end of the day, I had two pounds of pressed curds that looked impressively cheese-like. My little cheddar in the making.

Cheesemaking seems like magic. I know it is a science and an art.

My friend Leah said she made a cheddar that tasted like nothing. I’m aware of this possibility, as my cheese sits in waiting of transformation. As Leah shared more, I felt reassured that I had followed the recipe more carefully than she had. I said I set the timer for five minute increments to ensure that I increased the temperature of the curds by no more than two degrees every five minutes. She laughed and said, “Oh, no, I ran out and fed the horses and came back in and checked the temperature.” We agreed that temperature and timing matter in cheesemaking. Cheesemaking is for those who are willing to attend to the details. Here’s how I know that: there are over 600 different kinds of cheeses in France and they are all made of milk and enzymes. What’s the difference between them? A few degrees here, a little extra time there, this much pressure for that long, and then at that pressure for this long. The nuances of time, temperature, and pressure are the variations that make a cheddar a cheddar, and a provolone a provolone. Sometimes there is a different enzyme involved, or waxing or spraying mold, but generally these nuances of time, temperature, and pressure make a cheese a cheese. The details matter.

My little cheddar sat on the counter for a few days, getting a salty rub down each morning. Then my son and I melted some beeswax and painted several thin layers of wax on the cheese so it doesn’t dry out. Now it is sitting for 4-12 weeks in a space that is 50-55 degrees. Lucky for me, I have a second-hand mini frig that I acquired for this very reason. I usually fill it with extra jars of yogurt and fermented vegetables. Today it holds my little cheddar, aging its way to cheesiness.


My little cheddar sits like nobility, a cheese in a chamber. At my house there is much rejoicing that it stayed in cheese-like shape and didn’t collapse into a puddle. Nobody’s tasted the cheese yet, there are weeks to wait before we can call this first attempt a cheese, and yet…today, my son said: “We can have one day a week that is a designated cheese making day. OK maybe every other week.” And my brother: “You can make it in those huge rounds like the parmesan at the co-op.” And my husband: “We can look at how the Amish do larger batches when we are at the farming conference.” Everyone’s brimming with anticipation. There is a lot of hope and project and excitement pressed into this little cheddar. Sure hope it doesn’t taste like pressed spoiled milk in a few months.

To learn much more about cheesemaking, join me in learning from the many useful posts on MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ website. Searching “cheese press” would be an excellent starting point.

I recommend Ricki Carroll’s website and books at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods. Currently accepting CSA members in Frederick, Maryland.

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