- 2 gallons whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon MA 4000 or 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk
- 1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride, diluted in 1/8 cup cool water (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon double-strength vegetarian rennet, diluted just before use in 1/8 cup cool, nonchlorinated water
- 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- Pour the milk into the 2-gallon pot, and place the pot over another pot of water on the stovetop. Heat the milk until the temperature reaches 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, sprinkle the culture on top of milk and let set for 3 to 5 minutes. Using the ladle, stir gently for 2 to 5 minutes.
- Keep the milk at 88 to 90 degrees, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes.
- Stir in the calcium chloride, if using, and let set for 5 minutes.
- Stir the milk using an up-and-down motion with the ladle. Stop stirring briefly and pour the diluted rennet over the top of the ladle, and then continue stirring for 1 minute. Hold the ladle to the top of the milk’s surface in several spots to help still it.
- Keep the milk at 88 to 90 degrees, and let the curd set until it breaks cleanly, about 45 minutes. Then, cut the curd mass into 3/8-inch cubes with a knife, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Heat the curds very gradually, stirring gently, to 102 degrees over 45 minutes. Keep the curds at 102 degrees and stir for 15 minutes. Let the curds settle for 15 to 30 minutes, and then scoop out the whey to 1 inch above the curds.
- Stir the curds and slowly add cold tap water (about 60 degrees) until the whey reaches 80 to 86 degrees. Maintain the temperature and stir for 15 minutes. Next, scoop out the whey to the level of curds, and stir for 10 minutes. Position the colander over another pot. Carefully pour the curds into the colander and let drain, reserving the whey. Set the colander over a pot of hot water and stir the curd with your hands for 20 minutes, keeping the curds at 80 to 86 degrees. Taste the curds; they should be sweet and mild.
- Sprinkle the curds with 1 teaspoon of salt and stir well; the whey coming from the curds will become milky-white. Cover the colander with the pot lid and let the curds set for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, stir again, and let the curds mellow for 5 to 10 more minutes.
- Place the form on a tray or drain board, dampen the cheesecloth with the reserved whey, and line the form with it. Fill the form with the curds, pressing and packing them in by hand. When all the curds are packed into the form, fold the cloth over the top, and place the follower on top.
- Place the form into the press. If your press has a screw with a pressure gauge, start with 10 pounds of pressure. If you’re using a strap press, apply pressure just until you see a bit of white whey coming from the bottom of the form. Press for 15 minutes, maintaining room temperature (68 to 72 degrees), if possible.
- Increase the pressure to 20 pounds or by tightening the strap until white whey again comes from the bottom of the form. Press for 15 minutes.
- Release the pressure and remove the follower. Remove the cheese from the form, unwrap it, and flip it over. Rearrange the cheesecloth in the form, and then replace the cheese, pressing the cloth into the form along with it; the rind should be knobby and you should still see the outline of all the curds, but the mass shouldn’t fall apart. If the mass starts to fall apart as you handle it, leave it in the form and increase the pressure for 15 more minutes before turning.
- Replace the follower and increase the pressure to 30 pounds or tighten the strap very firmly; there should be a lot of resistance from the cheese without a lot of white whey coming out. Press for 1 hour more.
- Repeat the steps again; the rind should be closing nicely with only small outlines of the curd.
- Rewrap the cheese and place it in the press. Insert the follower and increase the pressure to 50 pounds or tighten the strap about as tight as you can get it and press for 12 hours or overnight.
- Age, vacuum-sealed or with a natural rind, for 2 to 3 months.
Colby is a mild, friendly cheese that doesn’t need to age for long to be good. It involves a step called “washing the curd” that will add to your toolkit of cheesemaker skills. Time: 3-1⁄2 hours, plus 12 hours inactive, and 2 to 4 months aging.
- 2-gallon pot, and a pot that will hold it
- Pot with lid
- Tray or drain board
- Cheese press and form
- 1-gallon vacuum-sealable bag and vacuum sealer (optional)