Dairy and Eggs


Cheesemaking Tools from Gianaclis Caldwell's "Mastering Basic Cheesemaking"

If you are thinking of starting to make your own cheese, then you will need to be familiar with the tools of the trade. This excerpt from Gianaclis Caldwell’s latest book, Mastering Basic Cheesemaking, explains the functions of the tools a beginner cheesemaker needs in order to make their fromage foray.


A stainless steel screw press with pressure gauge.
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Presses

Very few cheese types need the extreme pressure that a mechanical press provides. Most cheeses can be made by using other weights, such as water jugs or barbells. A cheese only needs as much weight as it takes to press the rind closed and tighten the paste (as the interior of the cheese is called) to the desired texture. If the curd is salted before it goes into the press, as with cheddar  and some other cheese types, then the tremendous force of a mechanical press is required in order to get the curd to knit back together. Similarly, curd that is very dry by the end of the process, such as with Parmesan-type cheeses, will likely need a mechanical press. Small screw-type presses that will make about a five-pound wheel of cheese can be purchased from a cheesemaking supply company. They are relatively expensive.


A ratcheting strap press can be made for under $10.00 and will work with any straight-sided cheese form and follower. Pictured here with a large tomme form capable of making an 8 lb (4 kg) cheese.
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Mats and Racks

Mats and racks are needed to set draining and drying cheeses on. They allow for air circulation around the cheese and let any dripping moisture fall away from the cheese. Cheese mats are made of food-grade plastic and look almost identical to plastic cross-stitch mats (available in craft stores). In fact, I know several commercial cheesemakers that use these craft store mats with no problem. Plastic sushi mats are another nice option. Stainless steel or coated cooling racks (also known as baker’s racks) are great to place underneath the plastic cheese mats to help increase drainage and airflow.


A cheese air drying (top right) and others aging vacuum sealed in Canadian cheesemaker Ian Treuer’s home aging unit. For more visit Much To Do About Cheese.
Photo by Ian Treuer

Trays and Tubs

During draining and pressing, you may need a tray to collect or divert the whey that is pressed out of the cheese form so that it does not pool around the base of the cheese. A glass baking dish, sink drainboard, or a tray will all work fine for the job. For some cheeses that we will make later, you will need a good-sized plastic food tub with a lid to hold the cheese during brine salting or drying. If you don’t mind working with a bit of harmless mold, cheeses can be aged in a plastic tub or a bag to create a natural rind and more distinctive flavor. The tub will help keep the humidity high enough around the cheese so that it doesn’t dry out. This method of aging requires quite a bit more vigilance and work on your part than when the cheeses are aged in a vacuum-sealed bag. We’ll cover the techniques for aging in more detail in chapter 8.

Vacuum Sealing Equipment

A vacuum sealer is handy for storing and aging cheese. Any home-quality vacuum sealer can be used as long as the bags that fit it are large enough to hold your cheese wheels. If possible, choose a sealer that will put a double seal on the bag, or seal it double in two steps. For small wheels, I like to use the resealable zipper-lock type vacuum bags and the handheld vacuum pump that works with them. They have the advantage of being reusable, but the size choices are more limited.


Cheese professional and home cheesemaker Gisela Claassen vacuum seals her original bourbon cheddar.
Photo by Arne Claassen

Aging Spaces

Cheeses can be aged at home in the refrigerator or in a wine/beverage cooler. Refrigerator temperatures range from 40 degrees (4.4 degrees C) to just above freezing at 33 degrees (0.5 degrees C). Even within the unit, the temperature can vary. All cheeses will age, as long as they aren’t freezing, but generally do best between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees C) and 55 degrees (12 degrees C). Wine/beverage coolers are designed to keep things at a very cheese-aging-friendly temperature, so if you can get one of these units, your cheeses will thank you. If not, go ahead and use whatever fridge you can — it will still work!

Preparing Cheesemaking Tools

The equipment preparation for all cheeses is similar, so we’ll cover it just once. I won’t include this very repetitive process in the recipes, but you should follow it every time you make cheese. When I work in our licensed creamery, I use a lot of hot water, a lot of cleaning solutions, and a lot of elbow grease. I also wear scrubs, a hair cover, gloves, and boots that are only used in the creamery. When I make cheese in our home kitchen, I am pretty relaxed by comparison. Cheesemaking equipment should be very clean, of course, but I don’t keep a sink filled with bleach and water ready to rinse and re-sanitize all of the tools and my hands.

A thorough hand washing and vigorous scrubbing with dish soap of all of your equipment will remove almost 100 percent of any dirt, residue, or microbes of concern. After each cheesemaking session and wash-up, be sure to allow everything to air dry thoroughly. Bacteria need moisture to grow, so keeping equipment dry between uses is a great way to prevent contamination. An automatic dishwasher can be used to clean equipment instead of hand washing it. Before use, it is a good idea to rewash anything that has not been used and washed in some time, say a week or so. If you are going to use it right away, you don’t have to let it air dry. You can sanitize your equipment just before use if desired. For the home cheese kitchen, my favorite sanitizer is boiling hot water. You can fill or partially fill your main cheese pot with water, bring it to a boil, then dip all of your tools into the water. Pour a bit of the water over a tray and lay your tools on this tray. Use the same hot water to rinse your already-clean forms and cheesecloth as well. If you are going to use them immediately, they don’t need to air dry.

Mascarpone Recipe

 Mascarpone With Fruit

 Mascarpone, the rich and creamy Italian fresh cheese, is superb with fruit.

Photo by Tim Nauman

Simple and requiring no cultures, mascarpone starts with cream rather than milk, and needs a full day’s or night’s draining to be ready to eat. Similar to cream cheese, mascarpone’s richness lends itself to sweet preparations, such as the Italian pick-me-up tiramisu. It’s also good in savory preparations and with fruit. The finished cheese can be soft and creamy or crumbly, depending on how long you let it drain. Tartaric acid is not the same as cream of tartar and the two are not interchangeable; tartaric acid is available from winemaking and brewing stores. Yield: about 1 pound.

Mascarpone Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart cream (light or heavy); see note later in this article
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp tartaric acid dissolved in 1 tsp cool water (or use 1 to 2 tbsp lemon juice)

Instructions:

  1. Heat cream. In a heavy-bottom, nonreactive pot, heat the milk over medium-low to 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir continuously to prevent scorching. Remove cream from heat and stir for a couple of minutes to cool (to about 190 degrees).
  2. Acidify milk. Milk separates into curds and whey when it is acidified. The warmer the milk, the less acidic it will need to be to separate. When the milk has reached the proper temperature, remove the milk from the heat and add tartaric acid or lemon juice and stir. Let sit at room temperature until a uniform mass of curd has pulled away from the side of the pot and there is a clear layer of whey over the top. When curds have separated from mostly clear whey, leave the pot alone for 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Drain curds. Line a colander with damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl or in the sink. Ladle curds into the cloaked colander to drain for about 12 hours. After the initial draining, you may salt the cheese by sprinkling salt over the curds and stirring to distribute.
  4. Store cheese. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Note: To make a quart of light cream (25 percent butterfat), combine 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream with 2 cups half-and-half.

Interested in other homemade cheese recipes?

Fromage Blanc Recipe

 Chevre With Bread and Fruit

Roll logs of chevre (made from goat's milk) and fromage blanc (made from cow's milk) in herbs to serve with bread and fruit.

Photo by Tim Nauman

Creating fromage blanc or chèvre requires purchasing a direct-set culture (see Cheesemaking Supplies, following the recipe), and both cheeses will need about 2 days lead time before they will be ready to eat. If you use goat’s milk, you’ll have chèvre; cow’s milk will make fromage blanc. The texture of either ranges from creamy to crumbly; draining longer makes a more crumbly cheese. Yield: about 1-1/2 pounds.

Fromage Blanc Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon goat’s milk or cow’s milk
  • 1 packet direct-set fromage blanc or chèvre culture (or 1/4 tsp mesophilic culture plus 1 drop liquid rennet diluted in 1 tbsp cool water)
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Heat milk. In a heavy-bottom, nonreactive pot, heat the milk over medium-low to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir continuously to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.
  2. Acidify milk. Milk separates into curds and whey when it is acidified. The warmer the milk, the less acidic it will need to be to separate. When the milk has reached the proper temperature, remove the milk from the heat and add the recipe’s specified acid or bacterial culture that produces its own acid. If the recipe calls for a powdered bacterial culture, sprinkle it over the milk and leave the mixture alone for a minute before beginning to stir gently and continuously for a few minutes. Leave the pot alone for 10 to 20 minutes before draining. Sprinkle the culture over the milk and leave the mixture alone for a minute before beginning to stir gently and continuously for a few minutes. Let sit at room temperature until a uniform mass of curd has pulled away from the side of the pot and there is a clear layer of whey over the top.
  3. Drain curds. Line a colander with damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl or in the sink. Ladle curds into the cloaked colander to drain for 30 minutes. After the initial draining, you may salt the cheese by sprinkling salt over the curds and stirring to distribute.
  4. Let curds stand about 30 minutes, then sprinkle salt (if desired) over the surface and stir to distribute. To hang the cheese to drain, tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot (or use a rubber band) and hang the cheese over the sink or a bowl to catch the whey. Hang and drain the cheese for 6 to 12 hours at room temperature, or shape the cheese (see next step).
  5. Optional: Shape cheese. Spoon the curd into perforated cheese forms after it has drained in a colander for 30 minutes. Allow forms to drain on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet for 6 to 12 hours. Shaped cheeses may then be rolled in spices or herbs before serving.
  6. Store cheese. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 weeks. Because you added a bacterial culture, the cheese’s flavor will develop over the first few days of refrigerator aging. You can freeze the cheese for up to 6 months. If freezing, do not salt in step 3; rather, season the thawed cheese before serving.

Interested in other homemade cheese recipes?


Cheesemaking Supplies

You’ll find cultures, cheesecloth, thermometers and other cheese-crafting necessities at the following mail-order companies.

Kefir Grains for Cheesemaking and Fermentation (with Recipe)

Homemade Kefir Probiotic

Kefir (rhymes with deer) is a traditional yogurt culture from Central Asia. Often described as a fermented milk, kefir is a flavorful, drinkable and slightly effervescent yogurt.

Kefir, though, is made somewhat differently than the yogurt most of us are familiar with. Like yogurt, kefir is made by adding culture to milk and encouraging a fermentation that sours the milk and thickens it into kefir. But unlike yogurt, when kefir is ready, the kefir culture is taken out!

Kefir is not one single bacterial culture, but a community of diverse species of bacteria and fungi that live together in kefir grains. A Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeasts (SCOBY), kefir grains are known to contain dozens of bacterial and fungal cultures, each species playing a different role in the community, and all of the cultures together transform milk into kefir.

Many of kefir’s cultures are closely related to those found in both raw milk and our digestive tracts, making kefir an excellent probiotic, as well as a superb source of culture for cheesemaking.

Where to Find Kefir Grains

Kefir grains are easy to find, and, if well taken care of, they will provide beneficial cultures for life. Numerous vendors sell them online including Cultures for Health, Yeemoos and GEM cultures.

Alternatively, you can often find them in your community or on Craigslist, Etsy and E-bay.

Kefir Grains: A History

Kefir culture has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. All kefir grains that exist today are descendants of the original grains discovered in Central Asia countless generations ago. (Kefir’s millennia-old cultural lineage puts 100-year-old sourdough starters to shame!)

Kefir’s culture is intertwined with the nomadic culture of Central Asia’s high steppes. Stories from European travelers passing through the area described the traditional practice of keeping kefir as a continual fermentation of sheep or mare’s milk inside a dried sheep’s stomach, hung from the rafters of a yurt, from which kefir would be occasionally drunk.

Kefir likely helped these nomadic people drink the milk of their recently domesticated sheep, goats, and horses. Many residents of Central Asia are lactose-intolerant as adults, and kefir, with significantly less lactose than fresh milk as a result of its fermentation, would have been much more easily digested. The kefir fermentation would have also helped preserve the milk by limiting the growth of unwanted microorganisms.

It is not known how kefir grains came to be — more is known about the origin of the universe than the origin of the kefir! Given, however, that their microbiological profile is very similar to that of raw milk, and considering that the traditional practice of keeping kefir involved a continuous fermentation of raw milk, it is most probable that this multicultural organism evolved from the diverse cultures of raw milk.

Kefir and Cheesemaking

Kefir may be the perfect cheesemaking culture. It’s a biodiverse culture that is very easy to care for, simple to use, and nearly impossible to contaminate. The process of keeping kefir and using it for making cheese is similar to that for keeping sourdough starter for baking bread.

Every cheese can be made with kefir as a starter culture. It is a universal starter, containing both mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria that are adaptable to cheesemaking in any conditions.

Kefir also serves as a source of bacteria for aging cheeses: Kefir contains bacterial species that feed on the products left behind by lactic-acid bacteria. Kefir culture can therefore provide successions of ripening bacteria to any aged cheese.

Cheeses made with kefir as a starter do not taste of kefir — their flavor is akin to traditionally made raw milk cheeses, as the community of microorganisms in kefir is very similar to the community of microorganisms in raw milk.

Homemade Kefir as Part of a Daily Routine

To make kefir, simply place kefir grains in milk. Left at room temperature, the grains will ferment the milk and thicken it into kefir in about 1 day. The grains can then be strained out and placed once again in fresh milk, and the process repeated.

The making of kefir can take on a rhythmic nature: Because it takes kefir one full day to ferment, kefir-making can fit into a daily routine. If you feed kefir grains milk in the morning, by the next morning the kefir will be ready. Every day you can drink the previous day’s kefir while you make preparations for the next day’s.

Recipe for Homemade Kefir

I give my kefir grains as much milk as I wish to drink as kefir the next day. If I want to have a cup of kefir, I’ll give my kefir grains a cup of milk. And I will keep only the appropriate amount of kefir grains to ferment that cup of milk — between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon. Any more, and the kefir will ferment too quickly; any less, and the kefir will ferment too slowly (wild microorganisms may dominate, and the kefir may taste odd).

If you’re making more kefir, add at least 1 tablespoon and no more than ¼ cup of grains per quart of milk. Kefir grains grow as you feed them, so be sure to share excess grains with your friends.

I prefer to give my kefir grains a daily feeding to keep them active. But kefir can also be made in a larger quantity just once a week, and the kefir grains refrigerated in between feedings. However, kefir grains prefer to be fed regularly; keeping them in the fridge slows them down, and makes their first fermentation a bit unpredictable.

Kefir is excellent on its own, with a dash of salt added, or with a bit of honey, maple syrup or fruit preserves mixed in before or after fermentation.  One of my favorite additions is fresh cherries, which, if added to the milk before it ferments, become effervescent when the kefir is ready.

Yields 1 cup (240 mL) of kefir.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon active kefir grains
  • 1 cup (240 mL) milk

Equipment:

  • Bowl
  • Glass jar, with lid
  • Strainer

Time Frame:

Around 24 hours

Directions:

1. Feed the kefir grains: place 1 teaspoon of kefir grains in a jar, and pour the milk over them. Seal the jar tightly. Let the kefir grains ferment the milk for about 1 day until thick: leave the jar to ferment on the counter in the kitchen. There is no need to keep the fermenting milk either warm or cool — kefir grains like room temperature best. After a day, the kefir grains should thicken up the milk into kefir.

2. Strain out the kefir grains, and drink the kefir. You can use a steel or plastic strainer to strain the thickened kefir into a bowl below.

3. Rinse the kefir grains in cool water (if you so choose), and feed them again! The kefir can be eaten right away, or saved in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


David Asher is an organic farmer and cheesemaker, cheese educator, and cheese writer. He runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking and is the author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking.







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