25 February 2012

Homemade Cheddar

Homemade is always better.  Always.  Period.  You know exactly what is in it, and you know exactly how it was made.  Some things, like bread, are pretty easy to make at home.  And some things seem a little more daunting.  Don't be scared.  Cheese is much easier than you think.
There are three basic things that you need.  One is a double boiler.  The second is milk.  The other is rennet (or another coagulant).  I can see I lost you with that third thing.  Well, you can find rennet online or at some homebrew stores.  If you live in a real city, it should be easy to find.  If you live in the country, the best thing to do is find someone who makes cheese and ask them for a teaspoon or so of their rennet.

I don't have a double boiler, so I rigged a pot and my canner (and hockey laces - they are strong and long).  I am not using the laces to elevate the pot; there is a trivet in my canner.  I am using the laces to lift the pot out of the canner.

Step 1:  Sour the milk.  Bring a gallon milk up to 90*F in the double boiler.  Once it gets to 90*, add mesophilic powder (half a packet per gallon of milk).  If you don't have mesophilic powder, buttermilk or yogurt will have the cultures necessary to sour the milk.  Ask the internet.  Hold your milk at 90* for half an hour.

Step 2:  Coagulate the milk.  Dilute a teaspoon rennet in a little bit of your purest water, then stir it into the milk for about five minutes to ensure even mixing.  Once mixed, leave for 45 minutes (still at 90*) until you get a "clean break" - when you stick your finger in it, the white stuff breaks and whey fills the hole (if a milky colored substance fills the hole, you need to give it more time.) 

Step 3:  Cut it into curds.  After you achieve the "clean break," use a knife to cut the curds.  Make sure to cut all the way down to the bottom of the pot, slicing every 1/4 inch.
Let the curds set for 15 minutes to let them "heal" (still at 90*F).

Step 4:  Heat it up to 100*F slowly over the course of 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Maintain 100* for 30 minutes, while continuing to stir.
Step 5:  Drain the whey.  Let the curds rest for about 5 minutes then drain in a colander.  This step separates the curds from the whey.  Don't throw away the whey!  It is still useful for many things.
Step 6:  Put the curds back in the pot, and keep them at 100* for an hour.  This will cause more whey to leach out.  At this point, mine looked like little cauliflower heads.  I'm not sure if I should have broken them up into smaller curds or not.  Also I was supposed to add salt and I didn't do that.  Whoops.
Step 7:  Press the cheese.  If you're making your first cheese and you don't want to put a lot of money into it yet, this is the step where you'll need to get creative. 

Start by draining out the whey.  Ideally you have cheesecloth that you can put the curds in, if not, this is your first cheese.  Make it work, people.  Maybe you have a sterile pillow case.  I don't know.
To make cheddar, here are the times and weights you need:
15 lbs for 10 minutes (take cheese out and redress it)
30 lbs for 10 minutes (take cheese out and redress it)
40 lbs for 2 hours (take cheese out and redress it)
50 lbs for 24 hours (take cheese out)

I figure, worst case scenario, you can tie your clothed cheese into a little package and throw some books on top of it.  I, on the other hand, got a homemade cheese press for my birthday (I consider this to be the better option).
So here is where I am pushing the cheese into a 4" tube.  It has a plunger to follow after the cheese.  Then after that, a flat surface is put on top, and books are piled on top of that surface.  There is just tin foil to aid with drainage, but we didn't really get any more whey draining off.
Every time I redressed the cheese I also flipped it.  While you have your 2 hour / 40 lb press going, you can use the whey to make ricotta  (look for this post early next week).

Step 8:  Let the rind form.  This part is so easy.  Just let the cheese sit out on the counter for 2 - 5 days, and flip it once a day.  I loosely draped cheesecloth over mine to keep out any dust.
Step 9:  Wax it.  I've posted about this before, so I'm not going into too many details.  I now have a dedicated wax pot, and I put about 2-3 layers of wax on the cheese wheel.  You really should use cheese wax, but if this is your first cheese, throw caution to the wind.  Use paraffin.  Or wrap it in plastic wrap.
Step 10:  Whew!  You still with me?  I didn't say it was a fast process.  I just said it wasn't as hard as you thought it was.  Take your waxed wheel and keep it in a 55*F environment.  Flip it once a day for a month, then after that you can get away with flipping it once a week. 
Step 11:  Age for 3-5 months.  Then eat it.  Tasty, tasty cheese. 

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