It's Easy to Be Cheesy


Good things come in cheesy boxes

If you've read my blog before, the picture above will look familiar. That's because I wrote about how easy and fun it is to pair cheese and wine, and I referenced the Creamery In A Box Artisan Cheesemaking Kit and Master Vintner wines. 

He's the big cheese in the family

I've gotten a lot of feedback asking me about the cheesemaking process. I'll be the first to say though, that I'm a rank amateur as a cheesemaker. You want an expert, you have to go to Cousin Larry who is my Spirit Animal of cheesemaking. However, I do make cheese and I really enjoy the process--and the finished product. Last month I had a spare afternoon so I set about making a batch of Farmhouse Cheddar. 

You get a lot of stuff

I won't go over the complete process. The instructions that come with the kit are great--follow them and you can't go wrong. The high points are to sanitize everything like crazy. There are only three things that go wrong with cheesemaking: you forget an ingredient, the cheese is exposed to the wrong temperature, or it gets contaminated by spoilage organisms. Keep everything clean, including your hands and your work surfaces and anything else in the cheesemaking area (I typically wear a freshly laundered lab coat when I make cheese). After that, it's mainly heating up milk and adding things, then separating the curds and whey (you just recited that rhyme in your head, didn't you?) followed by salting, pressing and aging. 

Step One: Heating Milk and Adding Things

Mesophilic, the Greek word for 'liking the sub-atomic particle, meson'

This part involves heating the milk to very specific temperatures and adding Mesophilic starter culture, the stuff that makes cheddar taste like cheddar. Heated to between 88°and 92°F and held there for 45 minutes, the milk gets that good flavor start. 

After that you add calcium chloride (not enough calcium ions in milk to make a firm curd, gotta add a little more) and rennet, which contains chymosin a protease enzyme that curdles the casein in milk, making the curds. 

Another 45 minutes at temperature and your milk will look like soft tofu and it's time to do the Miss Muffet thing. 

Step Two: Being a Drip

I didn't take pictures of this section, because it's kind of dull. Plus, I forgot. First you strain the curds to separate a lot of the liquid, and then carefully wrap them in cheesecloth and hang up to drain for an hour. 

Bag o' cheese

Funny thing: I've used cheesecloth many times, both during my employment as a Chef de Partie in a French Brigade kitchen and afterwards, but it wasn't until last year that I actually used cheesecloth for . . . cheese. 

Step Three: Pressing Matters

After an hour you un-bag the cheese and knead in salt to taste. This is important, as it will inform the flavor of the finished cheese. After that, it's back into the cheesecloth for a careful wrap and then into your cheese press. 

NaCl, one of my favorite minerals

On to more pressing matters

The unit included in your Creamery In A Box Artisan Cheesemaking Kit is technically a mold not a press, since it doesn't include a screw or other apparatus to press down on the cheese. 

Actual cheese press

But that's okay: I have so many kitchen gadgets that I don't really need a real-life cheese press on the pile. The trick is to find a way to add weight to the top of the cheese mold and increase it over time, from ten pounds to 20, and then to 50. Here's my solution.

Pressing matters. Tomato sauce not related.

I placed the mold in my fermenting area and put a spacer on top of it, and then a carboy. I started off with 10 pints (five litres) of water ('A pint's a pound the world 'round'), then twenty, then a full 6 US gallons (23 litres) and got exactly the weight I needed, and since my fermentation area is actually a shower stall, I did the filling from a shower hose and the draining with an autosyphon, and never lifted anything heavy. 

After 12 hours I unwrapped the package and got this. 

Knitted up a treat

Step Four: Wax On

I set it in a cool, dry area to dry the outside for two days, and then it was time to wax. 

I am not a professional cheese waxer

Coating the outside of the cheese with melted beeswax not only controls moisture loss, it also prevents bacteria and mold from spoiling the cheese. I popped it into my wine cellar, which is at 55°F and has very stable humidity. 

Step Five: Wax Off

After a month, it was time for a reveal and a taste. 

Can't decide if it's a cheese or a melanin-deficient hockey puck

The month I aged the cheese made me realize that there's a lot of similarity between winemaking and cheesemaking: you do your best with good ingredients, take care to shepherd them through a process that transforms them, and then it's all about waiting until they're ready. It's a cool parallel. 

It's alive!

The flavor was exactly that of a young farmhouse cheese: mild, very slightly nutty and with a pleasant, subtle tartness. If I make this again I'm going to add more salt, as I think it would have set off the young cheese better--it was really good anyway. The next step was to use some in cooking, and lucky for me it was burger night. 


The cheese melted great, and kept it's texture without getting runny. It was just great on burgers, and of course, with cheese you have to have an appropriate beverage

Beer, Czech! 

Next up in The Adventures of Cheeseman, I'm going to make another cheddar and age this one for a year. After that, probably a batch of mozzarella so I can make lasagna with it, and then I'm going to need some goat cheese for patio weather . . . 

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