They say this cheddar gets better with age. I don’t know about that because we ate it fresh. 😉 For those of you without a cheese press, you can eat the curds fresh and un-pressed!
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Adapted from The Cheesemaker’s Manual.
1 gallon of milk makes approximately 1 pound of cheese.
- stainless steel pot(s)
- additional pot for water bath (helpful in winter)
- thermometer, plus one more for the additional pot (if using)
- cheese press
- slotted spoon
- long knife
- Put the milk in the pot and slowly warm it to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. Keep it covered to preserve heat. This sometimes takes several hours for me, because if I turn the heat up, it can go over temperature quickly. So I prefer to be patient. (See Picture 1, below.)
- Sprinkle the mesophilic culture on top of the milk.
- Stir in very well.
- Cover and allow to culture for 45 minutes to 1 hour, keeping the temperature at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer, the burner can be off and I will put a bath towel over the pot and it stays at temperature just fine.
- Meanwhile, dissolve the rennet in about ¼ cup of water. Set aside.
- After the 45 minute culturing (ripening), pour the water-rennet mix into the milk, and stir well.
- Cover the pot again and allow the milk to set for 30 to 45 minutes, until a firm curd forms. When you cut into it with a knife, it makes what is called a “clean break” — the curd splits where it is cut and the whey pours into the crack. You know it when you see it. Here’s a picture of “clean break.”
- Then cut the curd into ½ inch cubes. Many books give precise ways to make cuts and achieve this, but I don’t think we need to be so scientific about it. Click here to read some good basic directions for making those cuts. (See Picture 2, below.)
- Be very gentle with the curds at this point. In fact, after cutting them, just let them sit for 5 minutes, undisturbed. Keep the cover on to keep them warm.
- Then turn on the burner (if it isn’t on already) and heat the curds to 102 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of 40 minutes or so.
- During this time, stir gently every 5 or 10 minutes to keep the curds from sticking and make them smaller.
- Keep the curds at 102 degrees Fahrenheit for an additional 30 minutes.
- Stir occasionally. At this point they should be more firm, even a bit stretchy. Lots of whey will be accumulating in the pot, and the volume of curds much less. If you press some of the curds together in your hand, they’ll want to hold together. This is somewhat of a texture test, and more details about it are in The Cheesemaker’s Manual.
- Let the curds settle at the bottom of the pot.
- Pour off a bunch of the whey (about ⅔ of it, more or less) into another pot or container. You can keep this raw, cultured whey for lacto-ferments or soaking where a stronger flavor works well (such as veggie ferments).
- Then transfer the curds to a colander, leaving the rest of the ⅓ of whey in the pot.
- Put the colander to nest inside the pot, so the curds are suspended over the warm whey. This begins the “cheddaring process” which gives the cheese its squeaky texture. (It really does squeak after this!) (See Picture 3, below.)
- Let the curds drain for about an hour.
- Cover the colander with a piece of cheesecloth and the pot lid.
- Keep the burner on low if necessary to keep the whey warm.
- During this hour, turn the slab of curds over a few times to make sure they’re draining well. (See Picture 4, below.)
- Take the slab of curds out of the colander, put it on a cutting surface, and then cut it into chunks. (See Picture 5, below.)
- Then cut the chunks into slices.
- Put them in a bowl and toss them with 1 to 2 tablespoons of fine sea salt. Do it to taste, but remember that some of the salt will leave with the whey that gets pressed out. So it is good to actually oversalt a bit here for good flavor. (See Picture 6, below.)
- According to The Cheesemaker’s Manual, the curds can be eaten fresh here — fresh and wet. And they’re delicious, I’m telling you! Or you can continue on with the pressing.
- Line the press mold with cheesecloth — could be the same piece that covered the curds during the cheddaring process.
- Fill the mold with the slices of curd. (See Picture 7, below.)
- Using your press’s setup (follower, etc.), press the cheese at 10 to 15 pounds for about half an hour.
- If the pressure loosens during this time, tighten it up again.
- Take the cheese out of the mold, turn it over, and put it back in the mold (cheesecloth and all). This makes it pretty on top and bottom.
- You’ll need a tray to catch the whey that drains during the pressing. (See Picture 8. below.)
- Continue pressing overnight (or 12 to 15 hours) with continual pressure, working it up to 35 to 45 pounds for the duration.
- Once again, check frequently if the pressure loosens and adjust the press as necessary. What happens is the cheese gets smaller and shorter, but the press stays in the same position — thus the pressure on the cheese gets relieved, and we need to come in and tighten it up again. Not all presses work like this, but mine does.
- Take the cheese out of the mold. (See Picture 9, below.)
- Air dry it at room temperature for a few hours or overnight.
- Eat fresh, or age for a week or two in the refrigerator.
- Wax it for longer aging.
- Mild cheddar develops in about 4 weeks, medium in about 2 to 3 months, and sharp in 6 months or more. Allow longer aging times for cheeses made from pasteurized milk (another reason raw is better!).
Picture 1: Put the milk in the pot and slowly warm it to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
Picture 2: Cut the curd into 1/2-inch cubes. Click here to read some good basic directions for making those cuts.
Picture 3: Transfer the curds to a colander and nest inside the pot still full of warm whey. This begins the “cheddaring process” which gives the cheese its squeaky texture. (It really does squeak after this!)
Picture 4: During this hour, turn the slab of curds over a few times to make sure they’re draining well.
Picture 5: Take the slab of curds out of the colander, put it on a cutting surface, and cut it into chunks.
Picture 6: Cut the chunks into slices, and toss with 1 or 2 tablespoons of fine sea salt. According to The Cheesemaker’s Manual, the curds can be eaten fresh here — fresh and wet. And they’re delicious, I’m telling you! Or you can continue on with the pressing.
Picture 7: Line the press mold with cheesecloth — could be the same piece that covered the curds during the cheddaring process. Fill the mold with the slices of curd.
Picture 8: You’ll need a tray to catch the whey that drains during the pressing stage.
Picture 9: Take the cheese out of the mold, and age or eat fresh!
Enjoy! We make this cheese and other cultured dairy foods in the Cultured Dairy & Basic Cheese eCourse. You get video demonstrations and print tutorials to guide your mastery of yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and some great basic cheeses.
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