Cheddar cheese! No whey! Yes whey! Part I

I posted last week about a mozzarella I made with Junket rennet and homogenized milk from the grocery store. This time I decided to take the plunge into making a hard cheese. The recipe I followed actually comes with the Junket rennet and it’s quite easy to follow, but there are quite a few opportunities to cock it all up.

Timing and temperature. The two most important things when you’re making cheese. Poor timing: starting at 6am before work. To start the whole process, you have to warm 4L of milk to 20°C very slowly. When you’re trying to get ready for work, feed chickens, and keep a crying cat who can smell the dairy in the air back, it can feel a little rushed. One wrong move and the cat is swimming in a vat of warm milk, and you have to tip it all down the sink (put the strainer in to avoid clogging the sink with your feline saboteur).

The chickens are eating and the cat has turned her attention to fluff on the floor, so now is the perfect time to inoculate the milk. For this recipe, the bacterial that will start to multiply in the milk and give it its flavour, is from active culture buttermilk. 1/4 cup is enough to inoculate the whole batch. The only problem lies with what to do with the remaining near litre of buttermilk. “Make buttermilk pancakes!” you say. We did. Revolting.

So back to the cheese. Warm milk, buttermilk added, lid on, warm place for 12 hours. Go to work, get home and move onto the next phase: forming curds. At this point, the inoculated mix smells just like a mild cheddar and it starts to get exciting!

Note how nothing is happening, but it smells delicious:

The milk has to be warmed to 30°C slowly and a half tablet of rennet that was dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water is stirred in. Lid back on, off the heat, wait for coagulation. The instructions say one hour until you get a clean break (curd formation) but my milk didn’t feel like following instructions. Instead, I waited 4 hours (one of which went by quickly by watching an episode of Edwardian Farm). It’s now 23.15 and I want to go to bed. The milk decides your bedtime in cheese making, and last night it wasn’t feeling sleepy at all.

Once the clean break is achieved, you have to cut the curd into cubes with a clean knife and then place it back on the heat:

Slowly pulling the curds up from the bottom of the pan with a very clean hand, you’ll eventually heat up to 39°C and hold the temperature for a few minutes. This sets the curds, and by setting at a higher temperature, a harder cheese will form, hopefully.

It’s now midnight and you have to scramble to clean everything, boil the cheese cloth for sterilization purposes, set up the press, and keep the cat, whose interest in the fluff has waned again, back.

Line the dollar store tupperware mold with cheese cloth, strain the whey from the curds, add curds to mold, nest the matching tupperware container on top of the cheese, and press. This is when you start to get really annoyed. You realize your table isn’t level, and the whey is dripping on the carpet. Somehow, from the other side of the door, the cat has sensed the spill and is crying while bashing the door in. A wooden spoon and some cardboard help level the device off, and the whey starts to flow into the waste pan.

The weight on the end of the press is a 1 gallon jug of water, which, through the lever, creates quite a bit of pressure on the mold. After sleeping and going to work, I removed the cheese. Unbelievably, it looks like a cheese!

I cut the extra bits off to create a level top to make waxing easier in a few weeks. With a healthy helping of non-iodized sea salt, I rubbed the outside before wrapping it in a sterilized tea towel, and placed it in the fridge to let it age.

Over the next week or so I’ll replace the tea towel with a new one every day. A rind should, fingers crossed, form and then I’ll post more pictures, including the waxing process.

If you have some extra milk, like having your life controlled by the aforementioned dairy product, you should have a go at making some cheese. I’d recommend adding sedatives to the cat’s food first.

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