Sunday, September 4, 2011

How difficult is it to make your own cheese?

For some reason I have more than one friend who is obsessed with fermentation. It is sort of the most scientific of the culinary arts, so I shouldn't be surprised. Since my friend here in Austin is more advanced in the achievement of fermented food than the one over in South Carolina I decided to documented the cheesemaking process to encourage Meg to stop just letting milk go sour in the garage and get the other ingredients to make actual cheese.

I'm going to gloss over the part about making the molds for draining the cheese. My Austin friend already made these out of 3" PVC pipe painstakingly drilled. He didn't know there is a special tool for deburring the holes. So Meg, if you make some of these, get a deburring bit and make your life easier. The other specialty item you need to get ahead of time is some of that plastic mesh made for cross stitching crafters. (Never use this for cross stitch. Hideous.)

It takes about 4 days to make cheese but most of it is just waiting around. I'm making this blog the second day. This is going to be feta cheese at the end. Use sterile procedures because you want the intended bacteria to grow, not some random spore shaken down from the rats in your ceiling. You aren't going to heat this up enough to kill anything so you have to start by sterilizing a big pot by boiling water in it. Put a slotted spoon in there and the thermocouple for your probe style thermometer too. You might need a binder clip to hold the probe in the right place so go ahead and boil that. If you have a pH meter then you can get more scientific instructions online and see what pH you're going for in each step and get even more control over your finished product.

Here's the equipment in the commercial sterilizing solution. We used a sodium percarbonate and sodium sulfate product from the home brew store.

Pour two gallons of milk in the sterilized pot and get your thermocouple rigged to stay in the middle of the liquid.

Heat milk to 90°F (32°C)

Boil some water to sterilize it then cool it down. Use it to dissolve/dilute the following items in little cups you sanitized in the chemical bath.

1/2 tsp calcium chloride, 1/2 tsp lipase, 4 oz mesophilic starter,
1/2 tsp double strength rennet

I took close ups of the labels of this stuff so I could look it up when I got home. Here's the Dairy Connection website. That Calf Lipase is $7.50 and the Rennet is $6.50. As you can see it doesn't take much to make a batch of cheese so it goes a long way.

The white ice cubes are 1 oz each of mesophilic starter. This is just regular store-bought buttermilk that's been activated by leaving it out overnight. You could do that the night before you make cheese or do it ahead of time and freeze it in ice cube trays. Pop them out into a labeled bag and save them to use for cheesemaking or to make your own buttermilk from regular milk.

Now it's time to adjust the pH of the milk by adding all this stuff except the rennet. Get it back up to temperature if you used frozen mesophilic starter and let it ripen for an hour.

After the hour add the rennet and stir 30 sec to 1 min (45 sec) Test every few minutes for floculation with the spinning cup. This was 10 minutes. Now wait 3x the floculation time. This part is important so I made a video.

Slice the curd in 1/2" columns then sever those again diagonally two ways. This is also video-worthy.

Wait 10 minutes

Stir gently, wait 5 minutes, repeat every 5 minutes for 45 minutes depending on how hard you want the curd to be. The amount of whey on top will keep increasing each time.

Ladle into molds and let drain an hour. Another video step.

The dairy connection sells molds and the draining mesh too but when you see the price you'll think drilling PVC pipe sounds like a lot of fun. The craft stores call that cross stitch stuff "plastic canvas" in case you want to look for it online instead of going to Michael's or JoAnn's. I'm not sure how many lines per inch it is. I think the 10 count or 7 count would work.

Flip the cheese every hour. Put another piece of the plastic canvas over the open end and flip it deftly and put it back down on the drain rack. Do this about 5 times then let it stand overnight. I wasn't there for that part. I just went back the next day and marveled how much it compressed! Those things were full!
Flip them one last time in the morning. Remove the molds and let stand to ferment for a day (8 hrs). Save this whey in the refrigerator.
The rest hasn't happened yet at the time I'm writing this but here's me projecting forward with the remainder of the instructions:
Drop the cheeses in a saturated brine solution made with pickling salt and a little calcium chloride in boiling water, cooled.
Let the cheese soak in the brine for 2 to 4 hrs. Take it out to dry another day (24 hrs)
Make a less saturated brine, about 8% with pickling salt and calcium chloride made with the drained whey and use that to hold the cheese in the refrigerator until you eat it all up! Or you can give chunks of it to your friends just in a storage container dry and it's fine for a few days. You can save the brine to use again the next time.

Thanks for scrolling all the way to the end!

1 comment:

  1. Ok. Looks like I'll be heading to Atlanta this weekend where I can pick up some of the stuff, and hopefully will be making it two weeks from now. I'll let you know how it goes!!