The main differences between the soft and hard cheeses is that hard cheese require a cheese press and cultures.
Cheese making is a commitment and requires a lot of patience. It’s also an investment that requires several specialty items not available at your local store. Be prepared if you want to attempt it. If you try to take shortcuts you could end up with an inferior product.
It’s also very fun and rewarding, especially with the high cost of specialty cheeses.
Step 1: Useful links
This is a great forum with very experienced members. You’ll find a lot of answers to your questions here.
A good site for a beginners. You can get recipes, ingredients, and equipment here.
I have this book, it’s very good.
I buy my cultures here. You have to buy more culture but its cheaper overall.
Good site with info and recipes.
A google search of cheese making will give you a ton of information.
Step 2: Equipment and Ingredients Required
Whole milk, the more fat content the more cheese you get. 2 gallons of milk will get you about a 2lb wheel of cheese.
Rennet is needed to separate the curds and whey. I recommend liquid animal rennet. Its much easier to use and measure than the tablet rennet.
You will need a culture to ripen and flavor the cheese you want to make. Without it, you will have a basic white cheese. Today we are using a mesophilic starter.
A lot of places tell you to buy cheese salt. Its a flaked salt and melts easy, but its expensive and I haven’t had a problem with regular salts. Just make sure you buy NON-iodized salt. This costs about 50 cents.
You will need a good accurate thermometer. I use a lab grade glass thermometer.
Store bought milk is homogenized and it affects the calcium in the process. Usually sold in a 30% solution. If you can find it in powder form you can make your own.
You don’t want to put milk directly on the heat, a double boiler is needed to prevent scalding. Your pot should also be large enough to hold 2 gallons of milk.
You will need to press your cheese. In the next step I’ll go over how I built my cheese press.
Not the bad kind of mold. I’m talking about a container to shape your cheese. You can buy them. I made some out of a plastic bucket. All you need to do is remove the bottom and put a bunch of holes in it. Save the bottom you cut off to use it as a runner.
My container is tapered, which has worked fine but a straight one would work best.
This is not what you are thinking. That white mesh you can buy in the grocery store labeled cheese cloth is worthless in cheese making. What you need is called butter muslin. A fine woven reusable cloth. I’ve used cotton cloth, like T-shirt material before, it works fine.
Some cheese age for several months to years. To keep the cheese from drying out, you wax it. Don’t try to wax your cheese with paraffin wax. It’s not the same and won’t work well.
If you really get into cheese making you will need a place to age your cheese. Cheese is stored around 45-60 degrees. A cool basement works if you have one. People use wine refrigerators as well
Step 3: The Cheese Press
It’s a pretty easy project to do.
Here’s another one from instructables: A Simple and Inexpensive Cheese Press
Other things you will need:
Up to 50lb of weight for the press. I use barbell weights.
Some kind of pan for the whey to drip from. I use a metal pie dish that I cut a piece out of.
Step 4: Before You Start
Take your milk out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temp. This will speed up the heating of the milk later.
IMPORTANT – Before you begin, anything you are using that will come in contact with the cheese must be sterilized. The biggest problem I’ve had with cheese making is MOLD. I boil everything I use before making cheese, every bowl, every spoon, BOIL EVERYTHING.
Boil everything in a covered pot for at least 15 minutes. Make sure what you are boiling won’t melt.
Step 5: Warming The Milk
Start with 2 gallons of whole milk.
Since you do not want to put your milk on direct heat, you will need to use adouble boiler. I put my pot into a larger pot containing water and a small cooling rack so the pots don’t touch.
You will also need your thermometer now.
Pour your milk into your pot and heat it to 88 degrees F. You want to heat the milk very slowly, keep the stove on the lowest setting.
DO NOT try to heat the milk faster by increasing the temperature. If the milk gets too hot you could scald it. It will also have to cool down before you can continue.
If you think waiting for milk to heat up takes too long, try waiting for milk to cool down.
Step 6: Ripening the Milk
Since I buy my cultures in bulk, I add 1/4 teaspoon of mesophilic culture to the milk. If you buy the small packets you would add the whole thing. Allow the culture to float on the top of the milk for a minute.
Using a slotted spoon stir the milk thoroughly and let the culture ripen in the milk at 90 degrees for 30 minutes.
Keep an eye on the temperature so it doesn’t go past 90 degrees.
Step 7: Separating the Curds and Whey
If you are using store bought milk, now’s the time to add the calcium chloride. Add 3/4 teaspoon of calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 cup of water. Mix well. If you don’t add the calcium chloride, your milk will not coagulate and you will be stuck with a large batch of queso fresco.
Next, it’s time to add the rennet. Dilute 1/2 teaspoon into 1/4 cup water. Mix very well with an up and down motion for 1 minute.
You dilute it in water to help disperse it. You don’t want uneven coagulation.
Cover the milk and let it set at 90 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
Remember to keep an eye on the temperature, it must remain at 90 degrees for the coagulation to occur.
Step 8: Cutting the Curds
To cut the curds, take a long knife and insert it into the curds all the way to the bottom of the pot. Slice across the curds from one end to the other. Slice from top to bottom, then side to side. You want to cut the curds into 1/4 inch cubes. Your curds should be cut in a checkerboard pattern.
Next, I hold my knife at a 45 degree angle and slice again to cut the curds smaller.
Go slow here, you don’t want to break up the curds into too small pieces.
Let the curds rest for 40 minutes. The curds will settle to the bottom of the pot.
Step 9: Heating the Curds
Slowly warm the curds to 100 degrees F, increasing the temperature by 2 degrees every 5 minutes. It should take about 30 minutes.
Stir the curds gently and frequently to prevent them from clumping on the bottom of the pot.
Once the curd have reached 100 degrees F, maintain the temperature for another 30 minutes, stirring gently.
After 30 minutes, remove the whey to the level of the curds and let sit 30 minutes longer. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent the curds from clumping together.
Heating the curds forces more whey out of them. The curds will shrink a little and hold there shape better.
Step 10: Pressing the Cheese
Set up your press. Put the drip pan in first followed by the cheesecloth lines mold.
Place the curds in the mold and fold excess cloth over the top of the curds. Put the runner on top of the curds and another object on that, in my case, a can of Crisco.
Press the curds for 15 minutes with 3 pounds of weight.
If your container collecting the whey is small, keep an eye on it, a lot of whey is removed on the first pressing.
After 15 minutes, unwrap the cheese and flip it. Do this very gently, the cheese is very fragile right now and will have a tendency to fall apart.
Place it back into the mold and press it for 12 hours with 10 pounds of weight.
Step 11: Waxing and Ageing
Once dry, wax your cheese.
Melt your wax on the stove in something you will never use again. Once you melt wax in it, it’s there forever. I use an old cake pan.
You can dip your cheese into melted wax or use a brush to paint it on. Just make sure that the cheese is sealed completely. This will prevent further drying out and inhibit mold growth.
Age the cheese at 55 degrees F for 1-4 months turning it over at least once a week. It will sharpen as it ages.
Don’t feel bad if you want to try it in a few weeks, there’s nothing wrong with testing it. The hardest part of cheese making is waiting for it to age.
Step 12: Other Cheeses
Some other cheeses I’ve attempted to make include Cheddar, Gouda, Pepper Jack, Swiss, Brie, and Manchego. Manchego is my favorite, I don’t have a picture because it doesn’t last long enough to take one.
Next on my list is Blue Cheese.