Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I sometimes asked myself...how do you make cheese at home?

The first thing I did in preparing to make cheese at home was...to think about doing it. Seriously, this step lasted almost ten years and was by far the hardest step to complete.

There were always reasons to not get started. Reasons like: "I have to work", "I'm too tired", or my favorite, "I have an album to go record". It amazes me the natural abilities that humans, especially myself, have towards procrastination.

Just remember: the longer you wait to kick start the things you want to do in life, the longer it's been since you first started thinking about it.

I know, pretty deep.

Mozzarella in its natural habitat.

Luckily, I have an amazing wife who recognized my interest in the cheese making arts and decided to make the last holiday gift giving season's theme all about cheese making. For this, I am forever grateful.

Two Cheddars hanging out just air dryin'
So, with that said, I feel like it's my duty to now help you, yes YOU! So to get started I will share all the things that helped me to get the ball rolling. Not everyone starts off in the same way, but this is just how I started.

First off, these are the essential items she bought that helped me to dive right in: books and cheese kits.

Book on Cheese Making 
Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press)
The photography is amazing. Every recipe and story about each cheese is rich with historic detail and is very scientific in every step. Although it can be a little stuffy and snobbish at times, it is my 'go-to' book for planning and brainstorming cool cheeses to make.
 Buy Book Here!

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll

Ricki Carroll is known around the cheese world as the "Queen of Cheese" and there is a well-deserved reason for this. She is the owner of the New England Cheese Making Supply Company. All the recipes are easy to follow without pretense. Plus this company is the best place on the web for cheese making supplies. I'll get to that in a second....
Buy Book Here!

Cheese Making Kits
The Books and the Kits
The Cheese Making kits I was given had been purchased at the New England Cheese Making Supply Company’s website. This Complete Set is actually two kits in one - the ultimate startup. It combines the 30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit and the Basic Cheese Making Kit. You will be able to make Gouda, Farmhouse Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Cottage Cheese, Feta, Colby, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Ricotta.

They also include many of the supplies you will need to start your cheese making, including:

  • Basket Mold
  • Vegetable Rennet Tablets
  • Mesophilic DS Starter
    Teaching the sister-in-law how to make Mozzarella
  • Thermophilic DS Starter
  • Dial Pocket Thermometer,
  • 1/2oz. Calcium Chloride
  • 1 yd Re-usable Cheesecloth
  •  Dairy Thermometer
  • 1 yd Butter Muslin
  • Citric Acid
  • Vegetable Rennet Tablets
  • Cheese Salt
  • Two Recipe Booklets.

I swear, you will feel like a cheese making rock star when you hold that first slice of pizza smothered with your own fresh mozzarella.
Buy it here!

Draining the Ricotta

To tell you the truth, the recipe booklets that come with the kits were a little weird. I mean, in trying to make cheese making a bit more family friendly, they use cartoon cows to teach you how to stir your curd. This isn’t something that most grown-ups would think of when they ponder the hundreds of years of artisanal craft that went into the development of some of these cheeses. But bizarrely enough, in the end I found that the cartoon cow was a perfect way to ease some of the anxiety and pressure in of all the steps involved in how to make cheese at home.


Wouldn't you know it? Just like everything else in life, you are never as completely prepared as you think you are. The kits my wife bought me were awesome, but the further I ventured, I realized that they included only the basic keys for producing cheese. I still needed a few more things for the kitchen…

So off I went and picked up a few additional tools - and I'm truly glad I got these extra items. Trust me: they ended up being very helpful.

Curd Knife

  • 16 qt Non reactive stainless stockpot. I already had one but found that having the second made doing the water bath method for certain cheeses easier.
  • Curd Knife. Get the longest one! That way you can use it for any curd cutting at any length.
  • 9" Stainless Straining Skimmer with about 4-1/4" diameter ladles. Made for scooping your curds from the pot into a cheese cloth lined mold for pressing or into butter muslin for draining.
  • Bamboo mats. For drying’ your hard cheeses, man. 

  •  A really good Stainless Steel Thermometer. Get one with an 8” stem or longer. And don’t forget to calibrate it correctly- very important! 
    In Maine We call this a "Skimmah"
  • Acid Meter. Checking the pH of your milk is important sometimes if you’re extremely picky and perfection is in mind. Testing and monitoring the acid levels and the development of acid during the process, will help you with making more consistent batches of cheese.
  • Cheese Press. This can be a pricey thing to buy. I got one from a friend and it was the most affordable one out there. It's holding up well, but it's kind of cheap and I definitely see the need to upgrade soon.You can find quite a selection if you look around online, and on EBay you can find some really wacky cheese press designs, but even better if you can find a local shop for supplies. It seems many people have their own idea of physics these days. I'll have a whole other post on presses later.
Every kid remembers their first cheese press.
And since we are all just starting out, may I recommend getting extra Butter Muslin and Cheese Cloth? I say this because maybe a certain someone might have ruined a bunch until he figured out how to use it correctly. I'm not saying who...I'm just sayin'.

Milk & Other Ingredients...

Because of personal preference, I use only raw, organic cow or goats milk (not pasteurized), which can be purchased at most natural food stores in Maine. There is a real difference in flavor coming from grass fed, organic cows. I have the luck of being able to get fresh cow milk from my wife's family's organic dairy farm. It's pretty cool to meet the cow that produced the essence of what will be your creation. I also try to use only vegetable rennet and fresh organic herbs.

You don't have to be all organic and natural. But be aware that there will be some differences in the recipes which you will need to adjust to. 

Thanks to this lady, my first cheddar was a success.
The only kind of milk you can not successfully make cheese from is Ultra-Pasteurized. All the good stuff has basically been cooked out of it and its become, in my opinion, utterly useless as a food product. It’s pretty much just white water. The big companies did this so that it would last longer in transportation and on store shelves. Seriously, what’s the point of drinking milk without the flavor and the nutrients?

Again, there is so much to this subject. I will have a on post milk later on down the road.

Ok, so there is the list of supplies that I started with.  Please, I would love to hear from any of you about how you got started. Comment away or email me at shawnpsaindon@gmail.com

Time to get busy! We're going to learn how to make cheese at home! My next post will be a full recipe for a good cheddar, and I'll be checking out David Bowie's The Next Day, The London Suede Bloodsports and the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, so get your cheese making supplies in line and your iPod warmed up!


Don't forget to visit the Of Song And Cheese  Facebook Community over at Facebook.

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