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Making cheese easy: one of America's favorite foods comes back home.

America's love affair with cheese began early and hasn't slowed down yet. On average, we consume more than one-half a pound per person per week, enjoying it in everything from pizza to ham-and-Swiss sandwiches to fondues. In fact, this culinary obsession has been going on since America's earliest history.

Benjamin Franklin so loved Parmesan cheese that he went to considerable effort obtain a recipe for his cook. Andrew Jackson, in his last reception as president, invited the public to the White House to devour a massive 3-by-4-foot chunk of cheese that had been aging in the basement for more than a year. Ten thousand people stormed the White House for their share, leaving such a smelly mess it took a month for the East Room carpet, drapes and furniture to air out.

Resourceful American pioneer women found making cheese an effective way to preserve their precious milk, developing favorite recipes they passed on to succeeding generations. By the 1880s, cheese had developed into a whole industry of its own. By 1922, more than 2,800 active cheese factories were located in the state of Wisconsin alone. Many of these operations were associated with small family-run dairy farms. Twenty years later, fewer, larger factories produced cheese by the hundreds of millions of pounds in the United States. By 1968, the first television commercials were broadcast for what had become a staple of American cuisine. As the 20th century progressed, cheese-making arts were rarely practiced on a small scale or at home--but that is now changing.


Got milk?

In modern times, a certain air of ambiguity surrounds the concept of making cheese at home. Really, though, the effort is similar to any multistep cooking process. Once you understand the basics of curdling milk, learn a few tricks and throw in a little happenstance, you're off and running. Indeed, making cheese in your own kitchen can be a gratifying experience. Making and marketing cheese on a small-farmstead scale can be profitable indeed. It takes anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds of fluid milk to produce a pound of hard cheese like cheddar and a full gallon to make three cups of cream cheese. If you plan to supply your family with more than a few pounds of homemade cheeses, you will need a good milk supply. Ideally, you will have direct access to the source--your own milking herd (goat, cow, sheep, camel or water buffalo) or a friend with a nearby herd. If you're fortunate enough to own your animals, you can see directly to the milk's quality.


Milk, as it is obtained from the animal, is as real as it gets. Many cheese makers find that this so-called raw milk makes a better product, but using non-pasteurized milk has other advantages. It provides a slightly firmer curd and contains its own cultures, or beneficial bacteria, so it does not necessarily require a milk-clotting enzyme like rennet (although adding one will speed up the process) for protein coagulation. Pasteurized milk, which is readily available at the grocery store, is a good choice for the beginner or occasional cheese maker.

Concentrate on clabbering

The second most important ingredient in cheese making is the starter culture or activator. These beneficial bacteria provide the milk-thickening (clabbering) compounds needed for separating the curds from the whey. Various forms are available: yogurt, cultured buttermilk or freeze-dried bacteria. If you use buttermilk as your starter, make sure it is fresh and cultured. If you decide to use yogurt, make sure it is fresh and the label says "active cultures." Although these starters work for some types of cheese, many makers employ a class of enzymes collectively called rennet.

Rennet comes from two sources, animal and vegetable, and can be purchased either in liquid or as tablets. The animal form is usually taken from the inner lining of a young calf's fourth stomach (abomasum), whereas the vegetable type is generally extracted from plant or microbial sources. The milk-protein cleaving enzyme (protease) chymosin is the most important component in rennet.

Rennet, in the form of pure chymosin, is also manufactured using genetically modified microbes such as the fungus Aspergillus niger. Whatever the source, you might need to do a bit of searching to find rennet (see Resources Page 42), since it has long fallen from the list of standard household items.

Colanders, cloth and other supplies

Now on to the equipment you will need for your cheese-making project. A large pot, at least a 5- to 8-quart size, is necessary for heating the milk. Use only stainless steel, glass or unchipped enamel. Aluminum and cast iron will react with the lactic acid (produced as microbes feed on lactose or milk sugar) and change the flavor of your cheese, not to mention the metal might lend a greenish tint. Make sure all your equipment is meticulously clean. Remember, we are working with bacteria, but we want only the right kind.

Having a dairy thermometer is a good idea, but not absolutely essential. Many home cheese makers have learned to gauge temperature by touch--i.e., lukewarm is about 86 degrees; 102 degrees is very hot but still tolerable. Some thermometers float on the top of the milk, some hook over the side of your pot, while others simply have a rod that sits down in the milk. This latter type can often be held submerged in the milk by poking it through a slotted spoon laid across the rim of the pan.

Additional equipment you'll need:

1. Colander, ladle, large slotted spoon and a long stainless steel knife for cutting the curd.

2. Cheesecloth for draining off the liquid once the curds and whey have separated. Supermarket cheesecloth tends to be flimsy and often ineffective unless it is double- or triple-layered. A better option is the thicker 100 percent cotton muslin-type cloth, which is available from cheese-making supply houses. Not only is it stronger (you don't want a mess of curds and whey all over your kitchen because your cheesecloth burst), but also it can be washed in hot soapy water with bleach and re-used.

3. A good heavy string to tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the cheese. If you don't have good heavy string, you can use sterilized shoelaces or sturdy rubber bands.

4. For some types of harder cheese, you will also need:

* A rack for draining.

* Cheese molds (purchased or homemade from plastic containers with holes punched in them).

* A cheese press (or make your own using a coffee can with the top and bottom cut out and something heavy such as a brick or books wrapped in butcher paper to press the cheese down).

* A cheese board and a cheese mat.

* Kosher or pickling salt (no iodine).

* Cheese wax, used in the last phase of cheese making before storage.

I recommend that a beginner start with cottage cheese or cream cheese. Both require only a few ingredients, and the process is relatively simple. It will give you practice, and more importantly, enough confidence to graduate up to the harder cheeses.

Handcrafted curds
(so named because it could easily
be made at home or cottage)

1 gallon fresh milk (raw or pasteurized)
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet
1/4 cup cool water
1/2 cup cultured buttermilk

   In large pot or kettle, heat milk over
low heat until it reaches 86[degrees]F (pretty
near room temperature, so start slow).
Mix rennet and water. Stir in buttermilk
and rennet mixture; remove from heat.

   Cover pot with cheesecloth to keep
dust out and allow air flow through.

   Leave to sit in warm location until
milk has clabbered--16 to 24 hours
if you have used pasteurized milk and
buttermilk or yogurt as your activator;
it will take less time if you have used
rennet. Do not jiggle the pan during this
process as it may break the curds.

   As soon as the curd (solid) has separated
from the whey (liquid), use a long
stainless steel knife to "cut" the curd
into 1- to 2-inch cubes. This will allow
more whey to separate out.

   Heat curds and whey slowly in double
boiler until they reach 115[degrees]F; hold
at this temperature for 30 minutes, stirring
occasionally but gently. Pour into
cheesecloth-lined colander set into bowl
and allow whey to drip out.

   After 20 minutes, lift 4 corners of
cheesecloth and tie them up. Hang
bagged curds over bowl for 4 to 5 hours
until finished dripping. If you like, you
may then rinse curds again with cool
water to leach out any acid flavor. Drain
again and, if desired, add cream and
non-iodized salt to taste.

(requires no cooking)

1 gallon milk or cream
1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
1/2 rennet tablet dissolved in
1/4 cup cold water

   Add buttermilk and rennet mixture to
milk. Mix well, stirring approximately 10
minutes or until milk begins to clabber.
Cover and keep at 70-80[degrees]F until whey
separates from curd (up to 15 hours). Do
not jiggle during this process.

   Line colander with several layers of
wet cheesecloth and set in bowl. Slice
clabbered milk into 1-inch cubes; pour
into colander. Let drip for several minutes.
Lift cheesecloth by 4 corners and
tie together to form bag. Hang over
bowl to drip until solid but gelatinous
mass remains (8-10 hours or overnight).
If the weather is warm, put the bag in
a colander set into a bowl and place in
the refrigerator. Squeeze bag occasionally.
If necessary, change cheesecloth
when it gets plugged.

   As soon as cheese is desired consistency,
pour from cheesecloth into
bowl. Salt to taste (if desired), starting
with 1/4 teaspoon. Some prefer no
salt, though adding it will increase the
cheese's storage time. Pack into small
bowls or wrap
in greased
paper and
refrigerate for
up to 5 days.

(fresh cheese)

2 gallons
  whole milk
1 packet
  starter or 4
  ounces prepared mesophilic starter
1/4 teaspoon calf lipase powder
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet
  (or 1/4 rennet tablet)
1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
2 tablespoons salt

   In double boiler, heat milk over low
heat to 90[degrees]F. Add mesophilic (moderate
temperature) starter (and lipase, a fat-cleaving
enzyme, if you'd like a stronger
flavor); stir well. Mix rennet with
water. Add rennet mixture to milk and
stir briskly for I minute. Let milk set
(keeping at constant 90[degrees]F) 30-45 minutes,
or until curd gives clean break.

   Cut curd into 1/4-inch cubes. Heat
curds gradually to 95[degrees]F over 20 minutes,
stirring gently every few minutes to keep
curds from sticking together. Let curds
set, without stirring, for 5 minutes.

   Drain off whey (and save it for
other uses). Add salt and keep curds
at 95[degrees]F for 30 more minutes (stirring if
necessary to keep curds from sticking

   Line cheese mold with cheesecloth
and add curds. Press cheese
with weight of 35 pounds for 6 hours.
Remove cheese from mold and place in
covered container in refrigerator.

Once you have taken up the challenge of making your own cheeses and have gained some confidence, you'll be hooked. I recommend buying a book that deals with home cheese making, such as Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricki Carrol (Storey Books, 2002), or American Farmstead Cheese: The Complete Guide to Making and Selling Artisan Cheeses by Paul Kindstedt (Chelsea Green, 2005). Plenty of recipes can also be found on the Internet. Better yet, ask your grandmother or mother for her special recipe and tweak it to your liking, perhaps adding herbs or spices. Another exciting family tradition may be born.


RELATED ARTICLE: Where Swiss gets holes and other cheesy tidbits.

By Jenn Nemec, Associate Editor


Part art and part science, cheese making integrates many variables into a product that reflects nuance of raw material, environment and process--not unlike the great wines of the world. In fact, regional influence on a cheese's characteristics is important enough that the European Union has recognized about 160 cheeses with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). These cheeses (such as Roquefort) must be made in a certain place and with standard process to maintain their PDO status. No matter the care in its crafting, however, each batch of a specific PDO cheese will vary slightly from all other batches, but a blue cheese will always be recognizably different from cheddar. So what is it that separates Camembert from Stilton, and what makes cheddar so special?

First, the ingredients make the cheese, and milk is the primary ingredient--but not all milk is equal. Cheese-making milk comes from several different animal species; goat (chevre), sheep (manchego), cow (Gouda) and even water puffalo (mozzarella) supply the raw material for several famous cheeses. Like wine, the environment where you obtain the milk can also make a big difference (see "Fine Farmstead cheese," Page 44). For example, CANTAL and SALERS cheese are made in exactly the same way, except one is made from the milk of Salers cattle while they winter in the barn and eat hay (Cantal), and the other is made in the spring and summer, while the same cattle are in the pasture eating grass (Salers).

As a partially fermented food, which microbes you add to the cheese (and when you add them) also matters. BLUE (or bleu) CHEESE has become a general classification for cheeses with Penicillium (fungi) cultures added (before or after curds form) to make it spotted or veined with blue or blue-green mold. These cheeses are generally sharp and a bit salty with pungent smell The long list of blue cheeses includes ROQUEFORT, GORGONZOLA and STILTON.

Though originally made in rural Leicestershire, STILTON is named for the village of Stilton, England, because it was popularized at the Bell Inn there. To make Stilton, a starter, rennet and the mold Penicillium roqueforti are added to pasteurized milk. Wheels of milled, salted and unpressed curds are then aged (with regular turning) in a temperature-controlled cellar for 6 weeks, at which point it is pierced with stainless steal needles to help the mold form on the inside. It's then aged for 3 to 9 more weeks. If eaten after 9 weeks, Stilton is a firm and crumbly, slightly acidic white cheese with veins of blue mold. As it ages toward 15 weeks, it becomes smoother and mellower. While definitely pungent and salty, Stilton is milder than other blue cheeses.

Cheeses with holes (or eyes) have also been changed by the addition of microbes, but in this case, the principal fermentation organisms are bacteria. EMMENTAL or SWISS CHEESE, so named because it was originally made in the valley of the Emme in Switzerland, is made using three bacterial types, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus (L. helveticus or L. bulgaricus) and Propionibacter (P. freudenreichii or P. shermani). In a late stage of cheese production, the Propionibacter consumes the lactic acid produced by the other bacteria and releases carbon dioxide gas, which slowly forms the bubbles that develop the eyes. This process produces a yellow, medium-hard cheese with large holes (in true Emmental, the size of the holes is regulated) that is nutty and piquant, but not really sharp. Swiss cheeses with smaller holes are made with skim milk (Lacy or Lorraine Swiss) or with water substituted for whey (Baby Swiss) so that the bacteria runs out of food before the holes get too large.

Another way to affect the flavor of cheese is how you handle the curds. CAMEMBERT, named for the town of Camembert in the Normandy region of France, is a pale, soft-ripened, uncooked, cow milk cheese. During the entire process of making Camembert, the milk temperature never rises above body temperature (98.6[degrees]F). After the milk is curdled with rennet, the curd is carefully ladled (without breaking) into molds to drain. Then the fungi Penicillium candida and Penicillium camemberti are added to the surface, and the cheese is aged for at least 3 weeks to create a buttery, rich end product.

The somewhat mysterious process of cheddaring is named for the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England, and the pale yellow to orange hard cheese originally made there. After the curd is set and cut, it is heated and drained. The drained curd is then cut into slabs about 6 inches square and stacked in a heated cheese vat. The slabs are re-stacked and turned every 10 to 15 minutes until the acidity level of the draining whey reaches a certain point. CHEDDAR cheese is then milled, salted and pressed, before aging from 3 to 30 months (depending on the type and sharpness).


Curd handling is also very important in making the fresh Italian semi-soft cheese called MOZZARELLA. This family favorite is made using a process called pasta filata (which literally means "spun paste") or, in English, pulled- or stretched-curd. After the curds are set and allowed to rest, they are placed in a pot of very hot whey (or water) until they float. Then most of the water is drained, and the curds are mixed and kneaded until they reach a stretchy consistency. Mozzarella is made of cow or water buffalo milk (the water buffalo variety is called mozzarella di bufala campana), and is a mild, delicate, sweet white cheese. In the United States, it comes in two varieties: high-moisture or fresh (very soft and often packaged in water) and low moisture (dried more for firmness and better for pizza). PROVOLONE is another pasta filata cheese.

Many other factors affect the taste of cheese, such as the temperature of the milk or curd, whether the curds are pressed (and how hard), the way the rind is treated (washed or scraped, brined or dry salted), or aging conditions (humidity, length of time, bandaged or waxed). So, as you can see, the creation of your own distinctive cheese is well within reach.



Hoegger Supply Co.

P.O. Box 331 Fayetteville, GA 30214

(800) 221-4628

New England Cheese Making Supply

PO. Box 85 Ashfield, MA 01330

(413) 628-3808

Caprine Supply

P.O. Box Y DeSoto, KS 66018

(800) 646-7736


9293 Olde Eight Road Northfield, OH 44067

(800) 543-3697

Build Your Own Cheese Press:

Susie Schade-Brewer lives in Adrian, Missouri, with her family and pugs.
We're just crackers about cheese

         NAME    APPENZELLER (a)        BRIE (a)           EDAM (a)

PR0NUNCIATION    AH-pent-seller           BREE             EE-duhm

        PLACE   Appenzell region,    Brie province,     town of Edam,
                   Switzerland           France            Holland

         TYPE    straw-colored,     pale very soft       pale yellow
                      hard           with slightly        semi-hard,
                                     grayish tinge      yellow or red
                                     under crusty       waxed spheres
                                       white mold

        TASTE   nutty or fruity      rich, mild and    very mild taste,
                flavor, which can        creamy         slightly salty
                range from mild                          or nutty and
                   to tangy,                           almost no smell
                depending on how
                 long it is aged

    TREATMENT    cooked, pressed       uncooked,         milk partly
                and cured in an       unpressed,       skimmed, cooked,
                herbal brine with   inoculated with    pressed, aged up
                  wine or cider     mold and aged at    to 10 months,
                                    least four weeks      lower fat
                                      in a cellar

         NAME      FETA (b)(c)         GOUDA (a)

PR0NUNCIATION        FEH-tah            G00-dah

        PLACE        Greece         town of Gouda,

         TYPE     white soft to       rich yellow
                 semi-hard curd     semi-hard with
                                     red or yellow

        TASTE     tangy, salty          pungent
                 flavor ranges        underlying
                  from mild to        bitterness,
                      sharp          creamier than
                                     other common

    TREATMENT   unpressed,salted    cooked, pressed,
                 and cured in a        brined and
                 brine solution       dried, then

         NAME      GRUYERE (a)       LIMBURGER (a)        MAHON (a)

PRONUNCIATION       groo-YEHR        LIHM-buhr-guhr        mah-HORN

        PLACE   town of Gruyeres,   Duchy of Limburg    town of Mahon
                   Switzerland                         off the coast of

         TYPE      hard yellow      light semi-soft    white, firm to

        TASTE      sweet but        smooth, creamy     sweet and fruity
                slightly salty,     and light with a   when young, ages
                creamy and nutty      very pungent         sharper,
                when young; more          odor          slightly salty
                assertive, earthy
                and complex with

    TREATMENT     heated curd,      rind-washed and    curd pressed and
                pressed, brined,     brushed with         twisted in
                      aged          Brevibacterium      cheese cloth,
                                    linens-infused     rind rubbed with
                                    solution (called   oil, butter and
                                    the smear) while    paprika, aged
                                        it ages

         NAME     MANCHEGO (b)       PROVOLONE (a)

PRONUNCIATION     mahn-CRAY-go       proh-voh-LOHN

        PLACE   La Mancha, Spain    Po river valley,

         TYPE   golden semi-firm    white semi-hard
                with small holes

        TASTE     mild, nutty,        taste varies
                slightly salty,     with aging from
                 not too strong        very mild
                                    dolce) to very
                                    sharp (provolone

    TREATMENT      uncooked,         pasta filata
                pressed, aged in      cheese made
                  natural caves      similarly to
                                    mozzarella, and
                                     then hung and
                                      aged for at
                                     least 4 months

         NAME   RICOTTA (a)(b)(c)   ROMANO (a)(b)(c)    ROQUEFORT (b)

PRONUNCIATION     rih-KAHT-tuh        roh-MAH-noh         ROHK-fuhrt

        PLACE         Italy            Lazio and        Roquefort-sur-
                                    Sardinia, Italy    Soulzon, France

         TYPE      soft white       yellow and hard    white, crumbly,
                                                       semi-hard with
                                                        veins of blue

        TASTE      creamy and       salty and sharp    mild, sweet and
                 slightly sweet       sheep milk        smoky, with a
                                    (pecorino), goat     salty finish
                                    milk (caprino)
                                     and cow milk

    TREATMENT   just whey heated     curd drained         uncooked,
                to near boiling,     quickly after       unpressed,
                 sometimes with     molding, pierced   inoculated with
                 acid added to       and carefully       Penicilllum
                curdle remaining    salted, aged for   roqueforti, aged
                     protein            5 months         in natural
                                                        Cambalou caves

         NAME    DE SAVOIE (a)       WENSLEYDALE (a)

PRONUNCIATION    TUM-de-SAV-who      WEHNS-lee-dayl

        PLACE    Savoie area in      Wensleydale,
                 the French Alps        England

         TYPE   beige semi-soft      white, moist,
                   with thick           crumbly
                 brownish-grey         semi-firm

        TASTE      mild, nutty        fairly mild
                   with faint

    TREATMENT    uncooked, made         slightly
                from skimmed milk       pressed,
                  (lower fat),      bandaged, aged;
                  pressed and        popularized in
                   cellar aged       the films of
                                      Wallace and


(a) Made from cow milk

(b) Made from sheep milk

(c) Made from goat milk

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Author:Schade-Brewer, S.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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