Introduction: A Simple and Inexpensive Cheese Press

Picture of A Simple and Inexpensive Cheese Press

Cheesemaking is an amazing alchemy that transforms milk into a profusion of different textures and flavors.  The entryway for me was ricotta, an easy and forgiving cheese to make with no fancy equipment or supplies needed.  Mozzarella came next, also very do-able with supermarket ingredients and kitchen utensils.  I was so pleased with the results of these first forays into cheesemaking that I decided to go all in and try making hard (as in consistency) cheeses like cheddar.  

There is a certain amount of gear that you need in order to go to the next level.   One of the main pieces of equipment necessary for making harder cheeses is a cheese press to squeeze the curds under a specific pressure for a set amount of time.  I found cheese presses for sale online but they were expensive ($70-$275).  I decided that making my own was the way to go. I wanted something that would be able to handle up to two pounds of curds and generate up to 50 lbs of pressure.  I took my inspiration from a couple of similar press designs I found online and added my own ideas.  After a little experimentation I ended up with a press that was simple to use and inexpensive to build using basic tools.   Expect to spend between $10 to $25 depending on how much stuff you have at home already.

As with any set of instructions this will guide you to replicate what I made.  Don't feel constrained by my ideas though, you should modify my design to meet your needs any way you see fit.

Check out my blog for other stuff I've been making including a cheese cave for ageing all this cheese I'm going to be making with my new press...

Step 1: Stuff You Will Need

Materials

1 piece of wood-    3/4" x 7 1/2" x 5 1/4" 
2 pieces of wood-  3/4" x 7 1/2" x 1 3/8"
2 pieces of wood-  2" x 5" x 5"
2 pieces all-thread rod at least 13" tall (depends on the springs) x 3/8" dia
Asst'd 3/8" dia. hardware:
2 wingnuts, 4 nuts, 6 washers, 2 lock washers
2 springs w/ 50lb compression strength approx. 3 1/2" tall x 7/8"dia (more about this on step 4)
4 screw in feet
1 index card or piece of card stock
1 small wood screw
1 plastic pitcher
1 5" x 5" piece from a plastic cutting board
Some scrap wood pieces
Mineral oil      (you can get this at drugstores, make sure it is unscented)

Tools

Saws (I used a table saw, jigsaw and a handsaw)
Drill and bits
Sandpaper
Ruler
Small square
Pencil and a pen
Possibly a tap for threading the holes for the feet (optional)
Bathroom scale or any scale that will read up 50 lbs.


Step 2: First the Frame

Picture of First the Frame

I used salvaged hardwood decking for the base and the two crossbars because I had it, its tough and it looks great.  You can use anything you have available.  Cut the 7 1/2" x 5 1/4" piece for the base and the two 7 1/2" x 1 3/8" pieces for the bars.  Drill holes through all three boards 1/2" in from the ends and centered on the width. They will be 6 1/2" apart on their centers.  Make the holes wide enough to allow the threaded rod to slide freely through them.  Sand the wood pieces and rub in some mineral oil to finish them.  Don't use any solvent based finishes. Anything that comes in contact with the cheese needs to be food grade.  The mineral oil is non-toxic and will protect the wood from moisture.  Use some leftover oil on your wooden cutting boards.  It's probably been a while since they got oiled.

The press needs to be elevated to allow for good drainage when it is being used.  I would use some sort of screw-on feet as opposed to something with an adhesive.  The feet need to be tall enough to keep the nuts holding the rods on under the base from hitting the counter.  Drill four holes in the corners of the bottom of the base and attach the feet.  How you attach them will depend on what your hardware store offers for feet options.  I had to cut the shafts shorter on the feet I got and tap the holes I drilled in the base in order to thread the feet on.  I've seen others that just use a wood screw to attach them.

Assemble the rods on either side of the base.  The hardware makes a sandwich starting from the bottom and working up of: nut, washer, base, washer, lock washer, nut.  Tighten the two nuts towards each other.  When you are done the rods should be firmly in place.  Slide the bars up and down the rods to make sure they can travel freely.  Adjust if necessary.

Step 3: Making the Mold

Picture of Making the Mold

You can buy cheese molds in a variety of sizes and they're not even that expensive but what's the fun in that?!?  I wanted to make my own.  I knew it had to be made of something that was sturdy and non toxic.   I was looking for a cylinder that had a diameter between 4"-5" and was at least 6" tall.  After wandering the aisles at Walmart I came upon my solution.  A plastic pitcher!  The diameter of the one I found was about 4 1/2" at the top.  The shape was perfect, it was thicker than most of the other plastic items in the store and I knew it would be food safe.  At $2.77 the price was right too!   

Take the pitcher and measure down 6" from the top.  ( I cut mine at 5" and it's a little short)   Mark a line around the circumference.  Cut the pitcher at this line and remove the handle.  I used a Japanese hand saw but use what you've got.   Smooth the cut edge with sandpaper or you can just gently scrape it smooth with a piece of metal like the edge of a ruler.

Place the cylinder with what used to be the top of the pitcher on the counter.  The cut edge will be a circle facing up towards you.  Take a pencil and divide the circle into 16 sections.  I do this by first by dividing it into quarters then dividing each quarter in half and finally each eighth in half.  I just eyeballed it but you can measure if you want.  Use a small square and draw vertical lines down the cylinder from each division mark so that you have 16 equidistant lines.  Use a ruler and place horizontal cross marks on every other line.  Space them an inch apart starting at the bottom and going up to the top.  Then do the same thing on the lines you haven't marked yet but starting 1/2" from the bottom so that you get a staggered grid wrapped around the cylinder.  You should end up with something like the picture below.

Take a piece of scrap wood and clamp it in a vice or to a counter so that you can slip the cylinder over the wood which will support it as you drill holes.   Drill 5/16" holes through the wall of the cylinder at the cross marks.  Pick off any sharp bits.


Step 4: Set the Scale

Picture of Set the Scale

The springs that you use need to be strong enough that as you compress them they exert at least 50 lbs of pressure before they are fully compressed.  Picking the right spring is a bit of a shot in the dark.  You will probably have to go to a few stores (big box stores had nothing usefull) to find any springs at all and they will most likely not have any sort of rating.  I picked up a couple springs for a dollar each at my local feed/hardware store. They (very scientifically) "seemed right" when I squeezed them.  

You will need to test the springs and make a scale (like a ruler) for the press so that you know how much pressure is being exerted as you tighten the wing nuts.   I took three scrap pieces of wood and made a mock-up similar to the press but wider to accommodate a scale (for weighing).  A bathroom scale would work fine for this.  You will need to take the rods off the press base to use for the testing mock-up.  

This next part is complicated to explain.  You will probably have to read it a couple of times and look at the pictures before it makes sense.  Stick with it though it's not that hard.  Start with the springs uncompressed and measure the distance between the bottom of the top bar and the top of the bottom bar.  Write this measurement down on a piece of paper.  You are going to make a table to use to calibrate your press.  Tighten the wing nuts until the scale reads 5 lbs and write down the distance between the bars.  Keep doing this in 5 lb increments writing down the result each time until you get to 50 lbs.  Your springs should not become fully compressed before you get to 50 lbs.  If they do, you need stiffer springs.  I got lucky with the ones I picked.  

Disassemble the mock-up and put the press back together.  You can set the mold under the bottom bar to hold it up.  Take the piece of card stock and cut a strip for your scale.  Make it long enough that when you attach it to the top bar it hangs down just below the bottom bar when the springs are uncompressed.  (see picture below)  Attach it to the top bar with a small wood screw.  Mark the top edge of the bottom bar on the scale.  This is zero pounds of pressure.  Measure down the distance you recorded from the bottom of the top bar that you have for 5 lbs and label it 5.  Continue to mark lines on the scale corresponding to the measurements from the table you made.

Step 5: Finally the Followers

Picture of Finally the Followers

The last parts to make are the top plate and the followers which transfer the pressure generated by the springs to the cheese.  Take the 5"x5" piece of plastic cutting board (we're using a cutting board because it's food safe and easy to cut) and trace a circle on it from the inside of the cut end of the mold.  Cut out the circle just a little wide with a jigsaw, file or sand it to size and smooth the edges.  This will be the piece that goes directly on the cheese curds.  Next, take the two wooden 5" x 5" pieces and make circles a 1/2" smaller in diameter than the top plate.  You want them to be smaller because if they get wet and the wood swells they could get stuck.  I made one wood follower and two plastic ones but I think two wood ones would be better.  These followers provide the height between the top plate and the bottom bar of the press. Having a few different pieces allows you to accommodate different amounts of cheese to be pressed.  You could also skip making wooden followers altogether and improvise with cans of food.

Step 6: Crafting the Cheese

Picture of Crafting the Cheese

This project was a real chicken and egg situation.  I needed the press to make the cheese but I didn't know exactly what making the cheese was going to be like since I didn't have a press.  This step documents my first batch of cheese made with the press.

All cheesemaking follows the same basic series of steps.  The differences in the resulting cheese depends on how you vary the parameters of any of the steps.  i.e. how hot the curds are cooked, how long they are stirred etc...

I made queso fresco because it took the shortest amount of time to get a finished product.  Many cheeses take months to age before you can even try them, this one is ready after pressing it overnight.

I started by making curds according to the recipe.  When they were ready I put the press in the sink.  I took a piece of plastic wrap and placed it over the base of the press.  I put the mold cut side up on the plastic wrap.  I lined the mold with cheesecloth and filled it with the curds.  I ended up with almost 2 1/2 lbs of curds which filled my 5" mold right to the top.

I folded the cheesecloth over the top of the curds and placed the top plate on.

The wooden follower went on the top plate and I assembled the springs and bars onto the frame.  I screwed down the wing nuts until the scale read 35 lbs and left it to sit overnight in a glass baking dish to catch any whey dripping out.  I had to tighten it a couple of times as the curds compressed.

The next morning I opened the press, unmolded the cheese, took off the cheese cloth and there it was: a big block of cheese!  

If you end up making this press let me know and post a picture in the comments.  I'm interested in any variations/improvements that evolve.

Like projects?  Check out our site where we chronicle out Mighty Projects on our Mini Farm (AKA our backyard)


Thanks!!!



Comments

KeithH7 made it! (author)2015-05-07

I added a top bar for draining the curd. I found an antique ruler to add some style. This press is made from oak. Thank you for all your help

alitasali (author)KeithH72016-07-29

really nice addition

like it

spike3579 (author)KeithH72015-05-07

Nice addition! Great idea to facilitate the draining on the press. Cool ruler mod too. Much better than my funky paper scale. Thanks for sharing.

TheCoffeeDude made it! (author)2014-04-24

Great design! I didn't have any hardwood, so I substituted some cutting board material that is dishwasher safe and can be sanitized. Thanks so much for the inspiration and Instructable.

lynn0759 (author)TheCoffeeDude2014-05-13

That is great! Question: since you are using two layers of the cutting board, did you use adhesive between to avoid moisture slipping between? If so, what is appropriate?

TheCoffeeDude (author)lynn07592014-05-13

I didn't use any adhesive. I left them separable so that the press can be disassembled and sanitized in a dishwasher. If I glued them, there would always be seams and crevices that might not get clean, and I wouldn't know what to use that would be dishwasher safe.

The bolts on the threaded rod hold the bottom two layers on the base together, while pressure from the springs holds the others together.

spike3579 (author)TheCoffeeDude2014-04-27

Hey that looks awesome! Thanks for sharing your build. Happy cheese making.

Laz08 made it! (author)2017-05-21

Mine is beech, both base and bars from B&Q, eating a mighty fine Lancashire (pictured in mid press). Works very well, though bars sometimes catch on screw rods, Just needs a little adjustment.

spike3579 (author)Laz082017-10-08

Glad to see you put it right to use!

pecker (author)Laz082017-06-16

Looks good. Where did you get the springs?
I can't see any suppliers around here (Harlow, Essex). But maybe I'm just being thick.

Laz08 (author)pecker2017-06-17

Thanks for the comment, I got my springs from ebay,4x "Compression spring 42x30x3mm" I had to use all four to achieve 50lb compression, I didn't buy the correct length and rather than store & re buy, I used 4 cable ties to link them end on, so just double the length if you decide on these.

spike3579 (author)Laz082017-05-22

Looks great! Thanks for posting your build.

Steve Johnson 7565 made it! (author)2017-10-07

Two (point five) updates I made to the design:

1) These brushed aluminum knobs from Amazon for $6 each (in 3/8-16) made a world of difference. Much easier to use, as they spin up and down the rod like a dream, and look great.

2) The top cross bar is unnecessary. As long as you keep the knobs at the same height, the lower cross bar level, and have a force scale that can mount vertically upwards from the lower cross bar, no need to do anything that push directly on the springs. (Do use large enough washers, though.)

.5) I found mesquite boards that were perfect. Tough as nails to cut and drill, but they have super-low porosity. The color in the pictures is natural, and all I've done is add a touch of mineral oil for a sealant.

It’s always cool to see this design evolve. Thanks for sharing!

joelblum (author)2017-04-14

There is a small problem with any press that relies on springs. Because the cheese is dripping whey it shrinks and looses height, the springs get longer and applies less pressure....cheese likes constant pressure and in some cheeses you have a 6 hour stage of press during which you will loose a significant height and pressure. In most of the cheese recipes you don't get pressure in PSI but in y Kg/Lb for x Kg/Lb of cheese. So you can have some weights (stones or whatever) , take off the springs and just put the weights on the upper board in this way you will get an exact and constant pressure and use this stage for a good sleep.

TalulahBancroft (author)2017-02-17

Question: For marking the pressure lines, is there any way I can use my weightlifting plates instead of a scale? For example, can I put the weights on top in exact amounts to compress the springs, and mark the lines that way?

Sounds like a good idea. It should be the same.

Jayv34 made it! (author)2017-02-11

I gave it a try and copied your Cheese Press. Still have to put it to the test, but already happy with the result. Thanks a lot!

spike3579 (author)Jayv342017-02-12

Classy!

the tat2artist made it! (author)2017-01-09

thanks great ible heres mine

spike3579 (author)the tat2artist2017-01-10

Nice work!

StevenS270 (author)2016-10-10

$22 and some left over butcher block counter top. Thanks, you saved me a bunch of money.

spike3579 (author)StevenS2702016-10-11

Very Classy!

trajnanaj made it! (author)2016-10-04

Thanks for the instructions! My press is made of cherry. Pressing using a colander might be simpler than wrapping a press in nylon.

spike3579 (author)trajnanaj2016-10-05

Well done!

ChristelleD4 (author)2016-08-05

Wow, I just love all of the pictures and ideas that are uploaded at the comments. This inspires me now to build my own cheese press!

alitasali made it! (author)2016-07-29

Finally I could upload picture of I made :)

spike3579 (author)alitasali2016-07-30

Nice job! Thanks for sharing your build.

CarlM37 (author)2016-02-05

This one is walnut. I'm getting some madrone next. Thanks for the plan.

spike3579 (author)CarlM372016-02-06

Nice work! I see you have a quart container in there. I never thought of using one as a mold but it makes perfect sense.

CarlM37 (author)spike35792016-02-06

we'll see how they hold up under pressure. i'm a chef and i use deli quarts for everything. it would be really nice if it works. for softer cheeses, so far they work awesome. a slight tapering, but i think that's my style right?

PharaohOfRaa made it! (author)2015-11-11

Thanks Spike for sharing this great design and instructions. Thanks to all as well who shared their ideas and pictures.

I still have some finishing work to do (adding a ruler to show the weight). I was using my measuring tape each time I was turning the wingnuts to add pressure :)

Thanks again

I

spike3579 (author)PharaohOfRaa2015-11-12

Your build looks great! I like the cutting board for the bottom. Nice use of an easily accessible material. It's so cool for me to see the design evolve as different people build it.

alitasali (author)2015-08-04

I have done the sam and used several time...

Great instruction :)

Thank you...

Oolybooly (author)2015-07-24

Do you think a 4-5" wide PVC pipe would work for the mould? Or maybe not food safe? I just happen to have some kicking around so I was wondering..

spike3579 (author)Oolybooly2015-07-24

I've read that it isn't food safe. I would do more research though. PVC pipes carry water and we are not heating it up so I'm not sure where the concern is. You could also line it w/ a plastic bag.

sires6 (author)2015-06-14

Fantastic Ible!!! I can't wait to make my own! I couldn't afford one either and just didn't have the engineering wherewithal to gen one out! Great job and thanks for posting this ible. Makes me want to post my ible about bacon and how I make my own!

holgamods made it! (author)2015-06-03

Purchased a new Oak Wood stool, Used the seat and the legs..... Printed the orange arrow for the weight scale, my own molds and followers, and drying mats with my 3d printer for my Farmhouse Chive Cheddar.

spike3579 (author)holgamods2015-06-05

Wow! Fantastic. Very impressive results. You could make all sorts of interesting molds with your printer.

rbezile (author)2014-10-22

How do you print the file? I log into Pro and it is not a PDF or does anything download. Do I need to pay for the service to print the instructions? BTW, great cheese press.

Mickleblade (author)2013-08-21

I've just made one of these with a slight mod. I used a 22mm thick food grade polyothylene chopping board instead of wood. Cheese is susceptable to bacteria and it's a lot easier to clean. Dishwasher proof too! Only cost me 17 euros from amazon too.

spike3579 (author)Mickleblade2013-08-22

Cool! Post a picture if you have one. The only reason I didn't use HDPE instead of wood was because I found that the plastic tended be less rigid and bend from the tension from the springs. I'll be interested to hear if you have any problems or if the plastic works just fine for you.

TheCoffeeDude (author)spike35792014-05-13

So far so good, I doubled up on the plastic, so it is not as flexible as a single sheet, minimal bending up to jack cheese pressure.

I did the same thing! Great minds think alike...

terranchild (author)2014-05-01

I assume the drill bits are to match the diameter of the threaded rod. Am I correct?

seziegle (author)2014-01-05

I am having trouble locating the right springs. Do you have more information about the ones you used such as free length, outside diameter, etc.? Also thanks so much for posting this!

TheCoffeeDude (author)seziegle2014-04-24

I looked at two big box hardware stores for springs and couldn't find
any suitable, sure enough, the first independent hardware store I went
to had just the ticket. I had to shorten them with a Dremel, but other
than that they were perfect.

spike3579 (author)seziegle2014-01-05

I've found that independent hardware stores are more likely to carry springs than the big box stores. I gave my cheese press away so I can't measure the springs. Off the top of my head I would say they were roughly 2" tall x 3/4" dia. If you can't find any springs locally then try McMaster Carr.  Post a picture if you get a press built.  I'd love to see it.

kffrost (author)2014-01-19

I loved this and built my own to get started in cheese making last October. A modification I made yesterday was to make different height "stackable" molds (using leftover PVC as I did with the first six inch mold I made). I found this MUCH easier to remove and reload the cheese during the pressing stage. I added 2, 3 and 4 inch tall molds. I was just running out of room in the mold when making anything other than cheddar with 2 or more gallons. Thanks for your design!

spike3579 (author)kffrost2014-01-19

I'm glad to hear the design worked for you. I like the modular approach. That makes a lot of sense, I have read that PVC shouldn't be used in contact with foods. I don't know what the chances are that anything bad will leach out but it might be wise to line them with a plastic bag or something deemed food safe. That's why I went with the pitcher as a mold. I'd love to see a picture of your press if you get a chance to post it.

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