Let's face it, cheese is awesome. It can be paired with a wine or scotch, you can slice it, melt it, shred it, serve it up on a platter or have it with a ploughman's lunch. Given the many different ways of eating cheese trying to make it is a natural progression. It is actually an easy process, albeit a time consuming one.
There are four basic kinds of cheese, "soft", "semi-soft", "semi-hard", and "hard" though there is no hard and fast rule for classification of the cheeses in these categories. There are essentially two different processes for making cheese that will make either a "soft" variety or a "hard" variety. This Instructable we will go through the process of making a hard type of cheese. There are a lot of different types of cheese you can make with this process, everything from Cheddar, to Gouda, to Parmesan.
Step 1: Ingredients and Tools
First you are going to need to gather your ingredients and tools. Most of the tools you probably already have in your kitchen. There are some specialty ingredients that you may need in order to make cheese and I will list some sources at the end.
- Large pot, big enough to hold 3-4 gallons (stainless preferred)
- Long thin bladed knife
- Large Colander
- Long handled spoon (plastic or stainless)
- Cheese Wax
- Cheese Mould
- Something really heavy, bricks, weights, etc.
- 2 Gallons of Milk
- Rennet Tablets (there's a liquid also but I prefer the tablets)
- Mesophilic and Thermophilic cheese cultures
- Kosher Salt
- *Calcium Chloride
- *8ozHeavy Cream
As we know, cheese comes from milk. You can use cow, goat, sheep, alpaca, you name it really. But for simplicity's sake we are going to use cow's milk. Make sure you get the freshest and best whole milk you can get, if there is a local dairy you can get raw milk from all the better but pretty much any milk will work. The only milk to avoid is UHT or Ultra-Pasteurized milk, sometimes known as "Shelf Milk".
Calcium Chloride and heavy cream are two additives that can help increase the cheese yield, they aren't 100% necessary but more cheese is always better than less.
Step 2: Clean Everything
Like beer brewing, sanitation is really important with cheese making. Clean everything by boiling or disinfecting it. Sterilize your tools in boiling water in the same pot you plan to make the cheese in.
Step 3: Heat Up Milk
- Pour milk into pot, if you are using heavy cream or calcium chloride add it as well.
- Slowly heat up milk to 88F (31C).
- Mix in your mesophilic and/or thermophilic starters
- Let this sit for 1 hour keeping the temperature between 86-88F (30-31C)
Step 4: Add Rennet and Wait
Depending on the type of rennet you are using the directions may be different. But the outcome should be the same. Rennet causes the milk to coagulate and form curds. I prefer the tablets simply because the shelf life is longer. In the freezer they can last up to 5 years. The liquid form does not last as long but some people swear by it over the tablets.
- Add the rennet by whatever instructions are included. Tablets you add to water to dissolve and then pour into milk
- Let this set for 45 minutes keeping the temperature between 86-88F (30-31C)
Step 5: Cut the Curds
About now your house will probably smell a lot like a cottage cheese factory. In any other situation this is a bad sign but perfectly normal in this instance. Also cutting the curds is usually inappropriate in mixed company.
- Using your knife cut the curds 1/2" (1.27cm) squares making sure to cut all the way to the bottom of the pot.
- Slowly bring the temperature up to 102F (39C) this should take about 30 minutes do not heat them too fast. You can very slowly stir them to stop them from clumping but do not break them up.
- Keep the temperature at 102F (39C) for 20 minutes letting the curds gently settle into the whey.
Step 6: Drain the Whey
I'm not really sure how Ms. Muffet managed to eat this stuff, but I wouldn't.
- Line your colander with the cheese cloth and put in the sink or over another pot to collect whey
- Gently pour the curds and whey into the colander.
Now you can save the whey if you want and use it for a substitute for water in baking bread or pancakes. The whey is also good for your compost bin.
Step 7: Drain Some More
Pull up your cheesecloth and tighten it around the curds with a twisting motion. This will squeeze more whey from the curds and help them drain. Let them hang for up to an hour while the curds continue to drip.
Step 8: Cheese Balls
After the whey has drained you should be left with a very crumbly ball of cheese curds. Feel free to taste it at this point as it should taste like a very fresh young cheese like ricotta.
- Break apart the cheese ball and add a tablespoon of kosher salt to it. Make sure to mix it in thoroughly.
Step 9: Forming Cheese
There is a real art to forming cheese in the moulds. The weight pushes more whey from the cheese and helps it to bond together. As time goes by you need to increase the weight with each step. I recommend you do this in the sink to allow additional whey to drain out.
- Transfer your cheese curds to a mould lined with cheesecloth.
- Add 10lbs of weight for 15 minutes
- Remove cheese from mould, flip it over and press with 20lbs for 30 minutes.
- Remove and flip again and press with 40lbs for 90 minutes.
- Remove and flip and press with 50lbs for 8 hours (overnight essentially).
Step 10: Unmould Your Cheese!
This is it, the moment of truth. Open your mould and you should have a delicious looking cheese wheel. But don't eat it yet as it needs to age some and is still somewhat fragile so handle it gently.
Step 11: Optional- Brine Cheese
If you want you can soak your cheese in a salt brine overnight. This will add flavor, reduce acidity and help prevent bacteria. Completely optional, I have done it both ways and like the outcome for both about equally. Once you have brined your cheese wipe it off, let it air dry for a day or two and continue to the next step.
Step 12: Wax Your Cheese and Age It
Cheese wax provides a protective layer for your cheese that keeps off unwanted mold and bacteria and helps the cheese to retain moisture. Use a double boiler to melt the wax and coat your cheese with it. You will have to dunk your cheese into the wax several times to completely cover it with a thick layer of wax. I like to stick a label to the cheese and wax it right in place so I know the date and type of cheese.
Now place the waxed cheese wheel in an area to age for 4-6 weeks. The temperature should be 52-56F (11-13C) with a humidity in the upper 75-85%. Cool damp basements with limited light work great for this.
Step 13: Cutting Your Cheese and Eating It!
Now we cut the cheese (I'm juvenile).
Not all cheeses work well for all purposes. This cheese is great sliced up and melts ok for a panini.
Step 14: Closing Thoughts
There are a lot of different recipes and ways to make cheese and some experimentation is expected. You can add hot peppers, or soak the cheese in wine, or experiment with different cultures such as buttermilk. But any way you slice is home made cheese can be just as delicious as a store bought variety. The process is quite time intensive but rewarding.
Step 15: Resources
These are some resources I used to make cheese:
Some people in the home cheese making world have a love/hate relationship with this resource, I found it great to get started and to purchase cultures from. I also purchased her book.
This is a great place to find recipes or to help troubleshoot any issues you may have
I found this to be another good source of supplies.