Master Recipe for Simple, Hard Cheese
This recipe is still going through major edits, so there may be substantial changes in the future based on testing and feedback.
This is a recipe for a hard cheese without the need for a press. The way around needing a cheese press is actually quite simple, the cheese is tightly wrapped in cheese cloth and weight is added on top of it. This effectively simulates a press, and has it's advantages and disadvantages.
The main advantage is cost. Cheese presses either cost money or they cost a pretty good amount of time to build one. And if you are new the cheese making, it is usually the single biggest roadblock, so in this sense it is a reasonable trade off. The major disadvantage is the cheese loaf made with this technique will not look as nice as one made in a press. It will be flatter, and probably don't have a consistent shape. But if you are using the cheese for cooking/slicing and don't intend on winning any aesthetic awards, then it's still a good option.
- 1 gallon of 2% milk, not ultra homogenized and also not organic. Conventional, homogenized, pasteurized 2% milk
- 2 cups of 1% cultured buttermilk. It is essential it is cultured
- 1 tablespoon non iodized salt. Mortons Kosher salt works very well, but if you use Kosher salt you may need to add more
- Cheese cloth
- Cookie sheet or wide pan with a tall edge
- 10 lbs weight
- Pot that can hold 1 and 1/2 gallons of liquid
Calcium Chloride is an optional ingredient for store bought milk. This additive adds additional calcium to the milk that is lost during the commercial milk production cycle. It makes the curd firmer and can slightly improve texture in low calcium milk.
1. Pour off two cups of the 2% milk. You can drink this, put it on your cereal, or just save it. Add two cups of buttermilk to the 2% container, and put the jug back into the fridge. You should now have a gallon container of 2% milk that has had two cups of buttermilk added. The purpose of this step is to introduce the good bacteria from the buttermilk and let them take hold in the gallon of milk.
2. Twelve to 24 hours later remove from fridge, and place in your sink. Turn on your tap and fill the sink that has the jug of milk with water. Ideally if you have a thermometer it should be 88F/31C. This feels a little warmer than room temperature, and would definitely not be described as warm or hot. Let the jug rest in the water for an hour, let the water out, and repeat that step. The reason to repeat the step is invariably the water surrounding the jug will have gotten colder, and we want to get the temperature back up to 88F. Let it rest for another hour, this is allowing the bacteria that gives cheese flavor a chance to grow.
3. Pour the milk into the pot that can hold at least 1 and 1/2 gallons of liquid, and add the rennet according to the instructions on the package. Usually it says to add the rennet to about a quarter cup of water, then add that to the milk. This is done to prevent clumping (think of lumpy gravy, same sort of thing).
4. Wait an hour, test for clean break. You do this by sticking your clean finger in the milk and pulling it out like a claw. If the milk behaves similar to Jello, you are ready to procede to the next step. If it acts like pudding, then wait another hour. A clean break is critical to making cheese, otherwise none of the next steps will work.
5. Cut the curd with a long knife, carefully, so the entire curd is cut into walnut sized lumps. You can slightly agitate the pot while doing this to keep them seperate, but what you want to avoid is mixing up the whey that is coming out of the curd with the curd itself.
6. Gently stir the curds in the whey, then start ladling off the whey. You can also pour the whey off, just be careful not to pour off any of the curd. You can save the whey for baking, feed it to animals, or just dispose down the sink.
After about half the whey is gone, add 1/2 gallon of luke warm (90F/33C) tap water to the walnut sized curds. This is done to remove some of the lactose so it doesn't get super sour/sharp. Also, the hotter the water you add, the drier the cheese will end up.
7. Once most of the whey has been ladled or poured off, break up curds with your clean hand into bean sized lumps. Place those in a colander (strainer) in the sink and let them drain for half an hour or so.
8. Sprinkle salt on the curds and mix thoroughly. Taste a small piece of the curd, it should taste as salty as cheddar cheese. If it doesn't taste very saltly, once you have verified the curd was mixed well, add more salt. Cheese with low salt content spoils very quickly and can make you ill, it is not a matter of flavor necessarily it is a matter of food safety.
10. Place the drained and salted curds on the cheese cloth, then take the four edges and wrap it into a very tight ball. You can use this time to squeeze out some of the whey with your hands as well, but the important thing is to make the ball as tight as you can. This will prevent the cheese from being completely flattened during the pressing.
11. Put the wrapped curd on a cookie sheet with the twisted end down. Place a cutting board on top, and give it a good push with your hand. If it goes too flat or comes undone, take the cutting board off and re-twist it.
When you can press pretty hard on the wrapped curd, then place 10 lbs of weight on it and let it press over night, or for about 12 hours. If there is a lot of whey in the cookie sheet, you can take the whey off and dump it in the sink.
12. After it has been pressed, remove it from the cheese cloth and let it air dry for two days. Flip it over twice a day, and on the third day coat it with a thin layer of vegetable oil or vegetable shortening and tightly wrap it with clean cheese cloth. You want every square millimeter you possible can to be touching the cloth, this will inhibit bad molds from growing on the surface.
The last step is the hardest, waiting. Find the coolest place in your home and stash it there, for two weeks at least. If you can get a place that is 50F/10C that would be ideal, but do not put it in your fridge. Your cheese will not develop into cheese if it goes into the fridge, it will remain curd.
After one day of drying
Notice it is quickly starting to develop a 'rind', or dryer outer layer. Since we want the rind to be even around the whole loaf, flip it once or twice a day. You can see the 'bottom' part in the first photo here, it is still moister and lighter than the 'top'. This must be evened out if we want it to age correctly and not spoil.
The time needed to dry the loaf adequately has mainly to do with how thick the loaf was and how humid your storage location is. Some higher moisture cheeses will take longer, but in the case of a pressed, semi thin cheese like this one, it shouldn't take more than perhaps a week. Two to three days has been sufficient for many people.
For the first few days, keep a close eye on it. If it starts to 'weep', that is expel droplets of moisture, dry it off with some clean paper towels and apply a small amount of oil or shortening to the moist area. Continue this process until it stops weeping.
I find a good place to age is an a small, cool cupboard with a glass of water next to the loaf. The water is to keep the humidity higher so it doesn't dry out too much.
IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT TO LET YOUR CHEESE AGE! Do not be tempted to taste it at this point. It will taste awful. This style of cheese will take close to two months to develop any real flavor, which means you must be patient. Please see this post and it's links for more info on just how important this step is.