Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cheddar Cheese! (Part 4: Aging); Mozzarella

Here is my baby! :)))

After 14 hours of coating and waiting between coats,  my Cheddar cheese wheel is all protected and aging!

It's in the "cheese cave" now. After a few hours, the temperature was 11 Celcius and 86% humidity and it's been holding around that since I put it in so I'm pretty happy! I have to flip it once a day for the first month, then twice weekly until it's ready. We'll be opening it on Halloween so I hope there are no scary surprises lol!

I made another Mozzarella and each time I make it, it gets that much easier. I use The Kitch'n's recipe and instructions. I did learn something new though.

Fresh Buffalo-style Mozzarella should be eaten within a day or two. It can be kept a week, but it starts to get slimy after a while as the whey releases a little more. If I store the Mozzarella in brine, it gets even slimier so now I store it in wax paper in the fridge. It still releases whey and is slimy but less so. I think next time I make Mozzarella, I'll half the recipe and make it as needed so that we always have it fresh and at its best!

It was SO GOOD on our salad that night though! Making cheese is such a fun thing to do and we definitely are reaping the rewards!!!

I have plans to start a second Cheddar this week to age for 6 months. My bacteria cultures should be arriving by the end of the week, if I have time, I'd like to try a new cheese too!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cheese Mold

Just a quick post today. Sam asked me about my cheese mold so I thought it merited a post. This is the Cheddar mold - as you can see it's perforated all over. This is to allow the whey to seep out during the pressing stages so that the cheese gets as dense as possible.

When it was in the pressing stage, I lined the mold with cheesecloth to keep the cheese all in one blob...making it easier to flip out after. The reason why I ended up using my roasting pan was so the cheese didn't sit in its own whey during pressing. If I had just put it on a breadboard for example, it would have been sitting in whey - and making the pressing process kind of useless because it would have kept reabsorbing the liquid at the bottom.

This is NOT the ideal set up, but it worked for me! :) The roasting pan has little ridges in it, so balancing the weight on top was like building a very heavy house of cards!

I keep saying mold mold mold...I have to differentiate between the plastic type (as above) or the wonderful living bacterial type that I can't wait to see on my cheese hee hee...actually if I follow the true Canadian spelling, bacterial fluffy white and blue stuff is spelled with a "U" as in mould. I'll do that from now on!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cheddar Cheese! (Part 3: Coating) and a Homemade Cheese Cave

On Day 4 of the drying process, I could dab no more moisture off my little cheese wheel, so I knew it was time to coat it. The kit came with a "cheese coating" of which I knew nothing about so I asked the company and this was the answer:

"The coating is a polymer coating with a mold inhibitor called natamycin. It's not edible. Many cheesemakers use the coating first and then a wax for a more moist cheese. The coating forms a hard shell around the cheese that is cut off or peeled away at the end of the aging process."

So in lieu of waxing my cheese, I coated it. I also read that all hard cheeses need to be coated/waxed to keep them safe from too much moisture, causing mold to form and spread inside the cheese. Some people will coat the cheese with olive oil then cover it with cheesecloth to act as a wax or coating. I'm not sure what I'll use next time! More research needed...

I started the coating process today. This will be a twelve-ish hour task - well, not 12 hours in full. But it takes about 2-3 hours for each coat to dry, then I need to flip it over and do the other side. Three coats x 2 sides x 2-3 hours...yeah...babysitting the cheese day! :) This is after the first coat that hasn't quite dried yet.

It's been interesting and kind of annoying to get the right temperature and humidity levels to age cheese in our little bar/cheese fridge! At the lowest setting, I could achieve 5 Celcius and 40% humidity. Ideal conditions for cheese aging is 12 Celcius and 85% humidity. While the Cheddar was drying out and being coated, I played around a little with the fridge's settings.

I managed to get 9 Celcius by keeping the setting on the lowest and filling the door shelves with cans and bottles of beer and soda. Now comes my creative side, I folded a hand towel between the freezer area and the fridge area. It's one of those fridges that basically has an open freezer (the freezer door doesn't do much in my opinion!); so there was too much cold air coming down to the fridge. The towel fixed that right up and I could maintain the 12 degree temperature! Step one completed!

Step two: The humidity was challenging. I tried several things that I'd read about on the Cheese Forum. The "best" result was a bowl of water with a sponge in it. But even with that, I could only reach 48% humidity. I needed 85%.

More experiments...And I found the solution!

I will keep using the water bowl/sponge to keep the overall humidity of the fridge at 48%; and put the Cheddar into an airtight container with a wet piece of paper towel in it to reach a variable humidity of 79-85% (in the container)- which is completely acceptable! I have to make sure I change the paper towel every day or so. I did a test run with an empty container, so I may need to adjust for the first few days.

***wiping forehead out of relief***

Step three: Temperature is good, humidity is good...but an airtight container? The cheese needs air flow...ahhh that cheese kit and the phrase "Just Add Milk"...keep all this in mind, anyone who wants to make Cheddar or any aged cheese!!! The solution to the air flow is to open the lid of the airtight container daily. I have to flip the cheese daily anyway so this isn't too much of an issue. But after the first month, I only flip it weekly, so I'll have to make it a daily ritual to air out the cheese container while changing the wet paper towel.

All said, I finally reached my goal. The nice thing is that I'll be able to put maybe 5-6 small wheels in there to age at a time. But - I'm assuming that I'll have to play with the humidity control again once I have more cheese in there! 

After the coating process is done, I can start to age my first Cheddar! And...I can plan to start another Cheddar this week that will age 6 months! Of course, I will need more containers. I should really put together a little list of all the added supplies I had to buy to make ONE little wheel of Cheddar!

I'll be honest, I feel a little naive about the "Just Add Milk" part of Cheddar making. Yeah...the kits are deceptive, I won't argue with that, but the company where I bought my supplies has great prices and learning tools on their site - plus their customer service is excellent, fast and friendly - something rare these days. So I'll still support them, but maybe I'll write to them about all of this for their information. was a very good learning process. I think that if I knew I needed to do so much more, I may have been too intimidated to try it. But after making the Cheddar, my goal was not to waste it, so that's what motivated me to find all of these home-made solutions! Alex and I talked about a REAL cheese cave when we buy our place. We LOVE cheese, so that'll be something we will definitely make a reality in the future!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cheddar Cheese! (Part 2 - Drying)

Day 1 of Drying Stage

So here is part 2 of my Cheddar making adventure! :)

After the 12 hours on Sunday of pressing the cheese under 40 pounds of weight, Alex took over because I was fast asleep at that point. 

That night, the drying stage began. You have to dry the cheese for 6 days under 65-85% humidity and between 12 and 21 Celcius. I bought a little hygrometer at the hardware store a few weeks back for this purpose. Yet another piece of equipment NOT listed on the Cheddar kit. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining...but anyone thinking you "just add milk" will have some surprises so I'm here to be the guinea pig for you lol! :)

The recipe suggested this exact set up. A plastic box with a draining area to place the cheese (so it doesn't sit in whey); with a binder clip on the lip to keep the lid somewhat open for air flow. As I move ahead with the cheese making, I'm going to ditch all the plastic and go for glass or wood. Also the drying mat will soon become a bamboo mat instead of that awful plastic stuff.

My challenge was finding somewhere that the cats couldn't get at it and where I could keep the temperature and humidity at the right levels.

Day 2 of Drying Stage

The answer? The oven. I put the oven light on for the photo, but I kept it off so the temperature wouldn't rise. It's kept good conditions so far and luckily we haven't used the oven! You can see that on day 2 of the drying stage, the cheese is starting to turn a little yellow. This is great!

I took this photo this morning on day 3 and it's continuing to dry and turn yellow. This cheese requires a bit of babysitting. You have to flip and blot it twice a day and really keep an eye on the humidity and temperature. I mean, I'm an amateur without a cheese cave, so I'm doting a lot more than most would I think! I am so happy because the cheese is drying really well and needs just a little blotting each day.

I had a dilemna. After doing a lot of reading, I realized that most aging cheeses need a constant temperature of around 10-12 Celcius during the entire aging process. Being without a cheese cave...and not trusting the basement conditions (or the mice!)...I was kind of downhearted, thinking my cheese aging would fail. But as I mentioned on my Garden blog, Alex offered his bar fridge to me. He uses this almost daily for his cocktail mixology. liqueur making and fruit aging...but he felt it was more important that I have the fridge for this. It was so wonderful of him; and I have renewed confidence that my Cheddar will age well! Add this to the other "surprises" needed to make Cheddar!

My biggest challenge will be the humidity, which needs to stay around 85%. A lot of folks will rig their cheese fridge with humidifiers and wires and gauges...I'm NOT that handy! We emptied out and cleaned the little fridge and I'm going to turn it on today and find the right temperature. I'm also going to try putting a bowl with a sponge and water on the bottom to see if it will hold the humidity I need. I also read on the Cheese Forum that someone successfully used a bowl of water next to a bowl of salt to hold humidity's going to be a challenge but I'm certainly up for it! I have 3 more days to get the right atmosphere for the aging process!

Now with my renewed confidence...I've ordered some lovely bacterias so I can make curd cheese, cream cheese, Dry Jack, more Cheddar and some Pizza Mozzarella! 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cheddar Cheese! (Part 1)

The Cheddar Challenge begins!!! This is where I am in the process as I type this on Sunday evening. I started at 7am this morning and by 1pm I put the cheese back into its mold to sit under 40 pounds of weight for the next 12 hours. After that I have some work to do tonight and in a few days before it officially ages for the next three months!!

First of all, I just want to say this was a lot of fun, but you really need to dedicate time and patience...have I mentioned that before?? Also, see the package where it says "Just Add Milk"? While that's true, you need more than just milk to buy (unless you have cheese making supplies!). I'll talk about that as I go along.

Here is the link to the PDF recipe for Cheddar Cheese. It's a very long recipe so I won't repeat it all here since I followed the instructions word for word. It's a bit intimidating at first, but it was so easy to follow!

Cheddar doesn't have a lot of ingredients, just milk, bacterial culture, rennet and calcium chloride. All of these came with the kit, but I also bought them separately for future cheese making. I'm starting to get interested in bacteria and mold...yes, I am. :) I need to learn more about these lovely ingredients that would otherwise give me the heebie jeebies. The Cheddar uses a Mesophilic Culture which is a culture that works best for cheeses like Cheddar, Monteray Jack and Feta. These types of cheese don't get heated to more than about 100 F, so the Mesophilic Culture works best at these lower temperatures. There is another type of culture Thermophilic, which works best at higher temperatures. For example, I'll be ordering and using some Thermophilic culture for my Pizza Mozzarella which will be heated to 185 F.

Here is an example of what you need that you might not have. A BIG double boiler. Sure, you could do this all on the stove top in your 12-quart pot, but it would be very difficult NOT to burn the milk and curd, plus keep the right temperature during the process. Another suggestion is to do it in the sink, using the sink as the "double boiler" but I couldn't see that it would be easy to keep the right temperature of the water plus our sinks are tiny. I was in a pinch so I used my water bath canner as my double boiler. I put the Mason Jar tray upside down to hold my cheese pot; and filled it with enough water to reach about a third way up the cheese pot. This worked amazingly!

7 am to 9:30 am

Just like the Mozzarella, you warm up your milk very slowly. When it hits 88F, you add the culture and let it ripen for 45 minutes at 88 F. This is where the double boiler was essential for me, it really kept the temperature of the milk even. Then you add calcium chloride and rennet and again let it sit at 88F for another 45 minutes. This is the easy part because you have a little down time while you're waiting. Just check the double boiler water every so often to make sure it's at 90F. That will ensure your future-cheese is doing fine! This photo shows the soft curds that formed at this part of the process, again, just like a soft tofu. You carefully cut the curds to 1/2 inch squares then let it sit a few minutes.

Curds after 10 minutes and 20 minutes of cooking.

Curds after 30 minutes and 40 minutes of cooking.

9:30 am to 10:45 am

This step was all about patience. This step required me to stir constantly and very slowly for 80 minutes, yup! 80 minutes!...while keeping the temperature to 101-102 F. The above photos show how the curd looked after the first 40 minutes, it was neat to watch it get more solid from a little tofu mess! I was happy to have my laptop on the counter to watch a few tv shows while I stirred, otherwise it would have gotten a little tiring! 

Something that would come in REALLY handy: a digital thermometer with a cable so I don't have to keep inserting my hand held one! I put this on my Christmas list for Alex! It has so many uses...the cable can go right into your meat in the oven while the temperature gauge rests on the counter...anyway, I just love this thing and it would help in the cheese making process too!

This is my finished cooked curd after 80 minutes. The slow and constant stirring encourages the curd to release the yellow whey to become a dryer cheese.

10:45 am to 11:45 am

At this point, the curd is drained, broken apart and salted with various resting times in between. It kind of looks like poutine cheese at this point!

11:45 am to 12:15 pm

First stage of pressing. At this point you shove all the curds into the cheesecloth-covered mold. I needed to keep 10 pounds of weight on the cheese for 20 minutes. Good thing I lift light weights! I used my 7 pound and 4 pound dumbbells for this! This is how it looked in the mold after 20 minutes under 10 pounds of weight. I hope to have a real cheese press in my future!! It would make things a lot easier!

The next thing was to gently remove the cheese from the mold and flip it over so the top goes back into the bottom of the mold for the next stage. I was so nervous at this point! But it was quite solid. I changed my set up a little. I took out my roasting pan for this because the cheese is supposed to drain. Another bit of creativity on my part since I don't have a draining board. In the very first stage, I used my cookie rack but soon realized it will bend under all the added weight so I needed something stronger.

12:15 pm to 12:45pm

Second stage of pressing. Next up, I added seven more pounds to make 18 pounds total and pressed it for a further 20 minutes. Same thing, I had to flip it and put it back into the mold for the third stage of pressing. It was very solid at this point.

So this is where I'll stop for now. This is my Cheddar after 40 minutes of pressing. It is currently sitting hidden behind the microwave with 40 pounds pressing it for 12 hours. (40 pounds is 4 bricks and 2 of the seven pound dumbbells!) I had to hide it and barricade it from the cats!!! I finished the whole process 6 hours after I started and (unfortunately for me) I have to stay up  until 1am to take the cheese out of the mold and prep it for drying. Alex offered to do it, but I want to be up for that part of it too!

It'll stay in my drying container for the next few days...probably until Wednesday morning. At that point it'll be coated with "cheese coating" (it's orange); then aged for 3 months. I'll post about this next weekend!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Homemade Mozzarella (Second Try) SUCCESS!

May I gloat? :)))))

I really take pleasure in creating and after the first Mozzarella didn't quite cut the mustard...I tried again this morning and it was a wonderful success! I'll go through the recipe and the steps again because I tried a different recipe with a different method this time. I'm a believer in old school methods, but I have to say...this microwave method IS A KEEPER.

(from the Kitch'n website; there is a great video on there too, here is the You Tube version)

4 liters of milk 
(the recipe calls for 1 gallon, which is really 3.8 liters, but I used the whole 4L container...I'll be more careful in future cheese making!)
Filtered water
1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp liquid rennet (I used 1/8 tsp double strength liquid)
1-2 tsp cheese salt (or Kosher salt)

Update: (July 16th) I originally used 1 1/2 tsp of cheese salt in the cheese during the folding and stretching...then added 1 tsp to the whey to store the cheese. A day later? WAY too salty! Next time I'll just use half the amount! I think this part is very subjective because usually we love salty cheese, but it was slightly overkill.

You will need:
Minimum 6-quart pot (aluminum is not suggested)
Slotted spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
2 large bowls (one needs to be microwavable)
Long cheese-cutting knife (I used an icing knife - perfect substitute!)
Rubber gloves or heat-proof hands if you have them ;)


This photo shows one of my new tools I got for cheese making - a stainless steel slotted spoon. ESSENTIAL. A tip for cheese making is the up and down "cheese maker's stir". You slowly lift the spoon up and push it down in the milk and so on, to keep an even temperature in your cheese making.

1. Prepare the Citric Acid and Rennet
Measure out 1 cup of water. Stir in the citric acid until dissolved. Measure out 1/4 cup of water in a separate bowl. Stir in the rennet until dissolved.

2. Warm the Milk
Pour the milk into the pot. Stir in the citric acid solution. Set the pot over medium heat and warm to 90°F, stirring gently. At this heat, my curds started to form.

3. Add the Rennet
Remove the pot from heat and gently stir in the rennet solution. Count to 30 (one-banana-two-banana-three-banana...). Stop stirring, cover the pot, and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. I was making coffee and let it sit 7 minutes.

4. Cut the Curds
After five minutes, the milk should have set, and it should look and feel like soft silken tofu. If it is still liquidy, re-cover the pot and let it sit for another five minutes. Once the milk has set, cut it into uniform curds: make several parallel cuts vertically through the curds and then several parallel cuts horizontally, creating a grid-like pattern. Make sure your knife reaches all the way to the bottom of the pot. 

Here is my "checkerboard" pattern. At this point I knew my cheese would be a success because my last batch was still quite runny at this point.

5. Cook the Curds 
Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat and warm the curds to 105°F. Stir slowly as the curds warm, but try not to break them up too much. The curds will eventually clump together and separate more completely from the yellow whey. My curds did separate quite a bit even though I was super gentle with the stirring.

6. Remove the Curds from Heat and Stir
Remove the pot from the heat and continue stirring gently for another 5 minutes.

After Separating, there is still some whey in the curds - that's okay!

7. Separate the Curds from the Whey and Microwave
Ladle the curds into a microwave-safe bowl with the slotted spoon (don't throw out the whey). 

This is what it looks like after the first minute microwaved.

Microwave the curds for one minute, whey and all. After one minute microwaved, drain off the whey. Put on your rubber gloves and fold the curds over on themselves a few times. At this point, the curds will still be very loose and cottage-cheese-like. Note: this is where the video comes in handy, really shows you the simple technique of folding.

8. Microwave the Curds to 135°F
Microwave the curds for another 30 seconds and check their internal temperature. If the temperature has reached 135°F, continue to the next step. If not, continue microwaving in 30-second bursts until they reach temperature. The curds need to reach this temperature in order to stretch properly.
(Mine took 2 minutes total)

9. Stretch and Shape the Mozzarella
When my curds reached 135F, I drained what was left of the whey - though the recipe didn't mention this. Honestly, unless your skin is made of asbestos...use TWO sets of disposable gloves for this next step. I felt the heat despite this, but my hands were safe. 135F is HOT. I'm going to have to look for a better solution...heat-proof cheese making gloves? Do they exist??

Sprinkle 1 1/2 tsps salt over the cheese and squish it with your fingers to incorporate. (July 16th Update: For our taste this is WAY too salty...I'd use 1/2 - 1 tsp only) Using both hands, stretch and fold the curds repeatedly. It will start to tighten, become firm, and take on a glossy sheen. When this happens, you are ready to shape the mozzarella. Make one large ball, two smaller balls, or several bite-sized bocconcini. Try not to over-work the mozzarella. Note: my last batch tore like crazy and I couldn't stretch it at all! This was like a dream to stretch! The little "bubbles" are the cheese salt that hadn't melted yet.

NOTE ABOUT SALT:  If you use iodized salt (table salt) it will kill the lactic bacteria in the cheese - which is essential for aging. Mozzarella isn't aged, but I read tips to just never use table salt in cheese making ever. Buy cheese salt from a cheese making supply shop or use Kosher salt.

10. Using and Storing Your Mozzarella 
The mozzarella can be used immediately or kept refrigerated for a week. To refrigerate, place the mozzarella in a small container. Mix a teaspoon of cheese salt with a cup of cool whey and pour this over the mozzarella. (July 16th Update: Again, the day after, we found this is WAY too salty...I wouldn't even salt the whey for storage) Cover and refrigerate. This recipe took a total of just about an hour to make and made about a pound of cheese. Price-wise, it cost me $7.35 for the milk. The cost of the rennet, citric acid and salt...well, I have TONS of it, so I could divide that up by 25 batches (which I'm sure I have more than enough for) and add 40 cents...$7.75 for two containers of Mozzarella which would cost me $9.98 at the store. Not to mention, there are no additives in mine! As I said, SUCCESS!

A sunny day, a glass of red wine and good company is all you need with a nice cheese plate!! Want to join us? Better hurry, this cheese won't last long!!! :))