Monday, August 19, 2019

Cheese Making Equipment


Hi Friends,

Today's post is all about tools - a follow up to my previous post Cheese Making Ingredients.

I mentioned in my previous post that I lost my cheese making mojo back in 2017. Recently though, Alex made me a cheese press and that re-awakened my passion for cheese making. I invested in better molds and all new ingredients. Since restarting my cheese making, I can really see, feel and smell a difference in the cheeses I'm making compared to the last time! Having the proper tools is SO important!

I also mentioned that cheese making is an investment. Initially it costs money to get all of the equipment and ingredients. But once you have everything, your only cost is milk. The equipment pretty much lasts forever as long as you take care of it. 

As per the diagram I made above, cheese making falls into roughly four stages and I'll show you the equipment I use for each stage. For a printable list, click here.

1. Mixing the ingredients


Double boiler and pot large enough to accommodate your milk and extra liquid. 12 liter pots are good for most recipes though a 16 liter pot would also come in handy for larger cheeses. Most of the recipes I use call for 8-10 liters of milk. A 12-liter pot is needed because you always add extra liquid with your additives. I use my canning pot as the double boiler and it works very well.


Sink. I know most people have sinks! But I wanted to mention it because I use my sink in all of my cheese making. After I heat up the milk in the double boiler, I transfer my pot to the sink to maintain the temperature that way by adding or removing hot/cold water.


Thermometer. A good digital probe thermometer is your best friend in cheese making. Make sure you have back up batteries! I also suggest a little binder clip, it helps to hold your thermometer in place on the pot.


Slotted Spoon. You need the slotted spoon for mixing the ingredients and cooking the curds to evenly incorporate your additives and to make sure the temperature of your milk is even. 


Measuring tools and dishes. To measure your additives and mix them with cool filtered water.


2. Caring for the curds


Balloon whisk and curd knife. The whisk and curd knife are used to cut the curd after it's formed.


Cheesecloth and colander. A good quality cheesecloth will last a long time, I bought mine in 2017 and use it over and over. Here's a tip, spray your cheesecloth with a light spritz of vinegar to keep the curds from sticking. Also...ALWAYS rinse your cheesecloth in cold water first to remove all debris, if you start off with hot water, you'll cook your curds into the cheesecloth, making it difficult to remove them.

3. Molding, Pressing and Brining


Molds and Followers. It's nice to have molds of different sizes. Certain cheeses, like Camembert and Brie, require specialty molds that are like cylinders. Followers are the tops of the molds that help push down evenly on the cheese during pressing. Some followers are flat, I like this shape much better.


Cheese Press. I used to use a breadboard with dumbbells on top and it just didn't do the job. Alex made me a Cheese Press (click for the instructions) and it works perfectly. 


Brining Container large enough to fit your wheels of cheese. I got this at the dollar store. I am still on the lookout for a circular shaped brining container that is big enough to fit my wheels of cheese, but I'm cheap, so if the dollar store doesn't have it, I can live without it.

4. Drying and Aging


Bamboo mats, plastic mesh mats. These are necessary when drying and ripening your cheese because they allow ventilation and help your wheel from sitting in a pool of whey. Bamboo mats can be found at your local grocery store near where they have the Sushi.


Mesh food covers. These are simply dollar store food covers. They keep dust and contaminants off your cheese as it dries. These only show up in the spring because they're marketed as "picnic" covers.


Ripening Box. Simply a plastic box with a cover that is large enough to hold your wheel of cheese - again, dollar store. See my post on Parmesan Cheese on how to put together a ripening box.



Vacuum sealer or wax. I choose to seal my cheeses. I have wax, but never used it. When I used to buy waxed cheeses at the market, I always found I tasted the wax when I opened the cheese. Even leaving it to air out a while didn't help, so I kind of got turned off of wax. Maybe one day I'll try it because the wax I bought is transparent, which is supposed to keep odours away. Sealing your cheese will also cause a strong ammonia odour when you open it. It's always recommended that you allow your cheese to air out for a while before eating it after it's been sealed. This goes for grocery store cheese too. 

If you invest in a vacuum sealer (and everyone should for all sorts of food preservation!), make sure it's a wide one, I have a 12-inch sealer now because my old 8-inch sealer wasn't big enough to fit my wheels of cheese. Another reason my cheeses failed back in 2017 was because I had to cut them in half to seal them. This caused way too much mould growth and I couldn't keep up with brushing it off.


Note: I got bamboozled into buying a "cheese coating" from a not so reputable company back in 2017. DON'T USE IT. It makes your cheese taste like chemicals. I wasted FOUR Cheddars learning this lesson!


Small brush. This is another dollar store buy, it's used to brush off mould from the cheese wheel during the aging process.


Hygrometer/thermometer. I use this in the cheese cave to make sure I maintain the aging temperature required for my cheeses. It also comes in handy to measure the humidity in the ripening box.


Cheese cave. The most essential and the largest investment if you don't already have a little bar fridge! I dream of an underground mouse-proof cheese cave, but I doubt that'll ever happen! So having a small refrigerator makes up for it. I have it at the lowest setting so that it maintains the right temperature.

Specialty Equipment That I Have (Optional)


PH Meter. This is necessary to make Mozzarella. The Mozzarella will not stretch unless it reaches a certain PH. If it doesn't stretch, you basically have a lump of curd. I failed SIX, count 'em SIX times in 2017 before I bought a PH meter. I was following a recipe that assured me I could find that sweet stretch spot by simply doing a stretch test every half hour. Didn't work. The seventh time with the PH meter though...see for yourself:


My Mozzarella stretched! Some people use PH strips but I couldn't find any at the time. The first PH meter I bought was cheap, $19.99 and it died after one use. Do your research on this one if you intend to make a Mozzarella!


Distilled Water. This is to clean your PH meter probe and to use when calibrating it. For some ungodly reason, I can't find distilled water here in Quebec. But they offer this "demineralized" version that's supposed to be the same.


Food Grade Gloves: Essential when making Pasta Filata, also known as “stretched curd cheese" such as Mozzarella. These gloves keep my hands from burning during the stretching of the Mozzarella. Dish gloves won't cut it! As you can see in the above photo when I'm stretching the cheese, I used dish gloves to stretch my Mozzarella when it was hitting 82C or 180F...I kept having to dunk my hands into ice water that Alex kept replenishing for me! I bought the food grade gloves after that experience! Ouch.


Soft Cheese Paper. This is used to wrap soft cheeses like Camembert and Brie. It's a specialty wrapping paper that allows the cheese to breathe as it ages.


I use it to wrap my Cams. If you intend to make soft cheeses, just make sure you buy the LARGEST size of these papers. I made that mistake too! I had to tape 4 smaller ones together and it was a pain in the butt!


Heating Pad. For yogurt making you need to keep your yogurt warm while it incubates for 8 hours. I've been successful using a heating pad on the medium setting for this purpose.


This is just a suggestion: MAKE CHARTS. When you make a lot of cheese like I do, it's VERY easy to get mixed up when you are trying to remember the flipping schedule and aging time. I also use an online calendar to remind myself to flip the cheeses when they need to be flipped!

Patience, time and passion are also essential. You can't rush the cheese making process so you have to make time for it. We all have fails, so patience and passion will help you to keep trying!

Resources (not for promotion):

In Canada: Glengarry Cheese Making I really love this company, the owner is wonderfully knowledgeable and has happily answered many questions I had about cheese making. I'm so glad I found them! Finding a good, helpful and reputable cheese making company is like finding a good vet or a good mechanic.


Personal note: I'm not a fan of New England. I got horrid customer service there, but that is just my own experience. Many people love that company. I still go to their website as a resource to learn about different equipment and ingredients, but I buy from Glengarry in Ontario, Canada.

If you have any questions, please ask. I will answer them the best that I can! Just remember I'm not a professional, I just love to make cheese at home! :)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cheese Making Ingredients


Hi Friends,

Today's post is all about ingredients needed for cheese making. For a printable list, click here. Tomorrow I'll post about the equipment I use for cheese making.

I started cheese making in 2017 and was very poorly equipped. This failure to have the proper ingredients and equipment led to a lot of cheese fails, which eventually had me close to giving up. I stopped making cheese for nearly a year because of that. But when Alex made me a cheese press, my passion came back! I bought all new ingredients from a different cheese making company and I started making cheese again! :)

Let's be real. Cheese making requires an initial investment, just like any hobby. But once you make that investment, your only cost is milk. The ingredients really go a long way. Even though I make lots of cheese, I only have to replenish my additives once every year or two.

As you can see from the photo above, the ingredients for the cheese making process requires 5 steps:

1. Mixing your heated milk with cultures.

2. Mixing optional additives like Lipase or Annato to your milk.

3. Adding Calcium Chloride to pasteurized milk to help reverse the effects of pasteurization.

4. Adding a coagulant, a rennet, to help curd formation.

5. Salting the curd mass to prepare for aging.

Here is the list of ingredients required in making most cheeses:


Milk and milk products. Almost all cheeses that I make require whole milk, 3.25% that is. A very few will call for 2% milk. Some call for "heavy cream" - I use 35% fat whipping cream in those cases. Most home cheese makers use grocery store milk.



Cultures. I love my culture collection! :) There is a different starter culture required for each cheese you make.

For the sake of an example I'll talk about Mesophilic cultures. Some companies sell generic "Mesophilic" starter cultures to make things easier on new cheese makers. They will list "Mesophilic Culture" in the recipes they provide and include a pack in their "cheese kits". But once you get more into choosing different cultures and learning about them, you will see that there are several strands of Mesophilic culture - not all are made the same. And the same goes for most types of cultures out there.

Cultures help with the breakdown of proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in the milk, which then releases flavour compounds and modifies cheese texture; so it's really important to use the right one in your cheese making. I think that beginner cheese makers will succeed with the generic cultures, but it's good to grow your knowledge as you grow your cheese making skills.

I stopped using the generic ingredients this year. I started to learn about bacterial strains in different starter cultures. I'm still learning, but I'm getting better at it now. I refer to this page a lot: Culture Suggestions and Charts. Any good cheese making supply company will be happy to refer you to the right culture for the cheese you're making.

I HATE to promote this other company from New England because of very bad customer service I got from them, but I have to say that their Cultures page is very good. If you click on each culture, it describes what cheese it's best for.

I've hinted (strongly) to Alex a few books I'd love to have about the entire process of cheese making, including chapters on bacteria and cultures! :)


Lipase. Lipase is one of those optional ingredients that you don't necessarily need. BUT...it definitely gives a sharp flavour to cheeses like Parmesan.

Cultures and Lipase are powders. A tip that the owner of Glengarry Cheese gave me was "solids (cultures and lipase) in the freezer, liquids (rennet) in the fridge"...this takes the guess work out of how to store some of your ingredients!


Annatto. This is another optional ingredient. Annatto is a natural orange food colouring. It's made from the achiote tree in South America and gives Cheddar, for example, that orange colour. As you can see, I have a bottle of it, but I've only used it once. I decided this year that I don't want to add any colouring to my cheeses anymore, even if they are supposed to be natural and organic! White Cheddar is fine! :)


Calcium Chloride.  This is a MUST for we who buy milk at the grocery store. Our milk is pasteurized and Calcium Chloride helps to reverse the effects of pasteurization by replacing the calcium that was redistributed and damaged during that process. If you don't use Calcium Chloride in pasteurized milk, your curds won't form. If you're lucky enough to have access to raw milk or a nice healthy milking cow, you don't need this ingredient!

Note: I had a chat with Gianaclis Caldwell, the author of many cheese making books, of which I have several. She told me that a lot of recipes you'll find online and in books for cheese making "assume" the reader has access to raw milk. So a lot of the times, you won't see Calcium Chloride as an ingredient. Just remember, if you buy your milk pasteurized, ALWAYS use Calcium Chloride!


Rennet.  A coagulant is necessary in cheese curd formation. The usual ingredient is rennet. This comes in the form of animal rennet or vegetable/microbial rennet. I've heard mixed reviews about the microbial rennet, saying the results are inconsistent when it comes to curd formation. That's all hearsay to me! I would like to try it at some point, but I do use animal rennet for now and I get very good curd formation. I bought a dropper at the pharmacy because I use double strength rennet and it usually calls for only a few drops in the recipes I use. When you're reading a recipe, check to make sure if the recipe calls for "rennet" or "double strength rennet"...if you use too much rennet, your cheese will be terribly sour!


Cheese Salt. Cheese salt is non-iodized salt. Iodine will kill your cultures so never use table salt!


Cool Filtered Water.  Water in cheese making goes without saying. But cool filtered (not tap) water is what is usually recommended. You use water to mix your additives so you want to make sure it's really clean and free of any components in tap water that may contaminate your cheese.

Other Ingredients:



Lemon Juice. I use lemon juice when making Ricotta cheese. It's really the only time I use it in my cheese making.



Yogurt. I use yogurt as my starter culture when making fresh batches of yogurt.



Citric Acid.  This ingredient is used in Bocconcini, or Quick (Microwave) Mozzarella. Because this cheese is meant to be made in under 30 minutes, the addition of Citric Acid mixed in with rennet helps the curds to shrink quickly. High heat added to this mix helps the curds come together to form that quick Mozzarella. I also use Citric Acid to make Sodium Citrate.


Sodium Citrate. I recently started to use this ingredient when making my American Cheese. Please click on the link for instructions on how to make this at home.

A NOTE ON RECIPES

There are a TON of books, web sites and videos out there! Each recipe claims to be the best, to work effortlessly. The truth of the matter is...you need to just try. Try recipes, watch videos, ask questions, experiment...celebrate your great cheeses and try not to lament the failed ones. Everyone has their own list of favourite sites, so I'll list mine here for reference.

Cheese Forum - cheeseforum.org - this is an amateur cheese making forum where you can read articles and ask questions of members. It's free but requires registration. It's a good resource, though sometimes it takes a while to get an answer to your question.

Gianaclis Caldwell - the author of books such as Mastering Basic Cheese Making. Her site has lots of good articles.

Little Green Cheese - Gavin Webber is the author of this blog. He also has a You Tube Channel which I refer to a lot.

You can also do lots of searches on You Tube for cheese making videos. There are so many out there - but remember, just because it worked for them, doesn't mean it'll work for you so keep an open mind!

Where To Buy Your Ingredients (No Promotion):

In Canada: Glengarry Cheese Making - I wouldn't buy anywhere else...back in 2017, I did by at another Canadian cheese making site and really regretted it! Glengarry is a superior supplier of cheese making supplies and I'm happy to support them!

In the States: New England Cheese Making - Not a fan as I say always...I had a bad experience with them, but some people love them. It's all very subjective! They sell all the ingredients and supplies you'll need. I still refer to that web site for information, I just don't want to deal with their customer service anymore.

Ask me any question please! Just remember I'm an amateur cheese maker doing her best to make yummy cheeses!! :)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Parmesan (Recipe and Instructions)


Hello Everyone!

Today I'm going to show you how to make Parmesan cheese!

What we call "Parm" or "Parmesan" is based on the authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made in the Parma province of Italy. Appellation Regulations prohibit any cheese maker from calling this style of cheese a Parmigiano-Reggiano unless it's made in Parma, Italy; and unless certain ingredients and methods are used.


Now I don't think the Parma police will find me if I call it a Parmigiano-Reggiano, but I will follow the rules and call it a Parmesan! :) A great example of Appellation Regulations is sparkling wine. Though it may taste like a champagne, if it's not made in Champagne, France - it's illegal to call it a champagne. :) If Scotch whiskey isn't made in Scotland, it can't be called a Scotch, but it can be called a "Blended Whisky" etc...


You get the idea! Let's make cheese!! (Click here for printable instructions)


Parmesan Cheese
Yield: about 1/2 kg wheel

Ingredients:

7 liters 2% milk
Half of: 3/8 tsp Thermophilic B Culture
1/16th tsp Lipase
Half of: 3/4 tsp Calcium Chloride
Half of: 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp Double Rennet
Cheese Brine

Note:  The ingredients have funny measurements because I had to halve the recipe. I didn't have a pot big enough to hold 14 liters of milk!

I've divided the process into 4 steps:

1. Mixing the ingredients
2. Caring for the curds
3. Molding, Pressing and Brining
4. Drying and Aging

Stage 1: Mixing The Ingredients


1. Heat milk to 33C or 91F. I heat mine in a double boiler on the stove, then transfer it to my "sink double boiler". I find it so much easier to regulate the temperature when the pot of milk is sitting in warm water.


2. Add the culture and let sit 5 minutes. After the five minutes, stir well, cover and let sit for 45 minutes.

During the entire process of mixing the ingredients, you need to hold your temperature at 33C or 91F. Milk will do a great job of holding the temperature on its own, but if you have the pot in the sink, you can add hot or cold water to regulate your temperature. It's a lot easier than keeping it on the stove. 


3. About 20 minutes before your milk has finished ripening, prepare your Lipase by stirring it into 1 tbsp cool filtered water. You don't have to use Lipase, but it's highly recommended for certain cheeses because it gives the cheese a sharper flavour. It also helps to break down fat molecules.

I'm putting this out there: My Lipase is two years old and I bought it from a less reputable cheese making organization...so when it comes time to taste the Parm, I will have to remember this!!


4. Add your Lipase after the milk's 45 minute ripening period. Stir well and let sit 15 minutes. Meanwhile prepare your Calcium Chloride by stirring it into 1/8 cup cool filtered water; prepare your rennet by stirring it into 1/8 cup cool filtered water.

5. Add the Calcium Chloride, stir for 1 minute. Add the rennet, stir for 1 minute. Cover and let rest 45-60 minutes.

Stage 2: Caring For The Curds


6. Check for a clean break (mine took 55 minutes). A clean break happens when you insert your finger (clean!) or a knife, lift it out and hardly any residue is on your finger or knife. Kind of like doing a toothpick test when you bake a cake.


7. Cut your curds with a whisk, moving up and down slowly and gently then using a scoop-like motion. They should be about the size of little dried peas.


8. There is no rest time for Parmesan curds. Start to heat the curds to 51C or 124F over ONE HOUR, constantly stirring. Don't rush this!! Be gentle with your curds and really keep an eye on the temperature. Cheese fails are devastating, so really follow instructions to a T!! :)

9. After one hour, test your curds. Take some in your hand, if they form a ball and you can press them apart with your thumb, they are ready to press. (Sorry no photo!) Turn off the heat, cover and let the curds sit for 5 minutes.

3. Molding, Pressing And Brining



10. Drain through a cheese cloth lined mold. Cover the top of the curds with the cheese cloth and then with your follower. Pull the cheese cloth up to make sure it's nice and tight under the follower. My standard mold is about 7 inches in diameter by 3.5 inches high. I don't have a smaller one yet, so my Parm will be very thin compared to cheeses that I make that use 10 liters of milk.

**A tip is to spray the cheese cloth with vinegar so the Parmesan curds won't stick to them.


11. Press at 24 pounds for 30 minutes. I love the water bottle method! It's so easy. Here's a link to my Cheese Press post that describes how I press my cheese.


 Note: Check to make sure your whey is clear. If it's too cloudy, use less weight.


12. Gently remove the cheese from the mold and cheese cloth. Turn, re-dress and press at 50 pounds for 12 hours. This is what the wheel looks like after one hour of pressing.


13. After 12 hours, remove your cheese from the mold and the cheese cloth. It already smells so good at this stage! See what I mean about it being thin?


14. Brine your wheel for 18 hours, flipping at the halfway mark. Keep the brined cheese at around 10C or 50F in your cheese cave. Here is my recipe for Cheese Brine.

4. Drying and Aging


15. Air dry for 3 days, flipping twice daily.


16. After 3 days of drying you're ready to start aging your Parm. You need to age it in a ripening box. This is easy to put together.

I use a plastic box. Because my box is tapered (smaller on the bottom), my cheese wheel doesn't quite fit. To remedy this, I put a bowl in the box, then a plastic mesh piece and a bamboo mat to help with ventilation. I then place the cheese wheel on top. This set up really works well for me. 

Because you need to age Parm at 80-90% humidity, the easiest way to do it is to put a wet piece of paper towel in your ripening box (see the first of four photos). Believe it or not, this actually keeps the humidity at 80-90% with the cover on the ripening box! Just make sure you re-hydrate the paper towel daily to keep the humidity level where you want it. Yes, Parm needs babysitting! :)

17. Age your Parm in your cheese cave at around 10C or 50F, flipping daily for the first week, then weekly for 3 months. After three months you can take your wheel out of the ripening box and vacuum pack it. Keep it in the cheese cave and flip it weekly. It'll be ready any time between 6-12 months. I've read that aging it longer than a year makes it extremely dry.