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! :)


Leanna said...

This tutorial on cheese making instruments was really good. I didn't know there was so much to making cheese. Good show!

Rain said...

Thanks Leanna :)

Magic Love Crow said...

What a detailed post! Thank you Rain! Truly appreciated everything! Big Hugs!