And now for something completely different!
For most of a year now I have been eager to try making cheddar cheese. We have made mozzarella cheese several times over the last few years - ever since I did cheese-making as a special project in the biology class I taught at Tri-County Early College High School. Last week I finally picked up a few gallons of milk and set an evening aside.
Let me tell you, cheddar is a lot more involved than mozzarella!
For those of you who are newer to this than I am, mozzarella falls into the "soft cheese" category. Essentially, you warm the milk, add your starter(s), warm some more, cut the curd and then alternate warming and kneading the curd to get the whey out. The whole process takes less than an hour.
Cheddar is in the family of "hard cheeses". The key difference between hard and soft cheeses is that hard cheeses have to spend some time under pressure. Back in September I built my cheese press based on pictures I found online. It then sat in the basement for the next three months.
Through the course of my Night of Cheddar, I discovered that making cheddar is pretty easy - it just takes a long time. I started at about 7 P.M. and thought I'd be done around 11 P.M. Right...
The recipe I followed was for a Farmhouse Cheddar (from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll). Most of making hard cheeses is simply waiting: at two different stages I had to wait 45 minutes; another step requires 30 minutes of slowly raising the temperature of the curd; another one hour of straining.
My main difficulty was that my thermometer was not calibrated. As a result, the milk/curd got too hot and a skin developed during the straining. This resulted in the curd not actually draining! I eventually figured this out after an hour of waiting - I broke the skin and whey magically started draining! So much for a sort of normal bedtime.
Finally, the curds were drained enough to go into the cheese press. I wrapped the curd in cheesecloth, pressed it for 10-20 minutes in the cheese press. At this point it actually started looking like a block of cheese! Hard cheeses have to be flipped, re-wrapped, and pressed several times. The last pressing for this recipe is 12 hours. Official bedtime: 1:30 A.M.
Once out of the press, the cheese lived on a board on the dining room table for several days. I diligently flipped the cheese a few times a day to allow it to dry out. Last night, I finally was able to wax the cheese! I read somewhere that it was okay to use beeswax.
Last two steps in making cheddar: (1) let the block age for one a month and (2) enjoy!