Fern’s Cheese Making Tips

Now that Frank and I have been making cheese for about four years, we have worked out some kinks, developed a working routine, and figured out how to solve some problems that were

Our first wheel of cheddar

affecting either the ease of the process or the flavor of the cheese. Except for reading my cheese making books, or articles online, I have never met anyone that makes cheese. Much of what we have done, and continue to do, is trial and error. And, as with any new venture, once the basics are somewhat mastered, the time of real learning can begin. It’s like gardening. Once you have grown a particular plant for a few seasons, then you really begin to figure out how to increase production through proper soil conditions, moisture requirements, insect pest control and companion planting. I once heard an analogy of comparing learning to an onion. As you peel off a layer, it reveals more of the onion. I think cheese making, gardening, and many other ventures are the same. The more you learn and master, the more is revealed that you can learn.

Making cheese. It takes some time, equipment and good, quality ingredients. All of the cheese we have made comes from our own goats’ milk. There have been a few batches of mozzarella along the way that I tried making with milk that I had skimmed the cream from, but it just doesn’t taste as good as whole milk, so we don’t skim the cream before making cheese. I have already written articles about making several different cheeses, as well as how I wax our cheddar, and will list them here for your convenience. 

 

There are also several more articles and recipes for using some of these cheeses, like making cheesecake from Chevre, listed under the page, The Things You Can Do With Milk, found at the top right hand corner of the blog under Things To Read.

I included a picture of our first wheel of cheddar for a couple of reasons. One, I was very excited to actually begin making cheddar, and two, because it tasted awful. It was rather disheartening to finally have a dream come true, only to have to wait a couple of months to find out it was very bitter with a strong after taste. After two years, yes two years, we began to wonder if all homemade cheddar was supposed to have this strong, bitter aftertaste. Well, it’s not. Most of our cheddar up to that point ended up with a reddish kind of mold inside the wax. It wasn’t mold in the normal sense, like that stuff that shows up on your bread or old leftovers in the frig, but it was something that was obviously growing in there. So, I read all of my cheese making books and did many online searches. That was a couple of years ago, so I can’t give you the sources of my information, because I don’t remember where I found them. But this is what I discovered.

 

One. Before you wax any cheese for aging, brush the entire surface well with apple cider vinegar, then let it dry for a bit. Do this after you have let it sit and form the rind for a few days, according to the directions for the type of cheese you are making. The vinegar will help kill any surface bacteria on your cheese before you encase it in wax. Two. Keep your wax as hot as you can get it during the entire waxing process. I wax with a brush, not the dipping method, which is much faster that applying layers of wax with a brush. There is a post

listed above about waxing. At first I was melting the wax, then turning off the heat. According to my research, the wax needs to be as hot as possible during the entire process. This also helps to kill any bacteria on the surface of the cheese. The result? No more strong, bitter aftertaste, and a wonderful cheddar flavor. Needless to say, I was very happy after two years of making cheese to finally discover the reason for my much less than desirable cheeses.

And the best way to clean up those wax drips from the stove and cabinet? Paper towels.

Some other tips I found along the way for making cheddar have caused me to adjust a few things. I only ripen the milk and buttermilk for 45 minutes instead of an hour. This will lessen the acidity somewhat. Reasons for too much acidity can vary, with one of them being the animal you milk. I also use just a hair less rennet than the recipe calls for. As we’ve have gained more experience, and identify certain flaws in the process, research has been very helpful in increasing the success and flavor of the finished product.

 

Another thing I discovered recently is how to keep the wheels of cheese from being very difficult to remove from the mold after the last 24 hour press. It appears that it is natural for some bacteria to grow between the cheese, cheese cloth and cheese press. This can make it extremely difficult to get the wheel out after is has sat for 24 hours. To alleviate this, wipe down the inside of the mold, the surface of the press and the follower with apple cider vinegar. I did this the other day and it worked great. The only place the cheese stuck was to the base of the press. I put the vinegar on the follower and mold with a cotton cloth, but forgot to do the base. But because I overlooked the base, it showed me just how effective this technique was.


Making buttermilk from a commercial culture is very easy, as I outlined in the article above. About the only thing we do different now, is keep a continual supply by using about 1/8 cup of our existing culture to inoculate the next batch. This limits our need for commercial buttermilk culture to the first batch of the year when we begin renewing our cheese supply. With the double batch of cheddar we started this morning, it was time to culture another quart of buttermilk.


Mozzarella cheese is fairly easy to make and doesn’t take the time or attention cheddar does. We can make a quadruple batch of mozzarella in about four hours, while an equal amount of cheddar takes about eight hours and more babysitting, meaning you have to tend to the next step more often, so you can’t get really involved in any other projects or chores while making it. The hardest thing to learn about making mozzarella is the stretching process, and it’s almost impossible to describe in words. The first batches I made tasted okay, but the consistency was like rubber. Really. Kind of like chewing on one of those rubber balls kids used to play with. But we ate it anyway. Frank is a wonderful man that way. He will usually try to eat anything I make, even if it’s like rubber or has a strong, bitter after taste.

There are a couple of things I am doing different this year when making mozzarella. First, I read that you can save the brine and reuse it many times. That was great news. It always bothered me to use 1/2 cup of salt per batch of cheese, only to pour it out. That seemed like such a waste of salt. We tried adding the salt to the curd, like some recipes recommend, but like it much better when the cheese is soaked in a brine. Second, I am using water to stretch the cheese instead of whey. I liked the idea of using whey since it is a natural byproduct of making cheese, but it seemed to be the cause of the cheese souring long before I thought it should. Since I have changed to water, we haven’t had that problem.

Chevre. Even though chevre is versatile and can be used in many different recipes, including cheesecake, I have never really liked it much. We have tried seasoning it a number of different ways, from dill, to garlic, to ranch. Frank likes it in a celery stalk, and I will eat it, but I can just as easily do without it. We haven’t made any this year because we still have some in the freezer. Chevre is by far the least labor intensive cheese to make. Just remember to roll it back and forth in the cheese cloth before you leave it to hang. It gets a lot of the whey out, and leaves a nice soft cheese.

I’m still experimenting with the pressed herb cheeses. So far the only type I have made is with small green onions and fresh garlic. The flavor is good, but the texture is not. The only thing I can figure out so far is that I press it too hard. It is a little dry, and it squeaks in your teeth, which I don’t care for. I haven’t tried any more herb cheese yet since we are working on our goal of getting 30 wheels of cheddar waxed and aging before the garden produce starts coming in. We have a number of herbs growing in the herb bed that would make a nice herb cheese, so I will be experimenting more later in the summer.

 

We have worked out a very good routine for making cheese as well. The equipment we use is well suited for making a large double boiler. It also processes many vegetables for the canner in the summer. Using a double boiler makes it easy to control the temperature of the milk and curd without scorching or overheating the milk on the bottom of the pan. Long thermometers work very well for our 12 quart stock pots. Any type of cheese press will work. We prefer this version because it doesn’t take up much room. Our kitchen is small and many times when we are making cheese, cabinet space comes at a premium. 

I have tried to ‘hurry’ the process along before by trying to put hot instead of cold water into the double boiler. This just doesn’t work. Regardless of what type of cheese we’re making, the curd ends up separated and kind of stringy instead of a nice, solid mass. I have also tried using milk fresh from the barn before it has been chilled in the refrigerator, but I get the same loose, inconsistent curd. So the lesson I have learned from this is, allow adequate time, use chilled milk with cold water, and follow the directions for whatever recipe you are using.

Temperature of the milk/curd

Temperature of the water in the bottom pot

When you are heating the milk or curd to a specific temperature, let’s say 88*, don’t heat it all the way to the desired temperature if you are using a double boiler. Does that make sense? Probably not. I got the temperatures too hot, if only by a few degrees, more than once, and ended up taking the cheese pot out of the pot of water, to either maintain the correct temperature or to cool it off. I’ve learned to turn the fire off when the temperature reaches four to six degrees cooler than the desired temperature. So in the example of 88*, I turn the fire off at 82*, wait about ten more minutes, when the desired temperature is reached. The pot of water is usually warmer than the milk or curd, which is how the correct temperature can be maintained over the 30 to 45 minute time period most curd is allowed to ripen or set up. I occasionally don’t keep a close enough eye on things and still have to take the pots out so they don’t get too hot, but I was glad to figure out a better process so I could leave the curd in the double boiler for a more consistent temperature.

Making cheese is one of those things that I provides me with tremendous personal satisfaction, not to mention something good to eat. I hope these tips have been useful, and if you have any questions I can answer, please let me know. I am by no means a skilled cheese maker, I think I still fall in the category of a novice, but I will be happy to share whatever I have learned.

Until next time – Fern

10 thoughts on “Fern’s Cheese Making Tips

  1. Thank you for teaching us what perogies are, Fiona. We had never heard of them. (-: So you won't be surprised that we have never made them, right?Stay encouraged, things will work out in due time……just like they are supposed to.Thank you for teaching us something.Fern

  2. Do you drink dandelion root tea? It's a good liver tonic and helps to keep things moving. We made more cheese today. I think that will make 18 wheels of cheddar, but I could be wrong. I'm losing count….. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  3. Someday….This is an article that really encourages me and I need that now…things are difficult here but they say in 2 weeks????Have you ever made perogies with your own cheese?

  4. Well I think it's just wonderful that you have taught yourself to make cheese and cheddar to boot! I love cheese, but can't eat much of it because of \”binding up\” issues, if you get my meaning! Let's say that prune juice is a very dear friend of mine, ha ha! I do plan to attempt some cheese making later this year, maybe the next rainy day we get. I just don't have the time really right now! It all looks beautiful though!

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