Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homesteading Question #4 - Making cheddar cheese

Here are the steps for making cheddar cheese. The recipe for this version came from Ricki Carrol's Home Cheese Making. Some of these photos will be used to illustrate a comprehensive article on basic cheesemaking that will appear in a future issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. I'm posting them here so the editor has a chance to look over the pictures and select the ones she wants to use for the article.

The beginning steps for cheddar are similar to the beginning steps outlined in mozzarella cheese (illustrated here). I'm not giving temperature specs, etc., as those details are found in the cheese recipe in the book. Instead, I'm just illustrating some of the basic steps.

In cheddar, you don't use thermophilic starter, you use mesophilic starter. Nor do you use lipase powder or citric acid. It's just milk, mesophilic starter, and rennet.

For cheddar, I go through similar steps as with the mozzarella - warm the milk, add the starter, let it ripen, add the rennet, let it set, cut the rennet, slowly heat the temperature to 100F, drain the curds in a clean pillowcase...all that is nearly identical to mozzarella (except for certain minor temp differences and ripening times detailed in the book).

The one big difference is, before cooking the curds for two hours, you don't dice the curds, you cut them into big three-inch slices. Here are the sliced curds, back in the pot:

Cook the curds at 100F for two hours, turning every 15 minutes, until they're tough and resemble pieces of boiled chicken breast.

Here's where things diverge from the mozzarella technique.

Take the tough curd pieces and dice them, then put them back in the pot. Maintaining the temperature at 100F, cook for 30 minutes, stirring gently with your fingers every ten minutes to keep the curds from matting. Then add the salt and stir to dissolve.

At this point you will need a cheese press. Unlike the shiny pretty (and expensive) commercial presses, I use a home-made lever-arm press my husband put together. (I'm so thankful to have a woodworking husband!) Here is the press; at the bottom right are the plastic (purchased) form and follower; at the upper left is an old plastic jug filled with sand and bent nails, as a counter-weight.

Don made the base of the press wide enough to accommodate the size of the plastic form. By the way, while I normally advocate home-made versions of whatever you can make, I do recommend purchasing a proper cheese form and follower. They're tough sturdy food-grade plastic and only cost $16 and will last forever.

Anyway, put the form on the press and line it with a piece of old clean sheeting (I prefer "thinner" sheets rather than "thicker" sheets, as it allows the whey to drain more easily).

Spoon the curds into the form. Press down and squish them all in if necessary.

Gather all the edges of the cloth and pack it into the form, over the top of the curds. Put the follower into the form.

Put the...I dunno, what do you call it? The "foot" of the press? Whatever it's called, put it into the follower. You'll notice whey is starting to get pressed out of the curds.

Be sure to put something underneath the edge of the cheese press to catch the drippings. Normally I put my press on the edge of the sink and let the whey drip into the sink, but that didn't really photograph well, so instead I propped my press on top a crate on the kitchen table. Do whatever arrangement works best for you.

Put the counter-weight over the lever arm of the press and push it up to ten pounds. Keep it at this weight for fifteen minutes.

Slide the counter-weight off the arm, lift the foot off the cheese, take the follower out, and flip the cheese over. Replace the follower, fit the foot back inside, and press at forty pounds for twelve hours.

Flip again, and press at 50 lbs for 24 hours:

At the end of that time, remove the cheese from the form and peel off the cloth:

Let the cheese air-dry for 3 to 5 days. I like drying cheese on a rack so it dries evenly on all sides.

Here I'm waxing several batches of cheese at the same time. At this stage, they're half-waxed...

And fully waxed. I'll date it and let it age for 2 1/2 months.

A word about cheese cultures, either thermophilic (for mozzarella) or mesophilic (for cheddar). The cultures come in powdered form, and with care they can be recultured indefinitely. Start by sterilizing some jars. Then fill the jars with milk and sterilize it by boiling in a boiling-bath (in effect, canning the milk). Let the milk cool to 110F, add the starter, and let it sit out at room temperature for twenty-four hours to culture:

I'll freeze this in ice cube trays after it's cultured, and then I just take three or four cubes for culturing cheese. Hint: LABEL your mesophilic and thermophilic cultures. I have a bag of mystery starter cubes in the freezer with no clue what kind it is.


  1. Can you do a post on how to make the press? What are the measurements on the stick to the various weights (20, 40, etc.) What is in the plastic jug and how much does that weigh? My husband made me a form out of heavy duty PVC pipe and cut a wooden follower. I can't get consistent pressure using bricks (plus I don't know how much pressure is being applied.) All the hard cheeses I make taste the same...blah. Any and all suggestions would be appreciated.


  2. I'm going to pitch an idea at Backwoods Home Magazine to see if they'd like an article on how my husband made his home-made press. He made it, not me, so I can't tell you any details. (He literally disappeared into his shop and reappeared a few hours later with a press. Kinda like magic, you know.)

    At any rate, I'm certain BWH will want the article, and if so he'll make a press and I'll photograph every detail and post the how-to's here. Might be awhile, though - possibly as long as a month or two.

    Meanwhile, I suggest purchasing a ready-made plastic form and follower. Like you, I started with bricks (and rocks, as I remember) using a #10 tin can as a form, and a wooden follower - with disastrous results. Sometimes, for the sake of consistency, it's best to bite the bullet and buy something, such as the food-grade form and follower.

    AFA the plastic jug and the measurements on the lever I recall, he placed our bathroom scale under the "foot" of the press and slid a jug filled with sand onto the arm. It doesn't matter how much sand is in the jug, so long as you mark on your particular press how far to slide the jug up the arm until 10, 40, and 50 lbs of pressure are exerted on the scale. Primitive yes, but it seems to work.

    Anything fairly heavy can go in the jug - sand, nails, pebbles, gravel, whatever. Just don't do what I did one time and drop the bleepin' thing, spilling the contents everywhere and messing up the jug's weight. (smile)

    - Patrice

  3. How long will the cheese last after you coat it with wax?

  4. Wax does not put the cheese in "suspended animation" - it will continue to age and sharpen when waxed (waxing keeps it from growing mold). The rule of thumb I originally heard was to age for three months for mild cheese, six months for medium cheese, nine months for sharp cheese. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

    At three months the cheese was so sharp as to be almost inedible. Two months was a little too mild. We learned through trial and error that 2 1/2 months (under our particular conditions) turned out a very nice cheese indeed.

    You'll have to experiment with whatever works for you. But to truly make cheese last without aging the cheese into too sharp a condition, you'll have to freeze it. Obviously this won't work if you don't have power, so the next best idea is to date your cheese and eat it as it ripens, and keep making more cheese, etc.

    Hope this helps!

    - Patrice

  5. Hi, Patrice,
    I work for New England Cheesemaking Supply Co, doing our blog and Moosletter.
    I just found your blog article about making cheddar and I'm wondering if you would be a guest blogger at cheesemakinghelp.blogspot?
    I would do a short intro about you and your blog (with links, of course) and then i would show your post, including pics.
    Warm regards,

  6. I was just wondering if your husband ever gave the details on how to make the cheese press? You've made a LOT of blog posts and I'm having trouble finding any other references to it.

    1. No, I'm afraid he never elaborated on the details of how to make it. Maybe someday...

      - Patrice

  7. Nice post...I'll have to try making cheddar one of these days since that looked so good and it's one of our favorite kinds! I noticed, though, that you don't seem to save your whey?
    This link,

    and this one,

    pretty much cover all I know about the subject. Maybe it can be canned but I don't know anything about the viability of that...not that I'm trying to make more work for you or anything, haha. ;)