Thanks so much to Vicky Brown, Chief Milkmaid at Little Brown Farm on Whidbey Island near Seattle for contributing this HOMEGROWN 101!
When someone first decides to make cheese and they successfully make a few tasty delights, inevitably they want to try their hand as some cheeses that they’ve tried from their local market or their favorite cheesemonger. Most of the time these involve a little bit of weight. Yep, I’m talking about hard cheeses.
When you make a pressed cheese there are a few things that are key. Often your recipe will call for a specific pounds of pressure (psi = pounds per square inch), it should, if it doesn’t I will provide a guide in a few lines. Usually it will also call for a brine,* unless you’re making cheddar.
If you are making a firm cheese it doesn’t matter if it’s Colby (light pressure 10-15psi), a Cheddar or Gouda (medium pressure 20-30psi) or Parmesan (heavy pressure 45+psi – some recipes call for in excess of 60psi), you need to start slow.
Once you follow your recipe to the point you are filling the mould or hoop, you want to pack your curds according to your recipe, carefully wrapping as you fill and then add your follower.
Once you have as many full as you can make (or have room for), place them on top of each other, no more than 3 high. This will provide them with some weight, after 2-3 minutes rotate them so the middle is on the bottom, the bottom is now on top and what was the top is now in the middle. Wait a few more minutes and do it again. If you are making a true Tomme, the pressure of stacking 2 or 3 high is all that is required. If you only have one large mould or hoop, use hand pressure on the follower and wait a few minutes.
Only 5 or 10 minutes should have passed, check your cheese, is the cheesecloth still in an appropriate place? Is the chunk of curd evenly distributed (not lopsided)? If it all looks fine you’re ready to go. If not, make adjustments now. You are creating a skin that will be the basis for your rind. Your rind protects your cheese from external, unwelcome bacteria and keeps the proper environment inside so your cultures can grow to perfection. You want it to be complete and preferably smooth.
Too much pressure too soon causes the skin to form prematurely, leaving a loose, whey filled curd inside. Your cheese may look lovely, but as it ages, the sealed up sloppy curd inside may start to rot instead of aging gracefully.
Set your cheeses in the press or on the cookie sheet (not aluminum!) or pan that you will be using to capture the draining whey**, place about 3-5 lbs of pressure on them… no more, even if your recipe calls for it. For weight, there are many household items that will do. Just make sure they are clean and not something that will fall apart when it gets wet. Plastic jugs filled with water or whey for weight are okay, cardboard boxes are not. Bricks are okay (well before cheesemaking wash them, cook the heck out of them in your oven, try 350 for 30 minutes, and leave plenty of time for them to cool to room temp) they can be clean enough, however they are porous so hard to keep clean. Weights like used in weightlifting can be another good choice as the surface can usually withstand a sanitizing rinse.
You’ll want to flip your cheeses a few times this first hour or two. Gently adding more and more weight until you get to the appropriate weight your recipe calls for.
Once you’re there, you can follow your recipe instructions again.
Unless you have a scale (like this) or a press (like this) you won’t be able to know the exact pounds of pressure you are achieving. A 25lb weight does not distribute 25 psi, you will have to play around to get the cheese how you want it.
This is where I remind you to always take notes! What you actually do to your cheese is not nearly as important as having notes about what you did. A few months from now when you are enjoying your cheese you will be able to go back and see what you did to make that particular cheese special. I have a cheese make diary that dates back to 2007, including every single cheese I’ve made during that time, often in excess of 100 batches per year. When I find a wheel of #75 in the back corner of my aging fridge and find it to be heaven on a palate, I can thumb back in my notebook and know how to recreate it.
Cheese making is a song, not a jingle, the more effort you put in the lyrics and the melody, the more people will want to hear it, time and time again. Not like the unwelcome 30 second jingle that you can’t get out of your head!
Little Brown Farm
*Brining is a topic unto itself. I preferred top salting my cheeses or salting the curd when I was just making a few pounds of cheese in my kitchen. Brine uses a lot of salt, and unless you’re making cheese regularly can become onerous to maintain or dispose.
**Whey can be used as the liquid in breadmaking, making smoothies, and many, many more things. Don’t just dump it down your drain, it’s bad for your septic/sewer, but good for you. If you have chickens or pigs, they would love to help you with some of it. Even your goats/cows/sheep might enjoy the liquid nutrition boost.
Questions? Comments? Leave them here! Also be sure to join the Cheesemakers group here on HOMEGROWN.org.