October 30, 2015

Seasonal Cheese Making (and Beeswax)

Cheese making has become a seasonal chore for me. By trial and error I've learned that I cannot make all cheeses during all times of year, even if I have the milk. This has been part of learning to live with my environment. In the heat of summer, I focus on making soft cheeses and mozzarella. I save the making of hard cheeses for when the temperatures become more autumnish, like now.

One of this year's first cheeses, all dressed up in red cheese wax.

If you look through detailed instructions for making cheese, you will note how specific the temperatures are. The following are examples from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making.

"It's important to drain the cheeses in a place where the temperature stays close to 72°F."

"Air-dry the cheese at 50°F for 3 weeks. "

"Most cheeses prefer an aging temperature between 46 and 60°F and a relative humidity of 75 to 95 percent."

Fresh out of the cheese press.
Since Dan and I don't use air conditioning, my biggest cheese making challenges are those steps which require specific air temperatures. When the heat and humidity in the kitchen and pantry are high, my newly pressed cheeses don't dry; they remain moist and mold easily. I can battle the mold with vinegar and salt, but they never seem to develop a nice rind. If they dry enough to wax them, the resulting cheeses have an unpleasant sharpness and a lot of mold to cut off. According to Ricki Carroll, this is what happens if when temperatures are too high. Mold and acidity increase to the point where the cheese is not a good one. My solution has been to make such cheeses in the autumn, when temperatures are milder.

And the beeswax? When I used up the last of my cheese wax, I decided I was going to try beeswax instead. Cheese wax is expensive, and even though it can be saved and reused, it still must be purchased. When we got bees, I chose the Warré beehive because it meant I could harvest beeswax as well as honey. I use beeswax in my herbal salves and want to make candles for emergency lighting someday.

Since I'm not harvesting my own beeswax yet, I bought some
in "cones" which I think are made in styrofoam cups as molds. 

I waxed two cheeses with straight beeswax, and then discovered what others already know; that the wax is brittle and cracks easily. Suggestions to make it more pliable include adding a bit of vegetable shortening, lard, or coconut oil. I removed the beeswax from the cracked wax cheese, and then added a lump of coconut oil to my beeswax pan. I rewaxed the cheese with better results.

I wax my cheeses by dipping them. I've tried brushing the wax on, but sheesh, what a mess I make (it's the same with paint and a paintbrush). It still has a honey smell, so I'll be curious as to how that effects the flavor of the cheese after it ages.

Beeswaxed goat cheese.

One idea I read about is to use crayons (which are made of food-grade wax and colorings) to color the wax. That would be handy for identifying different types of cheeses. This particular cheese is my standby - #15. It doesn't use a purchased cheese culture and you can find the recipe here.

For a number of good recipes using beeswax (including cheese wax), check out the "Beeswax Recipes" from John & Debra Bruihler. Also Rona’s “Beeswaxing” Method and this thread from the Permies.com forum. An excellent article about proper waxing and storing (do hard cheeses really need refrigeration?) is "Settling the Cheese Wax Controversy" by Preparedness Pro.


48 comments:

KathyB. said...

This is very interesting and has me thinking. I tried my hand at making cheeses years ago when I had a herd of dairy goats. I was not happy with the results. Our grandson is raising cows now and when his cow freshens I think I might try my hand at cheese making again. You have so many tips ( even why your cheese didn't turn out helps a lot ) here. Thank-you.

Leigh said...

Kathy, my first cheeses were disappointing too, but I figured it would be like learning to bake a good loaf of bread. Working with live foods is just that way, it takes a knack. I won't know for sure about this year's cheeses until they've had their aging, but I'm hopeful!

You should definitely try your hand at it again! Experience truly is the best teacher and patience pays off in the reward of delicious cheese. :)

Robin Follette said...

I haven't paid enough attention to room temperature while I've looked at hard cheese recipes. I'm glad you brought this up. December looks to be cheese making month. Lots of reading to do before I try my hand at hard cheeses.

PioneerPreppy said...

Wow that humidity thing would pretty much insure no cheese gets made around here without climate control I think. Have you had different outcomes from different types of milk or tried cow milk instead of goat etc?

You will certainly get a lot more wax using crush and strain but I get quite a bit of wax just from the cappings anyway. More than I know what to do with honestly. I am hoping eventually to have enough left over each year to make it worth my effort re-selling it to equipment suppliers but I am not there yet.

Leigh said...

Well, I never paid attention that that either! But as they say, experience is the best teacher. I have learned that when I start something new, to consider it an experiment. There's usually too much information to absorb when I first do my research. After I have problems I go back, read again, find answers, and usually have a better result the next time.

Leigh said...

But! Cheese making has been going on a whole lot longer than climate control! I keep puzzling over that with so much of the food preservation I'm trying to do.

Is there not a market for beeswax at the farmers markets where you sell your honey? Have you brought some small bricks along to try and sell? I'm guessing most folks wouldn't have a clue as to what to do with it, but if they did, it seems like you could create a local market.

Farmer Barb said...

Wow. Not ready for these chores, I think. My bees are using all they made this year. The goats are not bred yet. I'm still trying to get a handle on all this. Great to know, though!

Ed said...

I will be interested to see how the tastes of your bees waxed cheese tastes as well.

Even though crayons are made from food grade wax, I would be hard pressed to pour some of it over my cheese. The color pigments would be what worries me.

Leigh said...

Well, I was once exactly where you are now. To everything a season. :)

Leigh said...

That's a good point about the crayons, although I've not had any color bleed onto the cheese even with that bright red cheesewax. I do make two variations of #15 and it would be nice to keep track, although simply notating it on the cheese is easy too.

Beth said...

This is exactly what I aspire to do - make cheese and have my own beeswax. I'm glad to know you can use beeswax to coat cheese. Adding the coconut oil was good advice. I've pinned your cheese recipe! :)

Renee Nefe said...

Can't wait to hear how the honey wax works. ;) It would be really neat if you got a nice interesting flavor from it.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Interesting! I don't know how you get everything done like this. What kind of herbal salves do you make? Nancy

Leigh said...

Thanks Beth! Eventually I'll be able to try it with my own lard. It seems that just adding another type of fat helps with the brittleness.

Leigh said...

I'm curious about that too. It will be about two months before I can taste test the beeswaxed cheeses. I'll have to do an update then.

Sandy said...

Leigh,

I'm looking forward to a future post on how your bees wax turned out on the cheese you made. I wonder if the wax will also modify the taste of your cheese?

Temperatures and humidity play havoc on several food items when making them.

Are you getting some of that rain that came through from the hurricane? We've picked up more rain, and it's heading east.

Barbara said...

Leigh, Hi! I found a wonderful set of YouTube videos on cheese making by a delightful young woman. The Promiseland Farm. Part six of her series talks about cloth wrapping cheeses. I have never seen clearer instructions on the process of making cheeses. Maybe you would find a helpful tip or two. She does use two small wine refrigerators, but maybe that's modern day reality now that most properties don't have storage caves/dirt cellars. Before we renovated our farm house, our dirt cellar was a lovely humid 55 degrees year round. I bet it would have been great for cheesees and root vegetables. I look forward to your posts so much. Thank you.

cwfarrugia said...

I did the beeswax on a goat gouda last year and found that it made the cheese a little bitter — more bitter the longer it sat. So try one on the early side.

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

I'm interested to see how the wax affects the taste of the cheese, if in fact it does. What a great use of the wax.

Kirsty Udall said...

Oh Leigh, great post. I love the idea of making cheese, although a lack of lactating animals means that it'll only ever be a dream for us! That little red cheese looks fantastic.

Mama Pea said...

Regardless of how your waxing experiments turn out, your cheeses look BEAUTIFUL . . . like a work of art to my mind!

Rosalyn said...

I just read a book about pastoralism, goats, and cheesemaking. Actually, I finished it about 15 minutes before I read this post and it was a beautiful book that you may really enjoy if you haven't read it yet--Goat Song by Brad Kessler. I love your goat/milk/cheese updates, Leigh!

Leigh said...

I make salves that are healing and comforting to the skin, with things that I grow, such as calendula, chickweed, yarrow, and comfrey. The yarrow is supposed to be good for bee stings, although I haven't needed it for that yet. :)

Leigh said...

Sandy, yes we did get some very welcome rain, about an inch and a half, but fortunately it was gentle. We just planted winter grains for hay and was glad it got watered.

I'll have to report on the cheese taste after we sample it. I'm curious too!

Leigh said...

Barbara, thank you for that! Ricki Carroll mentions bandaging cheeses, but the instructions aren't very clear. I've wondered if that might help so I'll have to check out those videos.

I would love to have a root cellar! That would be a great help for so many things.

Leigh said...

Interesting! Thank you for sharing that. My good cheeses don't last long around here. Neither do the bad ones, actually, because I have a number of happy volunteers for disposing of them - namely the chickens and the pigs. :)

Leigh said...

Yes, I'm very curious about that too. I believe conventional cheese wax is petroleum based, which I don't care for. If this works well, I'll be set in that department. :)

Leigh said...

Well, if you have a source for milk that isn't ultrapasteurized, you can make cheese! It's nice having the goats, but I've made mozzarella with purchased cows milk if need be.

Leigh said...

There is something lovely about cheese!

Leigh said...

I loved that book! I actually read it when I was first trying my hand at cheese making. Very inspiring.

RanchGirl said...

This was very interesting, I've never made cheese and certainly didn't realize that temperature and humidity were so important. Yours look quite professional! Kathy

Chris said...

I love it when people find alternatives and share it with the rest of the world. Great thinking 99.

PioneerPreppy said...

The trick is what constitutes a large amount I guess. I prolly have about 10 pounds of the stuff in half pound rounds. That's melted and strained in my solar wax melter and then hardened into pure rounds of about half a pound each. You would think people would be all over it to make lotions and lip balm with but to date no one had purchased any from me for those. I have sold some to re-loaders and I have made a few of my own candles and used a good amount of it to coat new frames with.

I have seen real bees wax sell for some high prices though on the internet so there has to be a market for it.

Lynda D said...

I love cheese and cheese loves me. I can see it, everywhere. On my hips, under my chine and i have lovely store or cottage cheese on my thighs (masquerading as cellulite) LOL Keep trying and as with most things, practise makes perfect.

Lynda D said...

what is it with my spelling. chin, of

Leigh said...

As with so many things, finding the right market is key, and sadly, it isn't always local. You're right that beeswax is expensive on the internet - too highly priced in my thinking, but crafters of candles, lotions, salves, and lip balms, etc are a prime marketing demographic, I suppose. There's always selling via the internet yourself, but all that packing and trips to the po could be a nuisance. I'm sure you've already thought of all that!

Leigh said...

Now if only it tastes like a professional cheese!

Leigh said...

Oh my, I haven't heard that in a long time! Thanks Max!

The internet offers a fantastic international community of like minded folks seeking those alternatives. I've gotten some great ideas from other bloggers and can't help but share what I learn too. :)

Leigh said...

LOL, I figured that's what you meant, but I have to tell you that "chine" is a part of a goat that is sometimes mentioned when folks discuss goat conformation. The chine is the middle section of the back between the withers and rump. It's supposed to be flat, but sometimes it curves a bit like on a horse. But poor cheese, it should behave itself and be nicer to you. :)

Chickpea said...

Hey there Leigh, I have just bought your book, really looking forward to reading it. Hopefully one day soon I will be able to put some of your good advice into practice.

Quinn said...

That is a lovely-looking little cheese, Leigh. I hope the beeswax works for you. In the longterm, is "build a cheese cave" on your list of projects? A goat dairy in MA recently built one - it was a huge project - entirely with kickstarter funding.
I love beeswax so much...such a lovely aroma. Every couple of years I buy a supply of handmade beeswax candles from a convent in Massachusetts, and that is all I use when the power goes out. In fact, I should be ordering some soon, as there is only one left and Winter is not far off. Thanks for making me think of this.

Leigh said...

Chickpea, thank you! I hope everything I write is both informational and encouraging as well.

Leigh said...

I'm kind of resistant to any project that will use more electricity, if I can find a workaround. I'm hoping that doing things more seasonally will help.

I've very much looking forward to my first beeswax harvest! Probably next year sometime.

Farmer Liz said...

I had been wondering about trying this as I hate buying the petrochemical wax, seems a shame after make cheese from no-chemical cows, and then wrapping it in chemical! I had the same problem with cheese not forming a rind in summer, we must have a very similar climate. I hadn't really figured out the problem and haven't made cheese for ages, but I think you've come to a smart solution with making the soft cheeses in the hotter months. I am keen to try beeswax to seal hard cheeses in future. Even better when you can use your own wax as well!

Leigh said...

At least I'm hoping this works! I've learned there are a few other ways besides waxing to preserve cheese. They can be "bandaged" with cloth, or just coated with lard or butter. I think it's the last link in the post that discusses alternatives.

Then there's the aging. I think I've had trouble there too because I've had to keep them in the fridge, which is too cold so that the bacteria don't develop the best flavor. Such a learning process for such a simple food!

Quinn said...

Do you mean the cheesecave? I don;t think it would use electricity - I think the idea is to utilize natural conditions in a traditional way, but maybe I'm mistaken.

Leigh said...

Yes, the cheesecave. I don't have a real cave nor a proper root cellar, so I'm clueless about how to keep the cheese at the proper temperature and humidity for aging, unless I make it at certain times of year.

I think that's why folks buy a small wine type fridge - to age their cheeses. But that's where the electricity would come in, plus I'd have to find a place to put it. :)

Mark said...

Yet another skill I'd like to learn someday. Nice Post!