June 15, 2011

Contemplations on Making Cheese

I reckon that anyone with their own source of milk, begins to have more than enough rather quickly. When all those jars of milk begin to fill the fridge....

3 half-gallon jars of raw goats milk

..... it doesn't take long to begin thinking about trying to make cheese. Actually I had anticipated this quite awhile ago, and in preparation, bought Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses. I also bought some liquid vegetable rennet from the co-op. I felt quite prepared.

We mostly consume our milk as yogurt. From that I also make quite a bit of yogurt cheese. Hard cheeses though, are only something I watched someone do at home once, a very long time ago. One day, when I had a lot of extra milk and plenty of yogurt, I decided to give hard cheese a try. I picked Ricki's 30 Minute Mozzarella, because something one can make in 30 minutes has to be easy. Right?

My first mistake was starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. Then my rennet didn't set up as quickly as it was supposed to. When it finally did, I muddled my way through until I got to the part about microwaving the curd. I don't have a microwave and to heat via the stove was supposed to require working with the cheese at a temp of 170 F and therefore rubber gloves. Well, I don't have any rubber gloves and besides that, it was already way past my bedtime. I rigged up a cheese press with plates and a cast iron pot, plopped the cheesecloth wrapped blob of curds into it, and went to bed. In the morning, I had this.....

My 1st attempt at hard cheese

Not exactly what I envisioned. However, it melted great in scrambled eggs, so all was not lost. Obviously I needed a better way to press it. For my next cheese, I decided to try something that didn't need a press, cottage cheese...

Raw goats' milk cottage cheese & home canned figs

That turned out fairly well, except that what one ends up with is a dry cottage cheese. The moist creamy kind we're used to from the grocery store requires the addition of cream. Lots of cream. More cream than I could manage for the amount of cottage cheese I ended up with.  On top of that we really don't eat much cottage cheese. So. The chickens loved it, what can I say?

I started to look at plans for making a cheese press, until Dan suggested that I could probably use my tincture press for the time being. With that, I looked through Ricki's book again, read through the directions for various cheeses, and realized these were not what I was after. This is recipe book for specific cheese recipes. They were developed in other parts of the world and many have been made for centuries according to local tradition. Those traditions combined with a local milk from animals eating a local diet, and a starter culture made from local bacteria, are what made those cheese what they are. For me to reproduce them, would require special starters and attendance to time, temperature, pH, etc. This is perfect for the hobbiest with an intense interest in cheesemaking. But I'm a homesteader. I don't want to be buying lots of special ingredients, nor do I have time to spend over the stove making sure the temperature increases exactly 2 degrees every 5 minutes. I just want a way to preserve the extra milk we get and another food for my pantry. I just want to make a homestead cheese.

At that point I set that book aside and reached for The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. On pages 172 to 176 is a description of the basics of making cheese. I decided to start with that. For my starter, I remembered something I read in Ricki's book, that back in the day, cheesemakers saved whey from a previous batch to use as starter for the next cheese. I used the whey from my cottage cheese.

My tincture turned cheese press 

Everything went well, and I used my tincture press as my cheese press. It's a wine press actually, though we've never used it for that. Since it doesn't have a way to actually drain the whey, I rigged it up as you see above, allowing the cheese to drain. This is how we drain our tinctures too, and have found it works pretty well.

1st hard cheese. Could certainly use a proper cheese press

One thing I didn't have was a proper follower. The follower is a flat disk that fits perfectly into the cheese mold. It is the follower that comes into contact with the cheese as it is pressed, making it as flat on the top as it is on the bottom. My tincture press left a depression in the top of the cheese, so I had to trim this off and use the fresh "green" cheese in cooking.

Once the cheese had dried several days and formed a rind, I waxed it....

Waxed cheese

It is supposed to age in the fridge for several months, then we'll give it a try. First bites weren't impressive. It is boringly bland, so hopefully aging will help. I've actually made three of these cheeses now. For the second I used the whey from a yogurt cheese. For the third I used the whey from that. The third cheese actually had a mild but pleasant flavor, so I am hopeful aging will improve upon that. Perhaps each successive batch will get more flavorful.

To keep track of my experiments, I've started a cheese diary.

Click to enlarge

Since I don't stand over it, my times and temperatures vary with each cheese. To keep track of which cheese is which, I embed a bit of paper in the wax, with the cheese number and date made. For this cheese (#0003), I'll weigh it again after it's dried and record that weight. I'll also note the date I wax it and put it in the fridge.

It's too early yet to sample any of my cheeses! I've warned Dan that it will probably take awhile and a lot of milk before we start to get one's we really like. I doubt cheddar or gouda cheeses were perfected first go round.

As a closing bit of trivia, here is the whey drained off that cheese. Remember, I started with 3 half gallons of milk...

Cheese whey produced from 3 half-gallons milk

What do I do with the whey? Oh, I'm finding lots of things to do with it. More on that in another post.


  1. This was very interesting. I like your approach of trying to use what you have and not worrying too much about the science. Sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming when you are starting out. I can't wait to see how aging affects your cheese's flavor.

  2. Oh, I've got a mozz recipe for you! I couldn't get the one in Ricki's book to work either. I'll try to get some pics for a "how-to" post this weekend. If not, I can at least get the recipe (don't have it with me).

    And you should check out Uses of Whey in the Farmstead Setting (a pdf). If you keep making cheese, you will have the stuff coming out of your ears!

  3. Here's my friend's Mozz recipe...so easy her kids could do it http://yourkidscancook.blogspot.com/2009/02/american-mozzarella.html

    I hope your cheeses turn out, they looked good. :D

  4. Wow. I'm just sitting down for about the first time today - feeling so tired, but your post perked me right back up again! (In my mind, at least). Cheesemaking is somethign I'd love to try - but, like you, in a homesteading, use-what-we-have kind of way. Because of that, I don't see myself doing it until/unless I have my own milk, or at least a source of local milk that I can use.

    And I'm such a records-and-graphs geek that your diary gave me a wonderful little frisson of joy. And hte numbers embedded in the wax - genius! I look forwards to hearing how they turn out!

  5. Fascinating! I am a HUGE fan of goat cheese, but it is expensive in the stores. I'm hopeful one day I'll have a nearby farmer's market with fresh goat cheese. Mmmm!

    Good luck with your cheese experiment - I'm looking forward to updates.

  6. Oh, and are those quart jars in the last picture, or the half-gallon jars?

  7. Nellie, it seems to me that cheese making is akin to bread making. There are certain, specific steps that need to be followed, but many variations in technique and ingredients. I figure if my goal is a self-sustaining lifestyle, then I need to be able to make self-sustaining cheese!

    Marissa, I think mozzarella is about the only named cheese I'd be interested in making on a regular basis, because we eat it every Friday night on pizza! And thanks for the link to the pdf. It had the nutritional information on whey I've been looking for! So far I'm using up my whey as fast as I make it, still, more ideas are always welcome and I like a lot of theirs.

    Renee, that looks like so much fun. If only it didn't need that microwave!

    Alison, oh yes, cheese making would be right up your alley. And think of all the fermented beverages you could make with the whey! I don't know how it is over there, but in the US, almost all milk is "ultra-pasteurized," which basically means the protein molecules are destroyed. Hence it's no good for cheese making. Anyway, I think it will be fun experimenting!

    Debbie, it seems that goat anything is expensive. I wonder if we're the only nation in the world that is so bovine focuses while the rest of the world works with goats.

    The jars are half-gallons. Perfect for milk and whey storage.

  8. I used to make cheese all of the time when we had the goats. It's the main reason why I'd like to start raising them again. I keep going back and forth: goats or mini jersey cow. I do make Mozzerella every week...and I don't use a press...I just make balls. Keep us updated on your progress...cheese making is a favorite of mine...love your commentary!

  9. Wow, I'm impressed! I've always wanted to make goats cheese - haven't, but I'd like to! I'm sure it will be very yummy!


  10. You are just amazing!

    I tried some locally made sheep cheese for the first time, and my oh my! It was awesome. I can hardly wait to see how your cheese comes out. So how long is "several months?"

  11. Hi Leigh..... Thank you for the tip regarding my profile for my blog Amish Stories. I put a little more information about the web site as well. It was very nice seeing you on Jeans post, and i hope to see more of you. Thanks again Leigh. Richard from Amish Stories.

  12. Leigh, I am writing you here in case you don't check back on my blog for an answer about garden carts. Garden Way is a wonderful cart. It is wooden with the end toward the handle open but otherwise shaped like my plastic one. My father-in-law has had one for close to 30 years. Garden Way went out of business but Carts Vermont seems to have taken over the same cart. They look just the same.. They run $329 for the large one. I think one end might open up for dumping and maybe you can purchase the option to close the other end which would be better for mulch. It would be my choice if I didn't have this one. This one may last the rest of my life though. cartsvermont.com ( have no connection or interest in this company and only just found out about it when looking up Garden Way.)

  13. Lynda, maybe I need to pick your brain! Hard decision to choose either a mini-Jersey or goats. Lots of cream for butter and richer cheeses would be lovely. But I know they cost a pretty penny way more than goats! Don't need as sturdy a fence for a cow either. Even so, I do love my goats.

    Mary, it was fun to make, but I'll have to let you know about the yummy part. :) It may take a few tries to get a really good cheese, but I'm willing to work on it.

    Benita, from what I'm reading, raw milk cheese need to cure at least two months to kill the "germs" because it isn't pasteurized. The longer it cures, the sharper it gets. That will probably be okay with the mild cheeses though.

    Nellie, thanks! I used to have a Garden Way cart, eons ago. I had heard that Vermont Cart company had bought them out. Also read on some gardening forums that folks didn't think they were as well built as the old ones. My wheelbarrow definitely needs replacing though, so I'm considering my options!

  14. My mozerella never turns out either. I wondered if it was the vegetable rennet. I am leaning more towards it is just me. I think I get impatient and dont wait long enough. But it melts on pizza just the same. Your cheese looks wonderful. You will have to have a wine and cheese party when it all cures to get a true feel for the cheese ;)

  15. I have a cheese making booklet here (german though) and they simply use a larger round plastik pot, with holes drilled into sides and bottom. they put a cheese cloth inside and put a clean piece of timber on top, cut to fit the aperture. on top they put clean food tins for weight:)) I used to have a bought cheese press like that - don't know where that went, but I probably gave it away to someone, because making cheese like that if you don't have milk of your own is kind of foolish:))

  16. As a professional research scientist I have to commend you on your record keeping and methodical experimentation. Cant's wait to see the results.
    BTW, I love Feta cheese. Is that difficult to make?

  17. Wow! What a great post. I can't wait to see how the cheese turns out. I am aching for goats, but it's not in the cards yet.

  18. You are amazing and you have so much patients. I laughed when you said you started late in the afternoon as, for some reason I always believe I can whip up something fast before dinner, Ha!
    It will be interesting to see how it turns out after it ages a bit.

  19. Leigh - don';t you love it when a plan comes together. Well done for sticking with it - your cheese look fantastic. All I've managed to make is yoghurt and cream cheese - there again, I don't have any cows either LOL

  20. Jane, hmmm. I'm using vegetable rennet too. According to Ricki Carroll, there is a difference in rennets, but it appears to effect flavor the longer the cheese sits. Still, if you can use it, that's a good thing.

    Bettina, maybe I should try something like that. And I agree, without a source of milk, making one's own cheese is an expensive hobby!

    BM&T, thanks! I looked up the recipe for Feta. Doesn't look terribly difficult, but it does require the mesophilic starter, rennet, lipase powder unless one uses goats milk (which is naturally high in lipase), and of course brining ingredients. One day I'll purchase some starters and give some of the traditional cheeses a try.

    Candace, me too! And while you're wishing for goats, I'm wishing for bees! LOL Always something.

    Oh Sherri, I do have an impatient streak in me, I admit it. ;) Still, it makes for fun blog writing!

    Dani, I'm definitely hooked on cheesemaking. But then it's having all that milk, what a motivator, LOL. The "green" trimmings are pretty blah, but I'm challenged to develop a tasty cheese.

  21. As a child, I can remember my father making some lactic cheese on the rare occasions that we let some milk go off. That just required waiting for natural curds to form, and then putting them in cheesecloth to drain.
    At that time we could sometimes buy lactic cheese at the shops too.

  22. I was wondering if any of you folks drink "raw milk". I have a few dairys around my way that sell it, and im reading of folks who swear by it. But is it safe?. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon,Pa

  23. Wow how impressive!! It looks awesome and I bet in a few months it will taste delicious.

  24. Mary, lactic cheese! I'm going to have to research that and give it a try. I have to admit that I never realized there were so many different techniques and types of cheeses. It could be a lifetime of exploring and experimenting.

    Richard, I'd say that like any other food product, it's safe as long as it was handled properly. This is not only true of raw foods, but many processed and pasteurized foods as well (think of the recent outbreaks of salmonella in food processing plants due to dirty equipment.) Chances are your local dairys are ulta-careful in handling their milk, because there are many who would jump at any excuse to shut them down. People who drink raw milk do it for the nutrient value. Pasteurization destroys a lot of that. The biggest problem I'm reading about in the cheese books is ultrapasteurization. It completely changes the protein molecule structure in milk, rendering it useless for cheese, and with no digestible protein for drinking. The cheese makers say one may as well drink water for the nutritional value it contains. A good resource site for research and information is realmilk.com

    Alicia, I truly hope they're delicious! I'm willing to keep working on it though, no matter how they turn out. :)

  25. I totally missed that the did use a microwave to make that cheese. I'm sure there's gotta be a way around that.

  26. found it! http://www.cheesemaking.com/includes/modules/jWallace/ChsPgs/9Mozz_NoNuke/index.html

  27. Wow..... I'm shocked at the amount of whey! Truly shocked.....Not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that much!

    I want to venture into cheese making....just need a few more pots & kitchen supplies! I hope yours turns out well.

    Thanks for sharing the uses for whey....lol when I saw the jars of whey my mind started scrambling with thoughts of what I would do with so much whey :)

  28. Renee, you're a doll! I'll definitely have to try this one. Mozzarella is the one traditional type of cheese we'd use.

    Crystal it is shocking isn't it?!? I'm substituting whey for any recipe that calls for milk or water. Even yeast will rise in it! Try offering it to your goats too. Surprise loves it and will suck a whole half gallon down in minutes.

  29. The only cheese I've ever made was paneer and you just reminded me of why I don't even make that anymore. A whole heap of work. Raising my coffee cup to you in awe of all your hard work on the cheese ( and homestead) front!

  30. I would LOVE to learn how to make cheese...but do not have nearly the time to try it yet. Maybe once I retire from my "regular" day job...for now I will keep to making my own butter and bread :-)

  31. Theresa, I'm trying get out of too much work by opting out of gourmet cheeses. LOL It is time consuming, but I figure if I can develop a few cheeses that I can work into my own schedule, I'll have a good way to deal with all that milk!

    BRF, yes those regular jobs do get in the way! Still, someday will come. I admit to having a long list of things I want to learn to do someday, too. No reason to ever get bored with life, is there. ;)

  32. Unless you are Jewish you should try Animal Rennet. It works much better because I have never seen a veggie try to digest cheese. The is a book called 200 easy cheese recipes. It is my favorite and frankly the only one that has recipes that are followable. Cheese recipes are hard to read generally. I have made a lot of chews recipes from this book and everything has turned out great. I live in Alaska so I am pretty sure the local milk on local diet are not the same as where these recipes are developed. I hate standing over the stove for six hours so I have found my compromise in washed curd cheeses: Gouda, Colby, Havarti. It gives you all you could want in cheeses and the inicial stovetop part is usually under three hours from start to press. I use Gouda for smoked of flavored appetizers of sandwiches. I use Colby in place of Cheddar(cheddar is a nightmare to make) and Havarti is so delicious that it doesn't last very long. The other upside to these washed-curd cheeses is that they only have to age for a few weeks. Havarti is 4weeks to great complex flavor and the others are 6 weeks. It's worth looking into.

  33. Helen, thank you so much for that. I have looked for animal rennet, but so far have only found vegetable. Ricki Carroll mentions that veg rennet cheese become bitter over time, so that's another reason I want to try to find the animal kind.

    Is that book by Debra Amrein-Boyes? I just checked her book out from the library. Lots of wonderful information. Haven't tried any of her recipes though, yet.

  34. I cannot wait to get goats next year! We also plan on delving into fresh goat's milk cheeses. Thank you for that book suggestion, I will look it up.


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