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Home Cheese Making Adventures

I am three months into my home cheese making adventures.  Having spent 2011 making meat quite successfully I was ready and raring to take on the challenge of cheese, but I have had to approach cheese differently, in a more methodical way.  It has been a little frustrating that I couldn’t just jump in head first and make the Brie and Camembert style cheeses I am so desperate to make, but good things come to those who wait.  I have decided to take a step-by-step approach so I can master the techniques which hopefully in the long run will mean better cheeses with less disasters that have to go straight in the bin.

The other frustrating part for me is that I want to jump straight in and start experimenting,  but I can’t start messing with the recipes until I really understand the science behind the cheese.  Although, when I say science, the first lesson I have learnt is that cheese is not an exact science but more of an art.  There are so many variables that affect the final product that following the same recipe to the letter on two different days means you may end up with two very different cheeses.

Here are the lessons that I have learnt so far:

Use pasteurised but unhomogenised milk.  Most recipes I have read state that you can use milk that has been pasteurised and homogenised and add calcium chloride, but I didn’t have much success with that, so now only use unhomegenised.

Use milk with at least 7 days shelf life. The fresher the milk the better the cheese.  I did try and use some milk that was being sold off cheaply as there were only a couple of days left, but the quality of the curds was poor.

Ensure the kitchen is spotless and all equipment is sanitised prior to use. This means no contamination from unwanted mould spores.

Heat milk gently.  Most recipes recommend a double boiler.  I don’t have one, so I have to heat the milk very gently to ensure I don’t burn it or damage the protein in the milk.

Measure the rennet accurately and calculate quantities according to the packet instructions (not recipe, as dilution can vary).  You are using tiny amounts (often less than 1ml) and the difference of 0.3ml can be the difference between the cheese setting and not setting.

Use non-iodised salt AKA cheese salt or Kosher salt.  I skipped this step when making my brine for the first batch of Feta but I think the iodine in the table salt contributed towards my dissolving Feta.

Getting a good clean break is the most important step.  I think I have cut the curds on a couple of occasions when they are too soft, which led to a soft cheese.  This was because I was following the times in the recipe and not going by the feel of the cheese.  Times are a guide, it may take longer for the cheese to set, go by feel.

I now have a greater appreciation for cheese and the processes that go into making that little chunk you buy in the supermarket.  I understand why cheese can seem expensive.  Good milk is expensive, good milk makes good cheese, good cheese takes a lot of time and love.  As River Cottage retweeted on their Twitter feed recently “Dear Customer, instead of asking why our produce is ‘expensive’, why not ask the supermarket why theirs is so ‘cheap’?”  Although home cheese making does not produce cheese that is cheaper than you can buy, it will hopefully (and eventually) reward me with cheese that is far superior to that I can buy in the supermarket and one I am proud to serve to friends on a cheeseboard.

Eventually I hope to start posting my own cheese recipes, which I will be naming according to the traditions of past cheese makers.  During my many hours of cheese research I discovered that the reason we have so many different types of cheese today, originated from the natural spores that were found in different areas the cheese was being made; the different vegetation the cattle, sheep or goats eat; the different atmospheric and weather conditions in that area.  This means that many cheeses have protected status so that you can only give a cheese a specific name if it was made in a particular way in a specified area.  This means that if I make a blue cheese similar to my beloved Blue Stilton, I can’t call the cheese Stilton because it won’t be made in the corners of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that it originates and won’t be made from the local milk.  So I’m going to have to get creative and come up with my own names for Nic Cooks cheese, such as Winstonshire Blue, any suggestions let me know!

So until I can start creating my own cheeses, this is what I have done so far:

A disappointing mozzarella.  I would love to make a mozzarella at home like the amazing buffalo mozzarella I have eaten in Italy, but apart from the fact that I can’t buy buffalo milk, the resulting cheese was not a nice creamy cheese but something that lacked flavour and was better suited to cooking with.  Sadly it looks better than it tasted!

The dissolving Feta. It looked good to begin with then it dissolved in the brine.  The second attempt was a little harder, but tasted too salty after it’s time in the brine, and was completely the wrong texture.  My third attempt at Feta was much better, watch this space for the recipe.

Fresh cheese or Queso Fresco, the first cheese I got to press in my cheese press.  This one is a semi hard cheese, and because it is ‘fresh’ has to be eaten within a week. It was fairly tasty but it really came into its own when heated.  It made the best toasted sandwiches and if I hadn’t eaten it all I think it would make a great pizza topping as it was very similar to a mozzarella but actually tasted better as it had more flavour.

Despite being more difficult than expected, I am more determined than ever to master the art of cheese making. Watch this space for more Nic Cooks cheese recipes.



Comment from Graham
Time March 18, 2012 at 5:52 pm

When are you going to make some more Queso Fresco??!!

Comment from Lizzy (Good Things)
Time March 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Well done! Challenging stuff… looking forward to reading more as you learn and master the art! Thanks so much for sharing.

Comment from chocolatesuze
Time March 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm

awesome i look forward to hearing about your cheese-making adventures!

Comment from Meredith
Time March 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm

These pictures are so great! I want to give it a try. Is there a book you recommend for cheese making?

Comment from nic
Time March 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Hi Meredith, Thanks for stopping by. Glad you are inspired, I have tried a few books, and I think the one that has been most helpful to me is Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin

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