Archive for October, 2008

Project 5: Farmhouse Cheddar, The Waxing!

Here’s the little wheel of farmhouse cheddar we made. It has a rather pretty pattern on the bottom from the cheese press. We sat it out for about a week air-drying (perhaps should have been less) until it developed a thin rind. I think it smelled like buttered popcorn!

Cheddah!

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Project 5: Hard Cheese #1, Farmhouse Cheddar

With our homemade cheese press more or less figured out, it was time to attempt our first hard cheese. After looking through Ricki’s book, we chose the Farmhouse Cheddar recipe, which the book describes as a “Cheddar shortcut.” Compared to other hard cheeses, the farmhouse cheddar doesn’t specify an aging temperature (most other recipes look for the cheese to age at about 55 degrees, which we won’t be able to do until it gets a little bit cooler outside), and is ready to eat after only a month. After making soft cheeses that were ready within about 24 hours, this still seemed like a long time to wait!

The trickiest part of this recipe was sustaining the specific temperatures called for at different times. Once the milk had been heated to 90 degrees, starter added, milk ripened for 45 minutes, and rennet added, we needed to cover the cheese and let it set at 90 degrees for 45 minutes. We expected that wrapping the pot or applying periodic low heat would be needed to keep the milk hot, but not only did the milk stay at 90 degrees, its temperature kept rising. After scratching our heads and consulting with Eryn’s mom – a food scientist who joined our cheesemaking party for the day – we realized that the starter had caused reactions to take place in the milk, creating internal heat. Amazing!

The next step called for us to slowly heat the curds from 90 to 100 degrees, increasing the temperature no more than two degrees every 5 minutes. This was easy since the milk was already at 100 degrees. So, we stuck the pot in some warm (not hot) water and tried to maintain the 100-degree temp until the curds shrunk and were ready for draining.

 

After draining the curds and mixing in the salt, we finally got to test out the new press.  We placed the curds into the cheesecloth-lined mold (our giant mayonnaise jar with the top and bottoms cut off), and assembled it into the press.

The first press was at 10 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes. This used the third notch of the press, and worked well. Whey instantly began draining from the bottom of the press! After 10 minutes, we removed the cheese (as soon as the curds are pressed, I think they officially turn into “cheese”) from the press and flipped it over.

The next pressing called for 20 lbs. of pressure for 10 more minutes. This step did not work as smoothly. The weight called for the first notch (closest to the press arm) to be used, and as Nicole noted in her press-making post, it was just not possible to place the pressure in the middle of the cheese mold. A minute after we set it in place, the press point collapsed from the uneven pressure. Crap. So, we decided to forego this intermediate pressing and go straight to the 50 lbs of pressure for 12 hours. Some whey continued to drain, but I’d say the majority had been pressed out after the first 10 lbs.

The next morning (actually more than 12 hours later, but I’m not dedicated enough to wake up in the middle of the night) I got up and unwrapped the cheese. And wow – it looked like real cheese! The cheesecloth stuck in some places, especially into the indentations caused by pressing the cheese into the drainage troughs on the base, but otherwise I thought it looked great. So, I placed the cheese on a small wooden cutting board, and stuck it on top of my fridge to dry. By the end of the day, the cheese had already started to develop a hardened rind. I flipped the cheese 2-3 times a day so that both sides could air dry….and after three days I passed the cheese to Amanda to seal it up for aging.


 

I’m very curious to taste this first attempt at hard cheese. It will be interesting to see how it compares to other cheddars I’ve tasted. From a small sampling at Foster & Dobbs recently (where I bought a farmhouse cheddar to eat on cheesemaking day), I discovered there’s a huge variety in flavor, even amongst farmhouse cheddars. We’ll have to report back with some tasting notes once it’s ready. Only a week to go!

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Project 4: Butter – Instantaneous Gratification (in cheese making time)

Given our love of cheese and willingness to experiment with making it at home you would think that butter would have come up earlier as a very easy way to play with dairy. I knew it must be pretty straight-forward, particularly after a somewhat unfortunate experience making homemade whip cream, but for some reason I still had visions of butter churns and pioneer ladies with giant biceps floating in my head.

When Sarah decided to host a farmhouse cheddar cheese making day at her house, we started talking about something to accompany the cheddar and provide more instant gratification. Amanda found this wonderfully graphic recipe on Pacific Northwest Cheese Project for making butter.  As an aside: if you like cheese, particularly if you live in the PNW you should be reading Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.  So FUCheese Hard Cheese Day #1 became FUCheese Cheddar and Butter Day. 

So, here is the thing about butter … IT IS SUPER EASY. I mean, ridiculously easy. And equipment has come a long way since the butter churn. This is all you need for two batches of butter:

These two items and about an hour of your time (30-minutes spent chatting and eating delicious cheese with your friends) is all you need.

We did two batches so there would be enough for everyone to take some home. We also tried it with two different types of milk in an attempt to see if it made any difference in taste. Our first batch was with a quart of Strauss Family Creamery heavy cream. The second batch we did was with a quart of heavy cream from Sunshine Dairy.

Following the recipe, one quart of heavy cream was put into the kitchen-aid mixer. The recipe said to whip at high-speed, which we did do, but I found that I had to start the kitchen-aid at a lower speed to keep the cream inside the bowl. After it started to stiffen slightly I increased the speed. I was slightly concerned about the following note in the recipe, “after 25 to 30 minutes butter solids will separate completely,” and how exactly I would know when this had occurred. However it is very obvious when your butter gets to this stage and you will have no doubt when to stop your mixer.

We then drained the butter and rinsed it with tap water (I used my hands instead of a spatula as I found it easier) and then shaped the butter into blocks. Surprisingly, the Sunshine Dairy batch ended up with a slightly higher yield than the Strauss Family Creamery batch, although it didn’t win by much of a margin. Each batch made slightly over 1 pound of butter. Taste wise I didn’t think there was much of a difference. Although both were delicious and in my opinion richer and more creamy then the butter I purchase at the store.

We used some of the butter to mix with flavored salts and other herbs and spices which were really delicious and the rest we divvied out and placed in the refrigerator for people to take home. I went the simple route with my butter booty and spent a happy evening on my couch with some fresh made bread and my homemade butter.

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Homemade Cheese Press

To date FUCheese has done soft cheese. Despite our desire to make hard cheese we were lacking a key piece of equipment for the process of making a hard cheese – the cheese press. I’d seen a number of cheese presses for sale online and also seen pictures of more homemade varieties. While the ones you can purchase online are expensive, they do come fully assembled and with a design that has been time tested and proven to be efficient and accurate.

Because we here at FUCheese like to do things for ourselves and because I got it into my head early on that we could build a cheese press on our own that was just as accurate and way cheaper than the fully assembled varieties some of us at FUCheese found ourselves one sunny summer day in the woodshop. We had purchased plans to make our own cheese press from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company and had purchased food grade lumber and were going to build our cheese press.

Now, I’m not going to discourage you from attempting to build your own if you want to, but if I had to do it all over again – I’d buy a cheese press. I had a great time making it and it was not a hard plan to follow, but there was some difficulty finding the right hardware, and while New England Cheesemaking Supply Company was very prompt with their reply with a solution to our hardware dilemma, there were a number of other alterations we had to make to get it to work.

We used it to press our farmhouse cheddar recently and it worked fine, but even after solving our hardware problems we are still running into issues. Largely due to the fact that the base – given its size – can’t be centered under the press point because the wall gets in the way. This makes for an uneven press and a somewhat lopsided wheel of cheese. Plus extra work for you to turn the cheese on the base in order to equalize the press.

So when it gets down to recommendations – buy your cheese press. It will save you time, hassle, and inaccuracies.

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Fresh Mint Ice Cream

No, this isn’t a cheese post but I figure all dairy is game. If you’re looking for something truly delectable to do with all that mint growing in your garden (or overflowing from your neighbor’s garden) then this is the recipe for you. It’s reprinted at Orangette from The Perfect Scoop (scroll down past the cute shoes) and is a simply perfect flavor for summer. I made it last weekend for a BBQ with my neighbors it is, hands-down, my favorite ice cream I’ve made this summer.

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Cheese Cloud

My husband sent me a link to wordle.net which makes word clouds from websites — first popularized, I think, by Flickr’s tag clouds. It should come as no surprise what the word cloud for fucheese.com looks like. Really.

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