Making Cheddar Cheese
Making cheddar cheese on Monday was a special event for us. I was ecstatic and enthusiastic throughout the all-day process. It has been along time since we have made this cheese. It requires an immense amount of pressure to form the curds into a wheel. We ordered a custom-made press to accomplish this task. Let me fill you in on how we got to this point so you can understand my high level of excitement of this pretty normal occurrence in a cheese-making facility.
I had made some really small cheddar cheeses in the past. I knew it required a lot of weight. But that all became very small potatoes the first time we tried to make a cheddar cheese with 25 gallons of milk. There was simply no way that we could apply enough pressure to get this cheese to come together. We couldn’t get the excess whey out of the curd and we couldn’t get the curds to form a truly solid mass. It was a complete and utter failure. It was about 25 pounds of cheese that ended up in the compost pile. You don’t want to repeat that mistake ever. It can be financially devastating. That, in addition to the sense of failure in not making an edible cheese. But we did not give up on our goal of making a really fantastic cheddar cheese for you.
We did lots of research and decided to invest in a pneumatic press and air compressor. Like all pieces of equipment for an operation as small as ours, this equipment is not readily available. In fact, we ordered it from a company in Canada who then had it custom-built in the Netherlands. This process was about 6 months from start to finish and receiving the completed press.
There were times when I was wondering if it was ever really going to happen. I didn’t want to give up my dream of making a really great cheddar cheese. Thankfully, our persistence was rewarded with a really great piece of equipment.
We Need Lots of Milk
Our next challenge was getting enough milk to make a large enough batch to test the special cheddar cheese molds (called truckles) that we had purchased to handle the task. These little gems will simply not work without sufficient curd volume. They are designed to press 25 pounds of curd — give or take a few pounds. Well, 25 pounds of curd requires approximately 25 gallons of milk. We are not getting anywhere near that amount yet. See this previous post for details on our make-shift milking operation.
I saved up 15.5 gallons of milk and we went with that. We knew it was not the recommended amount. Being adventurous souls we decided to give it a go anyway. It was not clear how little was too little to get the truckles to work. (Fifteen gallons was not enough 😀 ) It was a beautiful thing.
It is important to love making cheese in order to be successful in this business. Thankfully, both Scott and I are enthusiastic cheese makers. We finally got going around 2:00 pm. Making cheddar cheese takes the longest of any cheese. We got the curds in the brand spanking new pneumatic cheese press for the overnight pressing at 10:00 pm. Yes, it was a long day, but so worth it. The cheese press works fabulously.
There were issues, however. We still don’t know what the minimum amount of curd is for using the truckle. We do know that 15 pounds is not enough. As usual, we shot from the hip. We took out the stainless steel portion and just went with the molded plastic parts with a follower from another cheese mold. It was so close to being the exact size needed that it sparked ideas for how to deal with smaller amounts of curd in the future. But I want to get back to the truckle and how we got it to work — somewhat. We set this up in the fabulous new press and it looked like it was going to work.
The next morning the less than stellar performance of our altered mold was evident. The curd mass had pushed out beneath the bottom plate and the whole cheese was tilted at an angle. Not good. Being farmers with dedication to success, we pressed on (pun intended). I flipped the cheese over and moved the curd around to get it a little more level. This is simply not done but that didn’t stop me from doing it. We set it up again and started the pressing process.
The next morning, same thing. Curd pressed out beneath the mold only not so much this time. The curd mass was much firmer and it held together much better. I pressed on again. I flipped it and started the press again. Checked it a half hour later and could see that the same issue was going to reoccur yet again. At this point I made a small adjustment so that the press plate would sit directly on top of the mold.
The Cheese is Complete
We are taking this lovely cheddar cheese out of the press in a short while. I am resolved that this will be the final product on this trial no matter the outcome. It will make a decent cheese I think. And we have learned so much. I loved every minute. Well most of them.
Now I’m excited to make the next one. Even when we reach full production it will be important to be flexible in making small wheels or large wheels of cheese. We need consistency in the final product. This time we are going to try the smaller molds and see if we can make that work. It increases our ability to sculpt our creations as the amount of milk ebbs and flows throughout the milking season.
Long days and pleasant nights and may peace be with you always.