You Can Make Your Own Cheese – Part 2. In the last podcast, I introduced this idea of making your own cheese and talked about what you would need regarding equipment including pots and vats, milk storage, forms and molds, supplies such as cheesecloth and mats, weights and presses and miscellaneous tools like measuring cups and cheese waxing setups. I’ll leave a link in the show notes so you can check that episode out if you haven’t heard it yet. Today’s episode completes the topic.
As always, welcome new listeners and welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thank you for stopping by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week. There’s a lot.
- Homestead Life Updates
- You Can Make Your Own Cheese – Part 2
- Lemon Cheese
Homestead Life Updates
At the top of the list of homestead updates is a bit of bad news and some good news. Last time we were together I talked about Claire getting closer and closer to her due date which is the end of March. Unfortunately, Violet came up first. And I say unfortunately because she spontaneously aborted more than a month before her due date. We lost that calf. It always saddens me when nature deals us harsh reality. But there is good news also. Violet is okay. She was treated for a uterine infection and will recover without issue as far as we know. She is in milk and that’s a very great thing. I have been missing milk for quite a while. I’m sure my herd share customers are missing it also. Cheesemaking will ramp up once we have a few more calves born and more milk in the tank.
One other side note. This morning when we milked her, Violet had very little milk. We have surmised that Cloud’s little Luna is double dipping. We separated Luna and Cloud from the rest of the herd and put Butter in with them so they have lots of companionship. The expectation is that Violet’s milk production will be up to speed this evening. We still won’t have milk right away as, when we have a great need to use antibiotics and other medications, there is a period of time when the milk is not acceptable for human consumption. But soon. Very soon. We will have milk.
Sheep and Goats
The neighbor called a few days ago to let us know that the sheep were out on the road. Sigh . . . a gate left open again. It happens. Thank goodness the goats didn’t follow their lead. The goats are much harder to get back inside the fence. In other sheep news, we had an unexpected birth a few weeks ago. That mishap came about because about 6 months ago, we were moving the various groups of animals from one place to another and somehow one of the rams ended up with the ewes. We discovered it about two weeks later and rectified the situation. However, we thought it likely that at least one or more would have come into heat during that two weeks’ time. I’m surprised it was only one unauthorized breeding. The rest of the flock is still on schedule to begin delivering the first week of May.
Yesterday we rounded up all of the goat and sheep girls for a health check. Basically, we were looking for signs of worms. Both sheep and goats can be devastated by a type of worm that literally sucks the blood out of them. We keep an eye on this and breed for resistance to these worms. We even planned on doing a prophylactic dose of worming. When their hormones begin ramping up as they approach birthing and when the weather becomes warmer, the worms take off and can take over so we watch closely. They. Looked. Great.
We did not worm any of them. I take that back. We wormed the new baby as a precaution. They simply cannot tolerate the worms and will be gone in a matter of days if infected. Worming is a necessary intervention in caring for these animals. Back in 2010 and 2011, we lost a lot of lambs. We altered our grazing practices and surrendered to the need for chemical intervention at times. After we got the hang of it, we have only had to worm once a year if at all. Some years – this year as an example – they may not be wormed at all. Though we do still check on them from time to time throughout the summer season. Especially, the lambs. Again, they are particularly vulnerable.
Quail still not laying. I don’t have much to say about that. I keep telling them that if they don’t start laying, they are going to end up in the instant pot. It’s an empty threat and evidently they know it as they are not responding.
Scott is off getting one of our portable milkers serviced. We are completely replacing the hoses. It’s a regular maintenance task for ensuring we get the cleanest milk possible. Milk calcium builds up in the hoses and can harbor bacteria. So, the hoses are completely replaced at regular intervals.
Because he is off on this task, Scott is not working on the creamery today. But he has done so much recently. All of the doors and windows are hung. He even created these really great window sills. Go to our farm page on Facebook and look at the pictures. They are an original creation and so awesome. The door handles and locks come next. But maybe not.
The milking parlor and barn portion of the building still need a roof. This roof will be really tall and supported by giant posts similar to a pole barn. Fresh air will circulate freely. I love the openness of this design.
We are starting into the 4th year of putting this building together. It is a long journey, but well worth the effort. And I want to mention to those of you listening and dreaming of your own homestead, just keep taking small steps. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. The dream lives in your mind and each step you take brings a little bit more of it into reality. We bought this property as a bare piece of land in September 2003. We were weekend homesteaders until December 2016. We had the advantage of savoring every small accomplishment. There is something to be said for learning and growing at a slower pace, gradually building the skills necessary for success. For us it was the way forward to realizing our lifelong dream.
Now let’s get to the topic of the day. Finishing up the discussion on what steps are needed to successfully make your own cheese at home.
You Can Make Your Own Cheese – Part 2
As I said earlier, I gave you the basics of physical stuff you will need. Now we need to talk about what the space looks like in which you will use this stuff. And how do you properly clean everything. Cleanliness is of the utmost importance when making cheese. The cheesemaking process is one of biological reactions. You will want to ensure that only those cultures, bacteria, viruses and molds you choose end up in your cheese.
Creating Your Cheesemaking Space
For most of you, this is going to be your family kitchen. Here are some things to take into consideration for your cheesemaking area:
- Storage space for pots, forms, press
- Adequate counter space
- A hot-water source for warming milk and for cleanup
- A place to hang or set draining cheeses
- An area away from pets, dust sources, stored chemicals, and cleaning products
- Proper ambient room temperature
- A place to store cultures and coagulants properly
- An aging fridge located where it is convenient to check daily
Let’s cover them one-by-one.
You will need a good size storage space for several large stainless-steel pots, your cheese forms and/or molds, and miscellaneous equipment, such as ladles, spoons, and probably at least one countertop cheese press. Choose a location that doesn’t share space with any cleaning products, chemicals, pet or animal products (including brushes and medications), human medications, compost or trash bins, or any other product or equipment that could dirty or contaminate your equipment. I have a dedicated space to all things cheese. I even duplicated some pieces of equipment I use for normal, day-to-day cooking activities. It makes my cleaning and sanitation steps easier and more effective.
Adequate Counter Space
This seems like an easy one, but unless you happen to have an oversize and underused kitchen, counter space is probably at a premium in your household. You may think that it will be easy to clear space on the days you make cheese, and this may be your only option, but remember that you may be occupying that space for a day or more. How will that effect family meals? Can you keep the space sanitary? Is there a way to protect the space from the splashing of dish water or splatters from cooking pots and pans during your cheesemaking time?
You will most likely be warming your cheese using hot water, usually in a double-boiler-type set up on your stovetop or in a sink. Personally, I use the sink but your stove top or a hotplate are just as useful. I confiscate all access to the sink for the period of time I will be “cooking” the cheese. Some cheese requires temperatures over 100°F and the hot water from the sink may not reach adequate temperatures. That’s when you will need that stovetop or hotplate double-boiler set up. Standard water heaters top out at about 118°F. Also, be aware that if you are using the same sink for cleaning equipment, you could run into some problems when trying to keep wash water out of your cheese pot. I deal with this all the time. I’m extra careful and use a lid on the cheese pot. That frees my second sink for cleaning up or at least rinsing the visible milk from measuring cups and utensils.
You will need a space to hang draining curd and a place to set cheeses that drain in forms or in a press. Small amounts of curd can be bag-drained by suspending the bag from a utensil that is placed across the top of a tall pot. Larger volumes, though, might need something such as a quality hook mounted under a cabinet. Often, I use the door handles on my cabinet to hang my cheese. I place a bowl under the bag to catch the whey. Maybe some day I’ll get that mounted hook. But then again, I have much more freedom with how high I can raise the cheese for draining. I’m not limited to the hook under the cabinet.
For draining cheeses in forms, you will need a surface with either a slight slope that drains to a sink or container or a level perforated or grooved surface to collect and divert draining whey. If your cheeses don’t need any weights for pressing, a sloped surface, such as a dish rack drain board, works great—but if you will be stacking forms or adding weights to the top, a surface with too much slope will cause the stacked forms to tip and most likely topple over.
My preferred method is a cooling rack over a ½ baker’s sheet. This works fine for lighter weight forms but will not support too much weight without collapsing the racks. To use the same system, but with more weight, place a large plastic cutting board over the rack then put a cheese mat on top of that to wick the whey away from the form or mold.
Pets, Dust Sources, Stored Chemicals, and Cleaning Products
I mentioned before to be sure that you store your equipment away from hazards such as cleaning products and medications, but you will also want to limit access to your working space by pets and other critters.
Think about things like windows that open to animal pens or dusty driveways. If these are in your workspace, do your best to keep them closed during cheesemaking time even a window that opens to a lovely forest will allow mold spores to enter the milk. And while they may not cause health issues, they will cause flavor flaws and more. Remember, it is essential that you control what microscopic flavoring goes into your cheese.
Since your workspace will likely be in the family kitchen, be aware of natural hazards that will exist when a space is shared with products such as drain opener, oven cleaner, and so on. What are other household members doing during the time your cheesemaking is in progress? Even if cleaners are completely organic, secure from unintentional contact during cheesemaking.
The ideal temperature during the making and draining is 70 to 72°F. Ideally, your space will be climate controlled. Not usually a problem if you are in the US. Other countries are not so liberal in their use of air conditioning and you will need to take this into consideration when making cheese.
Storage for Cultures and Coagulants
You will be using freeze-dried direct-set cultures for your cheeses. These are the most convenient and reliable. These types of cultures will be best stored in the freezer. Rennet or other coagulants are stored in the refrigerator. There is no concern over storing this alongside your bottles of catchup and mayo. Sharing the family fridge is not a problem.
Cheese Aging-Unit Location
If you will be aging cheeses (and almost every cheesemaker will eventually give it a try), you will have an aging unit. We started off with a wine storage fridge. Try to find a convenient location that is in sight daily and easily accessed.
That about covers your space needs. Now on to cleanliness.
Keep Things Clean
When you are making cheese for yourself or to share, you’ll want to create an excellent product. Better than anything you could get at the grocery. And no matter how well you can make a recipe, if your equipment isn’t clean, your cheese will be tainted as well. That’s why I am devoting an entire segment to this topic.
Chemicals and Their Proper Use
While you might associate the term chemical with something man-made and harmful, let’s remember that everything in life is made up of chemical compounds. Even so-called natural cleaners are composed of chemicals, but more than likely they are naturally occurring compounds. Remember that naturally occurring chemicals can still be harmful. Keep safety in mind at all times.
Cleaning and sanitizing products work very well to remove residues from surfaces. They accomplish this task via their harsh and caustic characteristics. It is not something you want on your skin, in your eyes, or in your lungs. Have you read the warning on the labels lately? Do you have good air circulation and ventilation? Gloves and goggles are a plus. Your prescription glasses can work in place of goggles but beware of ruining the special coatings on the lenses. Go with the goggles if you splash a lot.
There are basically three categories of chemicals that are needed for proper cleaning of your cheese space and equipment: detergents for cleaning, sanitizers for sanitizing, and acids for removing calcium deposits and sanitizing. Sometimes these three basic categories are combined in one product or another. Therefore, overlap in their usage can be confusing. For example, chlorine, a commonly used and readily available sanitizer, is often also combined with detergent, as it has the ability to help with removal of proteins during cleaning. And acids can also be used to sanitize. I’ll provide some steps later that can help clarify some of this.
When it comes to cleaning, detergents are quite dependent on water temperature, pH, and mechanical action. In other words, you will need hot-water and physical exertion to do the job. Detergents by nature are alkaline with a pH above 7.0. you can buy fancy “dairy detergent” that has chlorine in it, but for most home situations, a name brand or store brand detergent works just fine; in fact, it’s what I use. Unscented is best but sometimes harder to find.
Sanitizers are used to eliminate any bacteria that scrubbing and washing might not have removed. But the thorough cleaning must come first. There is an old saying: “you can’t sanitize something that isn’t clean.” Sanitizing can be done with chemicals, both those that break down into very environmentally friendly, components and those that don’t, or by using heat.
The most readily available sanitizer to use at home is chlorine. Chlorine, in the form of grocery store bleach, is very effective, easy to find, and inexpensive. Quite often, however, people use too much, leading to sanitizer residue on equipment (which can harm your cheese and produce undesirable flavors). Other issues include corrosion stainless steel and other metal surfaces and harm to septic and wastewater systems.
You may need as little as ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per gallon of water to reach the ideal of 50 – 100 ppm. There is an inexpensive chlorine dilution test strip that can be ordered online. Using these strips periodically will guarantee that the proper amount of sanitizer is being used. Chlorine can lose its effectiveness over time, or you might be using a more concentrated solution. Measure for consistent results.
Use a sanitizer solution on equipment just before use; with cheese brushes soak them and then air-dry before use. When it is mixed properly, you do not need to rinse a chlorine solution with plain water. A cloth dipped in the mix solution can be used to wipe down surfaces and other areas that come in contact with your equipment.
Acid, at the right strength, plays two roles. First as a solvent of mineral deposits and second as a residual sanitizer. It need only be used periodically to prevent the buildup of what is commonly called milkstone. Milkstone builds up slowly as the minerals in milk are steadily deposited on surfaces. While most are rinsed away during cleaning, they are not all dissolved by the alkaline detergents and will eventually form a residue on all surfaces, including plastic and stainless steel. The goal is to remove the minerals before you see the buildup by rinsing regularly with a strong acid solution. (If you are a coffee drinker, you might have periodically run a vinegar solution through your coffee maker for the same purpose.)
The strength of the acid and the frequency of the rinse will depend on the amount of use your equipment receives, as well as the hardness of your water. Hard water has a higher mineral content and will contribute to the buildup. With softer water and minimal use, you may be able to use white vinegar for your rinse. If this is not sufficient, you will want to use an acid cleaner approved for use on stainless steel and any other material that you are cleaning.
Brushes and Scrubbers
You can use pretty much any kind of scrub brush and scrubber. Sponges are not recommended. They are perfect habitats for bacteria. If you are using a green scrub pad, watch for it to leave little green “hairs” on forms and equipment. This isn’t a food safety issue, but it isn’t pleasant to find them in your cheese.
The Six Steps to Sparkling Clean
A good cleaning regimen consists of at least four steps: rinse, wash, acid rinse, and pre-sanitize. While these steps need not be as laborious for you at home, they are still important for creating the best possible cheese. The following procedures are fairly typical for most situations.
Step 1: Prerinse
Immediately after using, rinse all equipment with lukewarm water, about 100°F, to remove visible milk and curd residues. This step is important to do before washing so the heat of the wash water doesn’t “cook” proteins onto the surface.
Step 2: Wash
Use very hot water and your detergent product to clean all services. Use a clean bristle brush and scrub pads to scour the services of all utensils and equipment.
Step 3: Rinse
Rinse with clean water. If using the periodic sanitizing acid rinse, you may use it at this stage.
Step 4: Air-Dry
Allow all equipment to air-dry between uses
Step 5: Sanitize
Just prior to use, sanitize all equipment by dipping in a food-surface-approved sanitizer (which includes chlorine as I talked about earlier). Sanitizers need 30 seconds of exposure to ensure proper killing of any residual germs.
Step 6: Acid Wash/Rinse
An acid wash is done on a periodic basis to remove mineral deposits that are not completely removed during the daily cleaning process. Some acid wash products include cleaners to help with this step. An acid rinse without cleaners can be done on a daily basis instead of the stronger, periodic acid wash. If you choose to do a daily acid rinse, you can perform it either just following or in place of step three (rinse). If you are doing periodic acid washes, the frequency will depend on the amount of calcium and other minerals in your water as well as the frequency of use for cheesemaking. Observe your equipment, especially when it is dry. Look for hazes and colors that might indicate the need for stronger cleaning (both through scrubbing by hand and with chemicals).
Note: Automatic Dishwashers
As an alternate to handwashing, you can effectively clean equipment by using an automatic dishwasher. Pick up with step three to complete your cleaning process. Rinse with clean water or acid sanitizing rinse, air dry, sanitize just prior to use.
Now on to today’s recipe.
I’m going to reprise a recipe I did last year for Lemon Cheese. I think it is appropriate now that you have all the steps in place for making your own cheese at home.
Lemon cheese is a very simple fresh cheese that you can easily make in your kitchen. It is a moist spreadable cheese with a hint of lemon taste.
If you make it in the evening, this rich and delicious cheese will be ready to spread on hot biscuits, toast, muffins, bagels or croissants for breakfast in the morning!
- 1 gallon milk do not use ultra-pasteurized, it will not set up.
- 2 large lemons or 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Warm milk to 165 F, stirring often to prevent scorching.
- Add lemon juice. Stir and set aside for 15 minutes. The warm milk will separate into a stringy curd and a greenish liquid whey. It should be clear, not milky.
- Line a colander with butter muslin. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot and hang the bag of curds to drain. After an hour, check for the desired consistency. Think cream cheese.
- Remove the cheese from the cloth and place it in a bowl. Add salt to taste, usually 1/4 tsp. You may mix in herbs. Fresh dill comes to mind.
- Place cheese in a covered container and store in the refrigerator. It will keep for a week, perhaps a little more.
- You may go up to 190 F to help your milk coagulate.
- You may add more lemon juice if your milk doesn’t coagulate.
Your homemade cheese is a success!!
That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the homestead updates. And if you are a herd share owner, well I guess you know that fresh milk and yogurt is coming soon. We’ll keep you updated on when and where to pick up.
Remember that there is a transcript of this podcast and the previous podcast available on our website. I am also working on a pdf version that will be available for download for your use in reviewing these steps and getting your home cheesemaking setup and procedures in order.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.
As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
You Can Make Your Own Cheese – Part 1
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