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You can make your own cheese just as well as anyone. A few years ago, I offered a piece of my cheese for tasting to a coworker. Her response was, “cheese can be made?” I’m not sure what she thought about how cheese got to the grocery store. I regret not asking her though I was sensitive to not making her feel uncomfortable about not knowing how cheese is produced. I’ve heard kids sometimes think their food simply comes in cans and boxes. Meat appears in the cooler section by magic. There is no concept of plants and animals as the origination point. Lots of people today have no connection to their food. Since you are listening to this podcast, I’m going to assume you are not one of them. I’m thinking you are very interested in the answers to the question, “from where does my food originate?”
I’ve spoken before about the basis of cheesemaking and today I want to talk about the basics of the equipment and setup you need to be able to make your own cheese at home. Every part is very important and not that expensive. Much of it involves using what you may already have in your kitchen.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop 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.
- Homestead Life Updates
- You Can Make Your Own Cheese – Part I
- Greek Meatballs and Yogurt-Mint Sauce
Homestead Life Updates
The roof of the creamery is on and dried in. The floors are swept clean and look wonderful. It’s a little dark in there. The doors and windows we purchased last year have been kept under a tarp. They are now inside and safe from the weather. According to Scott, that is the next step, getting all the doors and windows in place. He’s putting the wood frames into the concrete blocks right now.
The birthing events draw ever nearer each day. Less than two months remain before Claire is scheduled to give birth to a beautiful purebred Normande calf. All is going well with no issues to report.
Sheep, Goats, and Donkeys
The sheep, goats, and donkeys are doing well. They are eating hay and eating hay and eating hay. That’s what they do in the winter.
Same for the quail. They are eating their 24% protein chick feed ration and huddling together to stay warm. They look great!! Game birds need a higher protein ratio than domestic chickens. Can’t wait until the quail start laying eggs again and we can start hatching out the cute little quail chicks.
Let’s talk cheese.
You Can Make Your Own Cheese
I’m sure many of you want to develop new cooking skills and you can make your own cheese. It does take practice and you may even need to attend a hands-on cheesemaking workshop, but cheesemaking can absolutely happen in your home kitchen. You’ll need some equipment, a cheesemaking space, and sanitation procedures. Having a proper space with the right equipment and knowing how to keep the space and tools properly cleaned and maintained goes a long way to making it fun and successful. You will want cleanable, easily maintained equipment and surfaces that pose no risk when used to manufacture food for human consumption. So, let’s take a look at all of those issues and help you get set up to make cheese! Because there is so much information, this will be two podcasts. This one will cover all the equipment. The next will be about setting up your space and the cleaning requirements and methods.
First, I’ll go over how to choose the things you will need and want to have on hand for cheesemaking. Some are optional, especially at first, depending on the cheese you want to make. And due to the popularity of home cheesemaking, you can often find local stores carrying many cheesemaking supplies as well. I’ll put a link in the show notes for one of my favorite resources, New England cheesemaking. Their website is cheesemaking.com.
Pots and Vats
The primary considerations when choosing the proper receptacle to make your cheese is the material and condition. Whether you make your cheese in a 1-gallon pan on the stove or in a steam jacketed cheese vat, your receptacle is best if made of high-quality stainless steel. You may or may not know this, but stainless steel comes in varying grades. The cheaper it is, the less likely it will hold up well over time. You may even find that it will rust in spots.
For home use stainless steel pots with stainless or tempered glass lids—a type of glass that is fine in high heat situations—can be used. Just be aware that glass can break and ruin a batch of cheese. A coated or enameled surface is also fine for home use, as long as you inspect it before and, even more importantly, after use. If you notice a chip missing from your enameled pot when you’re done making cheese, you should suspect that it is in your cheese. That cheese will need to be thrown away.
In any case, the surface must be easily cleaned. So, any deep scratches or rivets on the inside, the surface, or in nooks are undesirable. In the commercial world they are not allowed.
The next factor for you to consider in choosing your pot will be size. The most common at-home cheese vat is a double-boiler-type set up of a pot set in a sink of warm water or inside a larger pot of water on the stove top. Personally, I have a 12-quart stainless steel pot and a 24-quart stainless steel pot that I use in my kitchen sink. The smaller pot I use to make a one- or 2-gallon cheese in the larger pot I used to make cheese with 4 to 5 gallons of milk. If you choose to use your stovetop, look for a large stainless-steel pot and an enamel or stainless-steel water bath canner. Walmart carries these products as well as canning supply retailers. For the stovetop, you will need a mechanism to keep the inner pot containing the milk off of the bottom of the pot with the heated water. This allows water to circulate underneath your pot of milk. You can use a wire cooling rack or even just a few Mason jar lid rings at the bottom of the canner the rings will rust, but if the water bath pot is not also used for cooking, it is a problem. In general, all of my cheesemaking supplies are used only for cheesemaking.
One other option I will mention is using your slow cooker. I’ve never used mine to make cheese, but I’m pretty sure it would work. A half-gallon to 1 gallon of milk would be the limitation there for me. Speaking of which, I have used my Cosori instant pot to make queso fresco. That cheese is so simple it requires nothing more than the stainless-steel instant pot and a slotted spoon. Check out my website for that recipe. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Milk Storage Containers
You can skip this section if you are making cheese with milk your purchased from the grocery. Yes, you can use store-bought milk. As long as it is not ultra-pasteurized. Whole, pasteurized milk purchased from the grocery store will make a decent cheese. Obviously, it’s not the same as making it with raw milk from your own cow or from raw milk you obtained via the rules in your state. And there are a few differences in ingredients and amounts of culture, but pasteurized milk will make any cheese your heart desires.
If you are collecting your own milk or buying it from your neighbor, there is a good chance that you will store it for at least one day. We use stainless steel cans with tight-fitting lids but these are expensive. Our 2 ½ gallon stainless steel milk cans were at least $60 each plus shipping. Mason jars are a great option here. We use the ½ gallon size. I also have a bunch of 1 gallon jars. Less jars to empty and clean but harder to find. Just keep in mind that if you find a chip in the glass, it’s likely in the milk. Keep the milk very cold and use it within one day. If you wait longer, the naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria will overpopulate and overrun the cultures you add. You will get cheese, but who knows what it will be.
Forms, Hoops, and Molds
These items usually need to be purchased. It’s one of a few things that is worth the investment. In all honesty, you are probably going to spend more money on cheese forms than you need to. It is pretty much impossible to know early on what types of cheese you will end up making the most, what size wheels you will be happiest with, and how many forms you really need. Don’t get too stressed about it. You may even be able to craft your own. The main thing to remember is that they must be made of some kind of material that is easily cleaned and not negatively affected by the acid produced by the draining cheese—so no aluminum or copper. As an aside, the terms “hoop,” “form,” and “mold” are pretty much interchangeable.
As long as they are easy to clean and made of food grade material, you can come up with some pretty creative options, such as plastic colanders, salad spinner bowls, or even food storage bowls with drainage holes drilled in the sides. Some people even use large diameter PVC pipe or plumbing piping for cold water lines as cheese forms.
Keep in mind the ruggedness of the form if you will be applying weight during draining. The less pressure that is used, the more options you have when selecting forms. If you’re making a cheese that requires a great deal of pressure, such as cheddar, you will need a very sturdy, straight sided form or a curve sided form designed to take the pressure exerted by a mechanical press. More on presses later.
When shopping for forms made specifically for draining cheeses, you will have many choices. You will likely end up with some that you only use once or twice, and maybe you can even give those away to another cheese maker who is in the early experimentation phase. The plastic forms come in four basic types: those meant to be used with cheesecloth and pressure; basket type forms for ladled, unpressed curd; micro perforated forms with many tiny holes to simulate the effect of cheesecloth; and Kadova type forms that had a built in mesh lining. The Kadova and micro perforated forms are notorious for being difficult to clean. But they also eliminate the need for cheesecloth and cleaning involved with its use.
Cheesecloth, Draining Bags, Mats
Cheesecloth serves two purposes during draining: first, it helps keep the loose curd in a shape while it knits back together, and second, it helps wick whey away from the cheese and toward drainage holes in the form. It is important to choose the right fabric to properly drain the type of cheese you are making. In general, you can apply the following policy: the finer and softer the curd, the tighter the weave of the cloth should be. The fabric sold in most kitchen and department stores that is labeled as cheesecloth has a very open, gauze like mesh and is not suitable for draining cheeses. Instead, you will want to buy real cheesecloth from a cheesemaking supply company.
Draining bags are designed specifically for making soft, spreadable cheeses. They have a very fine weave and are sturdily manufactured. A great substitute is a white pillowcase, which you will, of course, clean and sanitize before using. If you have any sewing skills and the right equipment, you can sew your own draining bags.
Draining mats can be used directly under cheeses such as brie and Camembert during draining and aging, under forms during draining (to help keep the form itself up out of the draining way), and under hard cheese during aging (to promote airflow around the cheese).
Many people use plastic needlepoint matting as a substitute. It looks almost the same and works as well. It is low in cost and is usually available for purchase locally (rather than having to be ordered, like the “official” cheese matting). Reed mats, such as those designed to make sushi rolls, can also be a good choice.
Weights and Presses
Creativity is the name of the game here. Some cheese will require a specific press, but most can be improvised. The options are almost limitless when setting up a way to lightly press cheeses—from stackable cheese forms and jugs of water or sand to barbell weights. I’ve used them all. Keep the following things in mind when designing your pressing system: stability—will the weight shift and come crashing down when you are not observing the pressing? And cleanability—are the weights cleanable and contained so they don’t leak or leech any nonfood substances or chemicals in your cheese?
If you find you must move up to a mechanical press, you have two basic options, then multiple choices within those options; a single wheel screw type press or lever press. Your choice will likely revolve around the number of wheels you plan on pressing at the same time. Small single wheel presses that can press 3 to 4-pound wheels can be expensive, and it will be quite time-consuming to have more than one or two wheels that you need to remove from the press, redress, and turn.
When choosing a single screw type press, look for durability, cleanability, and pressure scale. The most expensive are made from all-stainless-steel parts—and of course, these are the most cleanable and durable. Some single presses are made from wood and laminate parts.
Finally, the lever press, also called a Dutch or Holland lever press, because of its long history of manufacture and use in that country. Lever presses designed for home use are usually made of a hard wood such as maple. It is important that they not be made of a softer wood, as the lever arm from which weights will be hung can crack if it is not sturdy enough. Lever presses can be freestanding or attached to a wall. You can purchase a premade kit for single wheel versions of those presses and find plans online. I used to have one of these mounted on the wall. Scott made it for me. Alas, I’ve taken it down and I don’t think I have any pictures. It was my main press when I was making 3 to 5-gallon cheeses. It was simply a long stick of wood that would fold up and out of the way and then fold down when I needed to use it. My weights were 1 gallon and half gallon plastic milk jugs. I put them on the scale and added as much water as I needed to reach a specific weight. I believe I had a 2-pound, a 4-pound, and 8-pound weight. They each had a small piece of rope tied to the handle which I could loop over the arm of the lever press.
You will need quite an assortment of miscellaneous tools, such as ladles, curd cutting knife, measuring cups, measuring syringe, colander, thermometer, timer or clock, a scale for weighing curd, and brine “tank.” If you are also waxing cheeses, that will require equipment as well.
A perforated cheese ladle can be either purchased or modified from a long handled, slotted stainless steel skimmer. The ladle is used to gently stir the curds, and the perforations allow for the whey to flow through the spoon, as well as to help disperse coagulant and calcium chloride when being added to the cheese milk.
A curd knife is used to cut the coagulated milk into curds. Again, you can purchase one or use a long, narrow spatula; a frosting spreader; or even a thin piece of stainless steel.
There are some small-scale cheese “harps” on the market, but beware of blades that are too thick or spaced too widely—once you make large cubes, is a bit more difficult to cut them smaller evenly, as they are now moving in the vat as you try to cut them. A small-scale harp can be fabricated by creating a stainless frame that is strung with nylon fishing line. While it is not necessary to invest in such a harp, it will give you the advantage of nearly perfect cubes of curd. When a harp is turned it around about, it cuts concentric circles that must then be cut vertically. Leaving you with more of a pie shaped curd than a square one.
For measuring liquid, you will need a variety of measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a couple of plastic syringes in 5 cc, 3 ml, and 1 ml sizes. A cubic centimeter (CC) is the same as a milliliter. If you have a nice little set of syringes, you will be able to make super accurate measurements of coagulant and calcium chloride.
For measuring dry powders, such as cultures, accurately weighing and dividing into unit doses is always the best choice but is often not practical for home cheesemaking. For measuring really tiny doses of mold and ripening cultures, you can purchase a set of tiny measuring spoons that will help measure amounts from just under a quarter teaspoon (1 mL) down to 1/60 teaspoon (0.05 mL).
It is a good idea to have a plastic or stainless-steel colander for holding draining bags while filling, draining curd, and other surprisingly handy uses. Don’t use aluminum strainers, as the metal will react with the acid in the whey and cheese.
You don’t need a fancy thermometer for making cheese, but you’d do need to make certain it is accurate. You can use the simple, metal probe thermometers you can get for a few dollars at the grocery store. Using a piece of stainless-steel wire, you can fashion a nifty little hanger so the thermometer stays suspended and you can still close the lid on your vat.
A clock or timer should be available for monitoring times during your cheese makes. Your cell phone probably has a timer on it.
If you are brining cheeses—and you will be—you will need a container large enough to float all the wheels in a batch (or you can use multiple containers). Brine should be stored at either aging room temperature of 50 to 55°F or in the refrigerator between use.
If you’ll be waxing cheeses for aging, plan on a double boiler, pan, or dedicated crockpot that is used only for this purpose. The wax pretty much takes forever on all utensils. A variety of natural bristle brushes will also be needed for waxing.
I’m going to stop here for this podcast. In the next one I will finish up this topic covering “creating a cheesemaking space” and “keeping things clean”. Once you have those topics under your belt, you’ll be set to make the best cheese right in your own home.
It’s time for today’s recipe.
Greek Meatballs with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
Slow-simmered in a rich tomato sauce and served over rice with a tangy yogurt sauce and crumbled feta. Yum, yum.
What You Need
- 2 lbs ground lamb
- 4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
- Zest of ½ lemon
- ½ cup olives, chopped (green, black or mixed)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ red onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- Olive oil for browning meatballs
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon cumin, ground
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- Zest of ½ lemon
- Juice of one lemon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Feta, crumbled
- Fresh herbs (mint and oregano)
What To Do
- Combine meatball ingredients in large mixing bowl. Form meatballs.
- Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add oil to coat the bottom. Add half the meatballs, keeping space between them.
- Brown well on one side and flip to brown the other side. Roll to sides and brown.
- When nicely browned, put on a plate and repeat with remaining meatballs. Put on plate.
- Add crushed tomatoes, garlic and cumin to pan. Scrape bottom and combine well. Add meatballs, season with salt and pepper, bring to a simmer. Turn down to low.
- Cook for about an hour with lid slightly open. Scrape bottom occasionally to prevent burning.
- Meatballs are done when tomato sauce thickens.
Serve with Mint Sauce and Feta Over Rice
- Prepare rice of your choice. Combine the yogurt sauce ingredients.
- Spoon yogurt sauce on top of meatballs and crumble feta over it.
- Garnish with fresh herbs and olive oil.
That’s it for today’s Peaceful Heart FarmCast. I hope you are enjoying your winter wherever you are in the world. Well, I guess if you are south of the equator it is summer. If you are south of the equator, I hope you are enjoying your summer. The winter blues are coming on me in small amounts at the moment. No where near the levels of past winters and for that I am grateful. If it wasn’t raining would go out and watch a few animals grazing peacefully. That can cheer me up any time.
If I had milk, I could make cheese and that can cheer you up as well. I hope this introduction to setting up your own kitchen for cheesemaking is helpful. It really can be done. When I have completed the second half, there will be a written transcript of the two podcasts on my website. I’ll make a downloadable pdf version that you can print and study.
Those Greek meatballs are fabulous. Give it a try and let me know your variations and improvements. We have ground lamb available for purchase at the farmer’s market in Wytheville, 2nd and 4th Saturdays and at the farm Tuesday mornings 10am to 12pm or Saturday afternoon 3pm to 5pm.
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.
Greek Meatballs with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
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