It ended up OK. I haven’t tried it yet because it has to mature for a couple of months, but it looks like cheese. I’ll be pretty happy even if it doesn’t taste all that nice because the main thing was just to try and do it. I found it quite challenging.
The first thing I did was sanitise a stainless steel pot by bringing some water to about 90C in it. I decided I didn’t need to boil it because pasteurisation happens at lower temperatures than that anyway. it was wasteful of heat and energy but I chucked that hot water (I initially put it in the mop bucket in case I had any spills). Then I made a water bath for the pot out of my wort boiler. The cups are there to make sure the pot didn’t settle onto the elements. In fact, however, the water in the water bath meant the pot floated above the cups and elements anyway. Still it pays to be careful. My water bath was about 10 litres of hot tap water. Our tap water comes out at about 54C I think. Then I put 5 litres of milk and half a litre of cream into the stainless pot and put the pot in the water bath. I also added half a teaspoon of Calcium Chloride (CaCl) at this stage because I had it handy. I use it for brewing to increase the calcium content of my brewing liquor. The calcium is supposed to help the proteins coagulate by lowering the pH. This is what it does in brewing too.
The recipe called to raise the temperature of the milk to 29C and add starter and then hold for around half an hour before adding any rennet. Foolishly, I turned the elements on in my boiler to raise the temperature and it rapidly hit 37C. I quickly ran a sink full of cold water and put the pot in that.
At 29C I added four blocks of starter I had prepared earlier and put in icecube trays. . I had to move the pot back and forth between my hot and cold water baths a couple of times to keep the temperature around where it should be.
After 45 minutes at something like the right temperature, I added the rennet which I had previously diluted with cold boiled water. My rennet was 2 months out of date and I think I should have added extra. I did add a couple more drops later in the process when I realised the curds were taking a while to form. The curds have formed properly when you can touch the surface with the back of your finger and it comes away without a milky stain on it. It took an hour before I was satisfied that mine did or at any rate before I decided that I couldn’t be bothered waiting any longer. It was fun cutting the curds up into little blocks, but I didn’t really understand what this stage in the process is for. It is how the curds and whey are separated I guess. I’ll better understand it with more practice perhaps.
Then I had to scald the curd, which is the raise the temperature to 38C over about 40 minutes and stir frequently with my hands. In my case, this broke the curds up into thousands of little pieces. Instead of ladling the whey out and leaving the curds is regular little blocks, I just poured the mix through cheesecloth. I ended up with at least four and a half litres of whey and some curds in cheesecloth. I let the curds drip dry for about half an hour and then sought to “cheddar” them, which means cutting into sections and stacking them like a deck of cards and then shuffling the outer sections into the middle two or three times. I tried to do this but my curd was all crumbly so I skipped that stage and went straight on to breaking the curd up and salting it. I used one and a half teaspoons worth of salt. Then I gathered the curds up and put them in my little cheese press. Initially, I couldn’t see how to get two cheese forms into the press so I pressed the second cheese under the weight of several tins of baked beans and the like. The next day I managed to get both cheese forms into the press.
And after they’d been in the forms a couple of days I took them out, submersed them for a minute in 66C water to form a rind and allowed them to dry for another couple of days before waxing them. Covering them in wax was a lot of fun. Unfortunately I can’t find the photo I took of that part of the process. I should know in a couple of months whether my slightly awkward first attempt at cheese making has been successful.
The next time I make cheese my rennet will be even more out of date as I probably won’t have gotten round to replacing it. I think I’ll triple the amount the recipe suggests. I am looking forward to improving my temperature control at the beginning. I think I will still use my boiler, but I won’t turn the elements on initially. The hot water from the tap is probably itself sufficient to obtain the correct milk temperature. It was good having a cold water bath too for temperature correction, but I shouldn’t have to use it. Getting the temperature right is so tricky because both measuring the temperature and adjusting the temperature take time. So you have to anticipate what the temperature will get to and switch the element off before it gets there. I think it’s a little like steering a boat rather than a car you have to account for the drift of the current.