Category: Recipes

Finishing Jack Cheese with Press

Finishing Jack Cheese with Press

     These are the final phases of monterey jack cheese using a pre-made cheese mold and a cheese press.  If you want to make your own jack cheese and are missing the first steps, find them here.

Line your cheese mold with cheesecloth (butter muslin, etc). Scoop the curds into the mold.  If you would like to use the salt, here’s where you sprinkle that one tablespoon into the curds, trying to distribute it evenly between scoops.  I do like to use the salt, but I have been known to forget it, and still enjoyed the cheese.

Fold the extra cheesecloth over the top, place your follower, and press at 5 pounds pressure for 30 minutes.

After the first 30 minutes, remove the cheese from the mold, carefully peel back the cheesecloth, turn the cheese over, re-wrap, and press at 15 pounds for about 12 hours.

Remove the cheese from the press and place it on plate to air-dry, to harden the exterior a bit.

I like to use a piece of cross-stitch craft plastic to allow the cheese to breathe on the bottom.  The length of time to dry off the exterior can vary depending on the climate, both outside and in the house!  Watch for 1 to 4 days and flip the cheese over at least every 12 hours.  This stage is challenging in very humid weather, and if you get a bit of grey fuzz, pour a bit of vinegar over a clean cloth and wipe it off.

Here’s a good comparison below, between the cheese fresh out of the mold and after it’s hardened.  You can see the difference in color, but also in size.

Natural Rind

There is the beautiful attraction of a natural rind that you lovingly cultivate with a rub of spices, paprika or cayenne or powdered thyme, with a rich olive oil, with an aromatic beer or wine – the sky is the limit!  Rub your cheese about once a week for the first month of aging, and after that just maintain the rind.  A natural rind requires the humidity level to be more spot-on – too much, extraneous molds appear, too little, the cheese can dry out rapidly.  If you notice any cracks appear, get the humidity around the cheese up by adjusting its micro-climate with a more covered container or slipping it into a large ziploc bag, leaving the bag unzipped or it will be too humid.  To address unwanted mold growth, a firm pastry brush or a clean towel can be used to remove some of all of the mold.  Sometimes this gets all the mold – if it doesn’t, you can dab the mold spots with a brine solution or vinegar (don’t overly-moisten the cheese).

I recommend aging a natural rind jack cheese for a minimum of 2 months…and if you are using a strong-flavored rub, aging up to 2 years can make for a powerful cheese!

Wax

The wax provides a great security blanket to moderate humidity and hold off un-welcome mold growth while saying good-bye to the creative possibilities of the natural rind.

The size of this cheese dips nicely into my pot of wax, so I prefer to dip this cheese (rather than brushing on wax).

At medium heat, melt your wax – this is a pretty fast process so keep an eye on it!

Dip one side, let it dry, then the other, let it dry.  You will likely need a minimum of 2 coats.  If the wax doesn’t meet in the middle, as pictured, dip the cheese on its side and roll it a bit (but don’t drop it in the wax!).

Write a note with the name of the cheese, and most importantly, the date of waxing, place it on one side and wax it on.  This is so helpful because if you are like me, you will quickly lose track of all those dates you thought you’d never forget!

Pop the cheese in your “cave” (aging fridge), and turn it over whenever you can, hopefully at a minimum once a week.

Age for 1 to 4 months.  You can take a test nibble by slicing a tiny piece and then re-sealing with wax to continue aging.

 

Finishing Jack No Press

Finishing Jack No Press

     These are the final phases of monterey jack cheese using your own improvised pressing method (no pre-made cheese press).  If you want to make your own jack cheese and are missing the first steps, you can find them here.

Line your colander with cheesecloth (butter muslin, etc).  Place it over the sink or another container as I have done above, and ladle the curds into the colander.  A large slotted spoon works well for this, or a strainer.

If you would like to use the salt, here’s where you sprinkle that one tablespoon over the top of the curds, and gently mix it in.  I do like to use the salt, but I have been known to forget it, and still enjoyed the cheese.

Pull your cheesecloth together to create a nice snug mass, the tighter the better. Place it on a flat surface where it’s OK for whey to drain off.  

Twist the top closed and cover with a flat surface that can distribute weight evenly.  Balance a weight of 5 to 10 pounds on top for 30 min to an hour.  Flip the cheese over and balance 20 pounds about 2 hours.

Then flip one last time to press at 20 pounds for about 12 hours.

In the pictures I used our off-the-wall cheese press.  You can use your own weights.  In our 109+ year old house (plus 2 small energetic boys and a spazzy dog), I have come downstairs to some real messes!  So…if you use your own creative set-up (which I think is awesome), I do have a few recommendations.  They may be big duh’s, but just to spare you in case you are like me!  

  • Don’t use anything breakable.
  • If you use water, which is a great route, use something seal-able, like a plastic gallon jug.
  • Set it up over something to catch the curds if the worst case scenario does happen.
  • Don’t trust the balance to “if no one breathes within 20 feet it’ll hold”…test it out with a couple hops!

After the pressing, remove your young cheese from the cheesecloth and set up for a bit of drying and hardening-off.  I use an open container with a bit of craft cross-stitch plastic at the bottom for a tiny bit of breathability.

This “hardening-off” phase can take 1 (in dry weather) to 4 (summer in Iowa!) days.  If you get any of that fuzzy grey mold, promptly attack it with a bit of clean cloth drenched in vinegar.

 

Once you have a dry exterior, it is time to prepare your natural rind, or wax the cheese, and whichever you choose, for the cheese to go into your aging cave at about 52 degrees/high humidity.

Natural Rind

There is the beautiful attraction of a natural rind that you lovingly cultivate with a rub of spices, paprika or cayenne or powdered thyme, with a rich olive oil, with an aromatic beer or wine – the sky is the limit!  Rub your cheese about once a week for the first month of aging, and after that just maintain the rind.  A natural rind requires the humidity level to be more spot-on – too much, extraneous molds appear, too little, the cheese can dry out rapidly.  If you notice any cracks appear, get the humidity around the cheese up by adjusting its micro-climate with a more covered container or slipping it into a large ziploc bag, leaving the bag unzipped or it will be too humid.  To address unwanted mold growth, a firm pastry brush or a clean towel can be used to remove some of all of the mold.  Sometimes this gets all the mold – if it doesn’t, you can dab the mold spots with a brine solution or vinegar (don’t overly-moisten the cheese).

I recommend aging a natural rind jack cheese for a minimum of 2 months…and if you are using a strong-flavored rub, aging up to 2 years can make for a powerful cheese!

Wax

The wax provides a great security blanket to moderate humidity and hold off un-welcome mold growth while saying good-bye to the creative possibilities of the natural rind.

For this flatter cheese, larger in diameter than my mold, it is easiest for me to paint on my wax, which is in a pot as shown below.  If you are going to make a lot of cheeses this size, I suggest trying a flat skillet/saute type pan.

At medium heat, melt your wax – this is a pretty fast process so keep an eye on it!

Paint or dip one side, let it dry, then the other, let it dry.  You will likely need a minimum of 2 coats.

Write a note with the name of the cheese, and most importantly, the date of waxing, place it on one side and wax it on.  This is so helpful because if you are like me, you will quickly lose track of all those dates you thought you’d never forget!

Pop the cheese in your “cave” (aging fridge), and turn it over whenever you can, hopefully at a minimum once a week.

Age for 1 to 4 months.  You can take a test nibble by slicing a tiny piece and then re-sealing with wax to continue aging.

Jack Cheese

Jack Cheese

   This creamy mild cheese is a good starting point for trying out your cheese press – but also, you can make it without a cheese press!  I’ll show both versions. There’s a great quick turn-around on this cheese too – ready in 1 to 4 months.

2 gallons (give or take a bit) whole goat milk

¼ teaspoon mesophilic-thermophilic culture (Danisco MA4002)

½ tsp liquid rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup cool water

1 tblspn non-iodized salt, optional

Heat the milk to 88 deg.  Once it has reached 88 deg, add the culture. When using the powdered cultures, it is a good practice to sprinkle it across the top and wait a few minutes before stirring it in, allowing it to begin its transition to becoming one with the milk and avoiding clots.

Warm the milk a bit to 90 deg.  Set your timer for 30 minutes, allowing the milk to ripen at circa 90 deg.

After 30 minutes, add the rennet (dissolved in cool water).

Let the milk sit at 90 deg for 30 to 45 minutes, waiting for the curd to develop a clean break.

After 45 minutes, check for your clean break.

Cut the curds in small ¼ inch cubes.  First horizontal, then vertical.  Then rotate the pot 45 deg (or just rotate it in your mind!) and cut at diagonal angles, to bisect/trisect the tall ½ inch curds you have just created (demonstrated in lower right pic).

Once you have finished cutting, stir gently off and on over a period of about 30 minutes, while slowly increasing the heat to about 100 deg.

Then maintain the 100 deg temp for about 30 minutes, again stirring off and on to keep the warm curds from matting together.  During this second period, let the temperature climb to 105-107 deg.

The pictures below were taken during this first hour of cooking the curds.

Now you have one more chunk of 30 minutes at the slightly elevated temp – anywhere from 100 to 107 deg is fine.  If you find that the curds are still soft, as in a silken tofu-type texture, opt for the higher temperature.  If you stay within that temperature range, it is very unlikely that you will over-cook the curds.

Hopefully the picture to the left will give you a good idea of what the curds will look like as you are approaching the pressing stage.  It doesn’t give you an idea of the feel though, if this is your first time working with cooked curds. There should be a firm springiness – for lack of a better comparison (someone, help me with one, please!) – like one of the softer-type gummy worms.  Gummy bear firmness is too firm – all is likely not lost, just get the curds out of the whey right then and proceed with the next steps, without the next 30 minutes of cooking.

At this point the curds will be settling to the bottom of the pot with a significant amount of whey on top of them.  Pour this whey into another container, getting as close to the curds as you can without starting an avalanche of curds!  OK, perhaps that is dramatized a bit – but you know what I mean.  If you prefer, you can use a sanitized pyrex cup (or anything) to scoop the whey out.

If you can, save the whey to make ricotta.  Paying attention to how your curds are looking and feeling, allow the curds to sit in the remaining whey at about 100 deg for the next 30 minutes.  To really get the whole 30 minutes in, try not to let the temp go too high.  Here’s where you balance a desire to acidify the curds a bit more (for the smooth but springy texture in your cheese) while not over-cooking the curds.  So as you can tell, if you notice those curds getting more solid, move on to the next step – do not continue waiting.

For home production, you do have some leeway, you just don’t want to take a lot.

  Here’s the point where you can either press the cheese without a mold,
or use the mold.
(OK, who read the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books in junior high?)

 

 

Authentic Ricotta

Authentic Ricotta

Mmm ricotta ready for ravioli or lasagna or fill-in-the-blank pasta dish: your ricotta plus nutmeg, handfuls of chopped fresh herbs, salt & pepper, and a couple eggs.

What an incredible cheese ricotta is – the classic farmstead waste-not want-not, using the proteins from the whey left from the preparation of one cheese to yield another fresh cheese.  Ricotta needs to be used or frozen within about a week, unless you nurture it along to a Ricotta Salata, a thoroughly drained, pressed, and aged cheese.

Contrary to what many recipes say, you do not need to use fresh whey and in fact, as whey ages it acidifies which is a good thing for making ricotta!

Now, in our era of “plenty,” ricotta is often made with whole milk rather than the whey.  This gives a greater yield and would have been an unthinkable luxury in the frugal times that ricotta was first made from the whey left-over from Pecorino Romano.  It’s perfectly fine but I find the texture is different – it is thicker and creamier, where the authentic ricotta made from whey is lighter and fluffier, like little clouds.  Both are good, but I prefer cooking with and eating the clouds.

Whey (whatever quantity you have)

¼ cup vinegar per gallon of whey or if using whey 2 plus days old, you may not need any vinegar

Slowly bring your whey to a goal temperature of 200 degrees minimum.  

Hold at this higher temp until the ricotta rises to the top.  The surface of the whey should be completely white.

At this point use your judgement as to whether your whey needs the vinegar.  If you are not seeing white flakes separating out of the whey, add the vinegar and stir thoroughly.  Watch the texture of the surface combine into curds, if needed adding more of whichever acid you are using bit by bit.  You want to clearly see curds and whey here, but too much acid and the curds will sink.  (Still usable, just not ideal.)

Gently corral the curds to the middle top of the pot, and then wait about 15 minutes for them to bind together.

If you’ve been successful at getting them corralled and holding together, you can ladle them out into cheese molds (the basket-weave ones are traditional and $9.95 for 12 at www.cheesemaking.com).  If they are not binding together, instead use cheesecloth over a colander as you did when you made chevre.  Drain to the texture you prefer – creamy, maybe 30 minutes – more dense, hours.

And you’re done!  Remember to use within 10 days, or freeze it to bring out in the middle of winter when there’s no fresh milk.

 

Fresh Mozzarella

Fresh Mozzarella

I love to make a lot of mozzarella during the heat of the summer – July/August.  That heat and humidity is lousy for curing feta and other cheeses, as it encourages the growth of fuzzy molds you don’t want.  But the quick nature of mozzarella is perfect in the heat.  My mentor Naomi has even left a pot of the curds out to warm in the summer sun.  Then make bruschetta with basil, garden tomatoes, and mozzarella and also freeze a bunch of that yummy mozzarella to use all winter for pizzas, lasagna – I know I don’t need to give you ideas of how to use it!

Simpler Quick Mozzarella using citric acid to create stretch (links to www.cheesemaking.com)

Old-World Authentic Mozzarella using culture to create stretch (coming soon)

French Feta

French Feta

Feta is a beautiful example of the logical nature of the seasons and cheese making.  Try making feta in the heat of the summer – during that couple days of curing before it’s dunked in the brine, just watch those fuzzy molds multiply before your eyes! Ugh!  Those are not the kind of molds you want – and sure, you can clean them off with vinegar, but it’s just counter-intuitive to go through all of that, when you can wait until that crisp fall and early winter weather arrives and make your feta as cheese makers in past centuries did, following the natural cycle of the seasons and preservation.

There are so many different authentic fetas – that definition can change from person to person, from nationality to nationality, which is not at all surprising for a cheese that has been around for a long time.  I am going to crudely lump them into two types and loosely label them with a decent approximation of an appropriate name. There is the Greek feta, which is firmer and crumbly, with a lower moisture content, and the French feta, which is softer and creamy with more moisture.  Both have their merits – Greek feta in a salad or over pizza, French feta in spreads or sliced over mushrooms.  I tend to make more Greek feta as we use it more and I find it easier to store.

This is the recipe for the softer, creamy style of feta.  Crumbly feta recipe here.

1 gallon goat milk

¼ tsp MM100 culture or ¼ cup buttermilk

½ tsp liquid rennet dissolved in ¼ cup water

1/8 tsp lipase dissolved in ¼ cup water

Warm the milk to 86 deg, then add the culture and lipase, stirring gently.

Set your timer for 1 hour to ripen, keeping the temp at 86 deg.

After ripening for 1 hour, add the rennet/water, stirring gently in an up and down motion.

Wait 40 minutes, then check for your clean break.

Cut the curds into 1-inch cubes and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Maintaining the temp at ~86 deg, stir/cook the curds gently off and on for 20 minutes, breaking the longer pieces into 1 inch sections but trying not to create many pieces smaller than 1 inch cubes.

Set a butter muslin-lined colander over a large pot or sanitized bucket.  Pour the curds into the colander and tie the bag of curds up to drain for 8 to 12 hours.

After 8 to 12 hours, take the cheese down and slice it into chunks.  (I recommend a minimum of 3 X 3 inch chunks.  To keep saltiness down, larger is better, provided you can fit it through the top of your jar. Also, smaller pieces can fit more into a smaller space, so that is another thing to consider if enough space in the jar is an issue.)

Sprinkle all sides of the cheese blocks with non-iodized salt and place them in a container that you can loosely cover.

Place the container in a dark location at room temperature for 2 days, checking in at least half-way through to re-salt.  If any fuzzy mold growth has begun, wash this off with water and re-salt.  You may pour off the whey that is sweated out during this time if you’d like tho it is not necessary.

After 2 days, place the feta blocks into a large container (I like gallon pickle jars or ½ gallon mason jars) and pour whey brine over them. Pictured here I have used quart-sized plastic soup containers.

Age at least 2 weeks.  While the feta can keep indefinitely in the refrigerated brine, I prefer to have the French feta consumed younger than 3 months.  The tighter you can pack it, the better, as cheese that sticks out from the brine may develop some surface mold.  Note in the right-hand picture above:  the left container is well-packed, the right container will be prone to mold as the brine is not covering the cheese.  If any mold forms on the surface of cheese protruding from the brine, or the brine itself, simply remove it. The mold is just on the surface and the feta is still fine.

Greek Feta

Greek Feta

Feta is a beautiful example of the logical nature of the seasons and cheese making.  Try making feta in the heat of the summer – during that couple days of curing before it’s dunked in the brine, just watch those fuzzy molds multiply before your eyes! Ugh!  Those are not the kind of molds you want – and sure, you can clean them off with vinegar, but it’s just counter-intuitive to go through all of that, when you can wait until that crisp fall and early winter weather arrives and make your feta as cheese makers in past centuries did, following the natural cycle of the seasons and preservation.

There are so many different “authentic” fetas – that definition can change from person to person, from nationality to nationality.  I am going to crudely lump them into two types and loosely label them with a decent approximation of an appropriate name. There is the Greek feta, which is firmer and crumbly, with a lower moisture content, and the French feta, which is softer and creamy with more moisture.  Both have their merits – Greek feta in a salad or over pizza, French feta in spreads or sliced over mushrooms.  I tend to make more Greek feta as we use it more.

This is the recipe for the drier, crumbly style of feta.  Creamy feta recipe here.

2-3 gallons goat milk

¼ tsp MM100 culture or ¼ cup buttermilk

1 tsp liquid rennet dissolved in ¼ cup water

¼ to ½ tsp lipase dissolved in ¼ cup water

Warm the milk to 86 deg, then add the culture and lipase, stirring gently.

Set your timer for 1 hour to ripen at 86 deg.

After ripening for 1 hour, add the rennet/water, stirring gently in an up and down motion.

Wait 30 – 40 minutes, then check for your clean break.

Cut the curds into ½-inch cubes and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Maintaining the temp at ~86 deg, stir/cook the curds gently off and on for 45 minutes, breaking the longer pieces into ½ inch sections and breaking up clumps that try to cook together.

Set a butter muslin-lined colander over a large pot or sanitized bucket.  Pour the curds into the colander and tie the bag of curds up to drain.

After 3 to 6 hours, take the cheese down and turn it upside down in the cheesecloth.  This will give you a smoother edge around the cheese, which makes for a nicer appearance and is also better for resisting fuzzy mold growth during the drying period.

Allow the cheese to continue draining for about 24 to 30 hours.

After at least 24 hours, take the cheese down and slice it into chunks.  (I recommend a minimum of 3 X 3 inch chunks.  To keep saltiness down, larger is better, provided you can fit it through the top of your jar.  Also, smaller pieces can fit more into a smaller space, so that is another thing to consider if enough space in the jar is an issue.)

Sprinkle all sides of the cheese blocks with non-iodized salt and place them in a container that you can loosely cover.

Below is one of my favorite toughening-up locations – a pass-through cabinet.  The pan is covered loosely with cheesecloth.

 

Place the container in a dark location at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, checking in daily to re-salt.  If any fuzzy mold growth has begun, wash this off with water and re-salt.  You may pour off the whey that is sweated out during this time if you’d like tho it is not necessary.

Now put the feta blocks into a large container (I like gallon pickle jars or ½ gallon mason jars) and pour whey brine over them.

Age at least 2 weeks – but the feta can keep indefinitely in the refrigerated brine!  If any mold forms on the surface of cheese protruding from the brine, or the brine itself, simply remove it.  The feta is still fine.