Despite my confidence, the instruction book saying Farmhouse Cheddar is the “easiest cheddar to make” did make it appealing. Plus Test Subject Bill loves cheddar. I could be a super star in his eyes. I mean…I already am, but…this is cheese we’re talking about.
With Test Subject toiling away in California, I had the kitchen (and the house) to myself. If something went bad, it was just me and the kitties to save the day. No one to make a corn shield. No one to look at me like I’m half way to the nut house.
I diligently re-read through the instructions and began heating my milk. Two gallons of milk over low heat takes a geologic age to reach 90 degrees. But I finally got it there and added my Mosphilic direct set culture. (What IS this stuff and where would I acquire such a thing if the world structure blew up and it was just me and a cow in a mountain shack?? I must investigate.)
This is where you’re supposed to leave it at 90 degrees for 45 minutes. This is also where I potentially destroyed my cheese. It took so long to heat up that after I added my culture and stirred it had dropped temperature so I put the lid on my pot (I had to use my waterbath canner because two gallons of milk is more volume that my largest regular pot can hold.) I turned around a half minute later and my temperature was over 100 degrees! I freaked out, ditched the lid, stirred, turned off the heat and cried to the kitties. I left it for 45 minutes, and it took that long just to get back down to 90 degrees.
I seldom actually get mad in the kitchen, but this time around I was PO’d. I’m still mad.
But I wasn’t ready to abandon the project. I didn’t have any more milk and didn’t want to wait and try again later. So I proceeded, hoping for the best. Like the mozzarella, I added my rennet and left it alone for a while. 45 minutes later, I had curd. I cut up the curd using a long bread knife.
The next part was tricky. You put the giant pot in your sink full of hot water and slowly bring the temperature up to 100 degrees, not faster than two degrees every five minutes. I have no freaking idea how you are supposed to have that much control in your kitchen sink. I added hot water from my kettle a bit at a time into the water around the pot. As expected, it didn’t raise the temp, didn’t raise the temp, then started shooting up much faster than two degrees in five minutes. *sigh*
By this time I had opened a bottle of wine. If my cheese was going to be destroyed, at least I would care less. It was time to drain. I poured the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer, then tied it up in a bag and hung it to drain out.
The next step is mold. The container, not the living organism. I packed the drained curds (they were fairly squeezed out after an hour) into a cheesecloth lined plastic mold from the kit. This is where a real cheese maker would use their specially designed cheese press to apply the appropriate amount of pressure. Since I am doing a hack job on this cheese, I obtained some weights from Test Subject’s weight set in the basement.
The size of the five pound and two and a half pound weights were either too big (sit on the rim and put no pressure on the curds) or too small (uneven pressure). So I got the brilliant idea to use canning lids to create a surface for the smaller weight and get more even distribution.
It mostly worked.
In applying pressure to the cheese, you are to put 10 pounds on it for 15 minutes, then flip the cheese in the mold and do 20 pounds for 12 hours. Flip yet again and give it another 12 hours with 20 pounds. This part was easy. Except for when my alarm didn’t got off at 4 a.m. so I could do the second flip and it ended up going an extra four hours.
Somebody doesn’t want me to make good cheese. Who can I blame?
Finally my cheese was pressed and ready to dry. I put it on a wooden cutting board at room temperature for a little over four days, turning regularly for even drying. I put a mesh colander over it to keep away flies and cat hair.
Once the drying was done, it was time to wax on. I ordered the five pound block of red wax from the cheesemaking company. It was a little hassle to cut but not so bad. I melted it in a pan on the stove and used the brush I bought to apply the wax. This part was fun, like an art project. The wax dripped and dried in places I didn’t want it to but it ended up looking pretty darn sharp when I was finished.
Regarding cheese wax. OMG this stuff is sticky. It does NOT harden up when it dries like a candle. Do not put it in a pot that you want to use for anything else ever again. (I may have a very expensive wax pot if I can’t figure out how to get the residue off of it.) Anything it touches may very well have wax traces on it forever. Put down wax paper over surfaces and plates to protect them. Don’t plan on ever being able to use the brush again, even for more waxing.
My waxing issues were forgotten though, as I stared at my beautiful red brick. I slapped a label on it and stuck it in the red wine fridge where it will age at 55 degrees until at least late October. A long time to wait to see if I killed it, if it is still cheese and if so, if it is cheddar. I may have turned it into something else. Something dark and unnatural.
So Project Cheddar was a bit traumatic. Challenging and somewhat frustrating. But also totally cool. I am SO going to do it again. I made cheese, man. Seeing that aging chunk of red wax in the wine fridge is strangely fascinating. What is going on underneath that sticky wax? We won’t know until….All Hallow’s Eve….