Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Making Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese from Dexter Milk

It was an exciting day when I had saved up 2 gallons of our own Dexter milk and was ready to make farmhouse cheddar cheese!  Here's a step-by-step tutorial of the process.

The supplies:  Ricki's Basic Cheese Making Kit from New England Cheese Making Supply with the goodies inside it--cheesecloth, cheese salt, a mold, calcium chloride, mesophilic starter, rennet tablets, and a thermometer.  Additionally, I purchased cheese wax from them.  Non-chlorinated water is a must, along with a measuring cup and teaspoons.  It really helps to read the whole recipe and assemble all the ingredients and equipment before starting.  You don't want to be racing around looking for something when your milk has reached the perfect temperature!

Necessary equipment includes a colander, a large stainless steel pot (this 7 1/2 quart one was too small!), and a flat ladle with holes in it.

The recipe I used came from the booklet in my cheese making kit.  It says that Farmhouse Cheddar is "the easiest Cheddar to make.  It may be aged for only 8 weeks.  However, it improves in taste if aged over 6 months."  All I can say is, good luck keeping it that long!

Before I even got the milk out of the fridge, I got all my supplies ready.  Cheddar is a mesophilic cheese, meaning the culture is active between 68° and 113°.  This is the easiest kind of starter to use, a "direct set," meaning you can add it directly to your milk once the milk reaches the right temperature.

The recipe also calls for 1/2 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 c. cool (non-chlorinated) water.  The rennet begins to bubble as soon as it's dropped into the water.

I was impatient to get going, so I used the spoon to crush it and mix it in well.

Now it's time to get the milk out, two whole gallons.

When I started pouring the milk into my stainless steel pot, I quickly realized I had underestimated the size of the pot.  Luckily I have a huge pot that I use for canning.
Heat the milk to 90°.  I clipped a thermometer to the side of my cheese ladle so I could keep an eye on it as I stirred the milk.

But for glancing quickly at the temperature, I'm a child of the modern age--give me digital!  I had my electric burner between 5 and 6, or medium heat.  You don't want the burner so hot that it will scald the milk.  Since electric burners are so slow to cool off, be prepared to remove the pot to a cold burner if needed to stop the temperature of the milk from rising too high.

When the milk was close to 90°, I got my calcium chloride measured out.  It's optional, but I chose to use it, 1/2 tsp. for 2 gallons.  The booklet says, "Add calcium chloride before the culture and rennet.  If the milk gives a weak curd and takes an inordinate amount of time to set, you will want to add more calcium chloride (1/4 tsp. per gallon) to your next cheesemaking effort."  (My cheese set just fine, so I'll stick with this amount next time.)

When the milk reached 90°, it was time to add one starter culture packet and stir it in well.

Then I had to leave the pot where it could maintain its temperature for 45 minutes.  (I set the microwave timer.)

I wanted to keep track of the milk temperature and maintain it right around 90° without having to stand and hold a thermometer in it for 45 minutes!  So I came up with my own method, as you can see.
Sorry, I was incapable of taking a photograph of myself pouring rennet with one hand while stirring with the other, and there was no one around to take one for me.  So you'll just have to take my word that I added the rennet solution according to directions:  pour it through a perforated skimming ladle so it "strews" the rennet into the milk.  This photo shows the movement of the milk as I stirred it gently all the way down to the bottom of the pot for one full minute.

Then I top-stirred the milk (not more than 1/2" deep) for another minute in order to keep the cream from rising separately from the renneted milk.

Then I covered the pot and left it strictly alone for 45 minutes while the curd formed.

At the end of 45 minutes, I cut the cheese.  (Sorry, I'm just trying to see if you're still awake!)  The recipe booklet gives detailed instructions with a diagram of how to cut the curd:  left to right in slices 1/2" apart . . .

... turn the pot 90° and repeat . . .

... and then slice again with the knife at an angle.  You can buy a special curd knife, but my longest bread knife did the job just perfectly.

Next I put the pot into a sink of hot water and raised the temperature slowly (no more than 2° every 5 minutes) up to 100°.  This process should take about 30 minutes.  This was probably the trickiest part!  I did it by keeping a kettle of water boiling on the stove and periodically adding boiling water to the water in the sink.  When the sink got too full I had to remove the pot so I could let some water out.

The recipe didn't say whether or not to stir the curds, but I realized that I needed to in order to keep the temperature even throughout.  I could see the curds (just visible under the surface of the whey around the edges of the pot) shrink as they heated, while the yellowish whey increased in quantity.  I think the key word here is gently!  Finally I covered the pot and let the curds settle for 5 minutes.
The next step was to drain the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander, knot the corners of the cheesecloth, and hang the bag of curds to drain for an hour.  As I'm typing this up, I just realized I completely skipped that step!  (It doesn't seem to have harmed anything, but I personally advocate trying NOT to skip steps!)

Instead of pouring the drained curds into a bowl, I poured them into a colander--probably a good thing since mine still held a lot of extra whey, having missed the hanging step.  I kept a pot under the colander to collect all the whey that came out of the curds.

I used my fingers to gently break the curds into walnut-sized pieces, mixing in the salt 1/2 T. at a time.
Since the salt is white like the curds, I skipped a photo of the salting step!  You can see the whey collecting in little pools as it comes out of curds as they are gently manipulated.

Finally I was ready to pack the curds firmly (this is the first firm treatment of the curds!) into a cheesecloth-lined mold.  I left one corner of the cheesecloth larger than the other edges so it would reach over the curds when it was time to fold it over and cover them.

First I had to apply 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.  I put a saucer that is smaller than the mold over the top of the cheesecloth . . .

... added a lid to make up for the hollow in the saucer . . .

... and stacked two Black Boxes of wine on top.  I figured wine and cheese go well together, and it was the closest thing that weighed 10 pounds.
After 15 minutes under the wine, it was time to turn the cheese over.  It had a saucer-shaped print on top, but that eventually went away.

I flipped the cheese . . .

and recovered it with the cheesecloth.

I was about to put this cheese under serious pressure, so I put the mold in the colander with a pyrex dish underneath to catch the whey that oozed out.  Then the saucer . . .
... and next went 20 lbs. of weights from my husband's weight machine.  Then I put the cheese aside for 12 hours and went to bed!  I was ready to hit the hay!
The next morning I finally got to see my cheese as I took it out of the mold . . .

... and peeled away the cheesecloth.

It was a little lopsided because the whole thing had slipped in the colander overnight, but I was still pleased with it.  At that point I put it on a wooden cutting board to air dry for several days until it developed a nice rind on the outside.  I turned it every few hours and also switched its position on the cutting board so moisture would not collect underneath it and prevent the rind from forming.

There's one final, very fun step, but since it was several days later, I'll do a separate post on that.  Meanwhile, I had several days to admire my cheese as it aged and dried!


  1. That looks like such fun, I need to give it a go. I don't know if we can buy cheese kits here in Australia, I'll have to go look. The cheese is soooo white, that is meant to be a characteristic of Dexter milk cheese, very white. I wonder if the cheddar ends up white after maturing, let us know.
    regards Louise

    1. Hi Louise, great to see you here! :) I would be glad to send you a kit, but it wouldn't do you any good without the cultures because they have to be kept frozen. Surely someone in Australia sells cheese cultures? :( I think if you want your cheddar orange, you have to add food coloring. I think my website has a natural colorant. I may do that next time just because it seems that cheddar should be orange, doesn't it?

  2. Looks pretty tasty Susan, good post and I hope to try and make some cheese someday following your post. Thanks again

    1. Hey, Gordon, thanks for getting all the way through this! I'll post again when we taste it!


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