Cooking from Scratch is now on facebook! Click here to check it out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cheddar Cheese Curds

I have finally managed to make pressed cheddar cheese! If you are interested in seeing how that is made, go to this post.

I often have people ask me how I originally got into cheesemaking. It was pretty innocent, actually. My husband, having been raised in the Midwest, always complained that he never got to have fresh cheese curds anymore. Apparently, his youthful visits to Wisconsin for vacations made a big impression on his palate. Well, of course, I had to help a husband out!

The good news is that cheesemaking is really not very difficult, provided you have some good recipes/instructions. The book that I started with, Making Great Cheese at Home, is pretty good, but the author really should have had a few more people try and make the cheese based on her recipes and give her feed back. I had some trial and error going on when I first started. Fortunately for you, I can pass along the lessons learned from those trials and you can just make great cheese from the get go!

Please note, however, that this is starting to get into "real" cheesemaking, which means that some specialized ingredients are required. I like New England Cheesemaking Supply but I have also used Caprine Supply. The good news is that the cultures and rennet keep well. I bought my last batch over two years ago. I typically buy a variety of cultures and what not and then they are available whenever I get the urge to make cheese. Just store the starter packets in the freezer and the liquid rennet in the refrigerator.

While this cheese takes a while to make, the actual work time is fairly small. I just plan on making curds on days when I am going to be home doing other things all day. Then I just squeeze a couple minutes of cheesemaking between chores.

You'll need a large double boiler for this process. I just have two stock pots that fit inside one another. Put a couple of inches of water in the bottom pot. Remember, in a double boiler, you do not want the top pot to touch the water in the bottom pot. Turn on medium heat and raise the temperature of the milk to 85 degrees F.

When the milk reaches 85 degrees, remove it from the heat and add the starter culture. Stir to mix, cover the pot and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. After the hour is up, mix the rennet and cool water and add to the milk. Stir, recover, and let sit another hour.
At this point, the milk should have "curdled" (but in a good way!). Cheesemakers talk about testing the milk here to see if it "has a clean break." First, I gotta tell you, it is really challenging to take a good photograph of a "clean break." But the idea is that if you run your knife through the milk, it will leave a clean line and if you try and pull the milk apart where you've cut it, it will pull apart cleanly. See how the line that I've cut in the milk is still visible? That's what you're looking for.

Now it is time to return the milk to the double boiler. You want to heat the milk up to 100 degrees F slowly. Shoot for raising the temperature of the milk by 2 degrees every five minutes or so. The good news is, in my experience, the milk is fairly forgiving here. Try to hit the guidelines, but if you are a bit off, it won't be the end of the world. Once the milk, now curds, has reached 100 degrees, hold it there for another 30 minutes. You'll start to see the whey separating from the curds... that's a good thing!

Periodically stir the curds with a large spoon while heating. Don't mix too much, but a few stirs here and there is required. Notice how loose the curds still are. A lot more whey needs to come out before they're ready to be drained.

Here we are ready to drain. The curds came up to 100 degrees slowly and then I kept them at that same temperature for about half an hour more. Notice how distinct the curds and whey are. This is what you want before going on to the next step.

Pour the curds into a cheesecloth lined colander. Have a clean bowl underneath even if you are not going to save the whey (it can be used in baking or to make ricotta cheese). Unless your sink is very clean, the splashing can cause contamination of your curds. Let the curds drain until the whey stops dripping and they no longer look really wet. I find I have to raise one side of the curds and make little "drainage channels" with the edge of a spoon to help the whey on the top of the curds drain. Note that I have drained my curds in a large colander so that my cheese mass is fairly thin throughout. This is easier for draining and for curd cutting.

When the curds are done draining, gently turn the mass of cheese onto a large cutting board (make sure it is clean!). Be careful not to break the mass. At this point they are slightly rubbery but still fragile, so be gentle.

For some reason, I really like the pattern of the cheesecloth on the curds.

Cut the curds into small pieces. I like about 3/4 inch x 1/2 inch pieces, but it is really personal preference. Just don't go too big or too small. Somewhere between the 1/2 and 1 inch range is good. Again, be gentle. Until the curds are cheddared, they are going to be fragile!

Cheddaring is a process by which excess whey is extracted. This is what gives cheddar it's firm, slightly rubbery texture. To cheddar the curds, place them in a bowl floating in warm (about 100 degree) water in the sink. The warmth will cause more whey to be expelled. Notice the excess whey when I tip the bowl. Periodically drain off this whey and gently mix the curds around to keep them from matting together. Cheddar the curds for a couple of hours. When the curds are done cheddaring, add the salt. Stir to coat well.

The last step is to dry the curds out slightly. Place curds on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in a cool spot (or in the refrigerator). Periodically turn the curds. It is okay to leave the curds out of the refrigerator for up to 36 hours after finishing the cheese providing the ambient temperature is no higher than 76 degrees. Drying the curds out at the higher temperatures gives them a sharper flavor. Remember, real cheese curds are fresh cheese that have not been aged, so they will not taste like regular cheddar from the store. You can take this process one step farther and make cheese rounds by pressing the cheese in a cheese press, but I haven't had a chance to build mine yet so I can't post pictures of how to do it yet. Cheese presses are also available for purchase online, but they are not cheap.

Cheddar Cheese Curds
Yield: 3-4 cups of curds

1 gallon whole cow's milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized)
1/4 tsp mesophilic starter powder
1/2 tsp liquid rennet mixed with 1 TBS cool water
1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste

Heat the milk in a double boiler to 85 degrees F. Remove from the heat, add the starter powder, cover, and let sit for one hour. After the hour is up, add the rennet and water mixture. Stir and recover for another hour.

After the rennet has worked for an hour, test for a "clean break" (see above). If the milk is ready, continue. If not, let the rennet continue to work until it does show a clean break. Return the cheese to the double boiler and slowly heat (over a period of 30-40 minutes) to 100 degrees F. Stir gently periodically with a large spoon. When the temperature reaches 100, hold it there for another 30 minutes. When the curds are very distinct from the whey (see picture above), they are ready to drain.

Drain curds into a cheesecloth lined colander. Let them drain for 30+ minutes, until they stop dripping. Turn the solid mass of curds onto a clean cutting board. Unfortunately, if the curds will not hold together, then something went wrong and cannot be saved. I have never had this happen to me but am told it can. Cut the mass into small curds with a sharp knife.

Cheddar the curds by placing them in a large bowl that is sitting/floating in a couple of inches of warm (about 100 degree) water. This warmth will cause more whey to be expelled from the curds. Periodically drain off this excess whey and gently move the curds around to keep them from matting together. Cheddaring takes 1-2 hours. When done cheddaring, add the salt and mix.

Dry the curds on a parchment lined sheet for 12-24 hours in a cool, dry place. Your curds are now ready to enjoy. Either eat them plain or create a yummy vinaigrette for them.

44 comments:

  1. Those look so good!!! This is a really helpful post. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love cheese more than anyone, but I don't remember any childhood cheese eating vacations with your husband... HA! Excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. i will make some

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for posting such an informative entry on making this recipe! My husband's grandmom was from Wisconsin, and he has always spoken of these things. I would like to make these for him for father's day... I don't have access to cheese making supplies (though I actually have rennet), but found a recipe for mesophilic starter culture made from buttermilk and then portioned into 1 oz portions on cheeseforum.org. Could I use this instead of the powder, and if so, how much? Thank you so much in advance for your help, my husband will be so ecstatic when he receives them!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tara,

    I make all my cheeses in a crock pot. I had this epiphany when making soap in the same appliance. No need for the double boiler and the ceramic insert holds the temperature much better while the culture and rennett set. It's difficult to find a 2 gallon pot but they're out there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. great idea, i also make my soap in a crock pot

      Delete
  6. I was wondering if the Cheddar Cheese curds could be made with goats milk. I have 2 does I milk year around and I love Cheddar cheese, but don't want to wait months for the results.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am sooooooo jealous! I have been wanting to try making goat's milk cheese forever, but it is so hard to find fresh goat's milk that hasn't been ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk will not coagulate properly. But, lucky for you, you don't have that problem! Yes, you can make cheddar cheese curds with your goat's milk. I believe you should be able to do a simple exchange without any problems. But don't just limit yourself to cheddar! There are a number of other cheeses you can make without having to wait months for the results: feta, chevre, and mozzarella are just a few I can think of off the top of my head. I am so excited for you! Have fun!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi agericksen, I've never thought about doing cheese in the crock pot... do you have trouble maintaining the proper temperatures? My crock pot only has a high and low. I worry that holding the milk at a specific temperature for 30 minutes would be hard? I'd love to hear more details. I'm all about doing things the easy way! Thanks for the idea!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Tara,

    I use the low or warm setting and monitor the temperature with the thermometer. Having a lid also helps keep the temperature stable. Once I reach the target temp and I'm letting the culture and/or rennett do its job I have the pot turned off. Your pot should stay sufficiently warm in the off position for longer than 30 minutes. Just turn it back on the warm setting and monitor for "cooked" curds. I love it, less mess, less worry, and excellent cheese!. Now I buy all the crock pots I can find at yard sales. Each pot variety has its own quirks. Working with one and monitoring the first couple of batches will get you "settled" in with your make and model. Making feta as we speak in a crock pot!

    A-
    (rather impatientially waiting for our mini jersey to come into her milk so we can have those wonderfully aged hard cheeses)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To agericksen: ...
      Im looking for a mini gersey cow! What have you enjoyed about having your mini cow & what frustrations have you had also? Do you have any suggestions on a great farm to buy a miniature gersey? Thanks ! -Angela

      Delete
  10. Hi Tara,
    I already make the feta, chevre', and ricotta.
    I guess you don't have a backyard you could put a doe or two in? Have you looked around for local dairy goat owners to see if you can talk them out of a couple gallons? I might try those cheddar cheese curds tonight!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Becky (Rebecca?),
    I had a few acres at our last place, but we got new orders (we're military) before I could work my husband up to larger farm animals. ;) Unfortunately, I am now stuck in a typical suburban subdivision. Oh well... it's not forever! I'm not sure if there is anybody nearby with milking goats, but maybe I can find someone on the outskirts of town. I'd love to know how those curds come out with goats milk, if you get a chance to make them.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I was just reading this post now as I am interested in trying this out myself, but I don't seem to see where the recipe list is for the curds. Is it from the book listed in the second paragraph?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Padraic, the recipe is at the bottom/end of the post. The actual recipe list is about 5 paragraphs from the bottom. Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Tara,
    I finally got around to making the cheddar curds with the goats milk.
    IT was WONDERFUL! Thank you so much for your recipe.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Tara,
    'Just found this blog yesterday while looking for local places that might sell fresh cheddar cheese curds. I grew up in Maine near the Canadian border and we occasionally made it into Quebec where we always bought fresh cheddar curds to snack on on the way home. I was not able to find anything local but stumbled across your recipe yesterday. Today, I'm munching on fresh cheddar curds YUM!! My only problem was finding mesophilic powder but used ripened cultured buttermilk and it has seemed to work quite well. I'm going to make another batch tomorrow so I can share some with my coworkers. Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Tara, thanks to you and your blog I can try to bring real Poutine to Germany. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. i stumbled across this and it is the most wonderful tutorial!! I used it to make my first cheese ever today...it's 'cheddaring' right now! Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  18. As a Quebecer ex-pat living in Arizona, I didn't think I could ever make decent poutine, but your awesome tutorial makes it possible! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi ,can you use buttermilk as the starter? would it be the same amount?

    ReplyDelete
  20. My whey and cheese got a little higher than the 100', it seems kind of rubbery when i drained it,is it still going to be ok?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hi Linda! To answer your questions: I would think you can use buttermilk as a starter, but the end product may taste slightly different and/or have a slightly different texture than what is typically associated with cheddar. What I've found so interesting about making cheese is that it is small changes in starter, rennet, and temperature that change the type of cheese you end up with. Regardless, the end result is invariably delicious! As for the temperature... same thing. I've noticed a little bit of wiggle room on the temperatures. If you go over too much, it can change the end texture, but again, it should still be tasty. One thing I've tried recently to help accurately reach the 100 degree mark is to warm the curd pot in a warm water bath in the sink; the chance of getting too warm too quickly is reduced significantly. Hope it comes out well! Happy cheesemaking!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi Tara,I am looking at the pics you put up for the process of cheddaring and the cubes look shredded after, when they are in the mold to be pressed. Now at this point are the pieces hard or still soft? And have you pulled them apart or are they like that? Mine were kinda rubbery and I had to pull them apart to get them to look like yours. Thanks for all your help. Linda.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi Tara, I just found your site tonight & am planning to try making your cheddar sometime. I'm looking for a place to buy a small amount of the starter for it. Any place I've looked so far costs more for postage than the starter. Do you happen to sell it? (I can't spell it, but it starts with an M)
    I raise a few Nigerian Dwarf goats and one Saanan. I get about a half gal. of milk a day from the Saanan---she's the only one I'm milking at this time. I usually make a "vinegar" cheese (that I use as ricotta)or mozzerella. Now it's time to try cheddar. You give really good instructions!
    By the way, my name is Gin. I'm not good on the computer so I ended up using Anonymous to get here to type my message.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hi Gin, I am so jealous of your fresh goat milk supply! I'm thrilled because I just recently found a supplier of cream line milk in our new area. I am so excited to try making cheese with non-homogenized milk!! Anyway, I digress. I strongly urge you to check out New England Cheesemaking (their link is on the left banner of my blog page under "My Favorite Cooking Supply Sites." You can buy a 5 pack of mesophilic starter for 6 bucks and they charge less than $2 for shipping. Do you already have rennet? They sell that too and buying a 10 pack of rennet tabs and a 5 pack of starter led to shipping of $2.10. I've bought from this outfit multiple times and have always been a happy customer. I hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tara, (from Gin) Thanks for the info. I've seen their advertiesments. I've been using Junket renett and citric acid for the mozzerella. I found the Junket in the grocery store & the citric acid in the pharmacy (the druggest ordered it for me). I don't know why it's at the pharmacy??? Of course, the vinegar cheese only requires white vinegar. It's quick & easy!
      If you lived a little closer I'd share some milk. I'm glad you found something.
      Today I'm canning some butternut squash which I'll use later in "pumpkin" pies & "pumpkin" bars, etc. They taste allmost the same, but the butternut is a little sweeter so I cut down the amount of sugar in my recipies. (a little off the cheese subject.)

      Delete
    2. Gin, I'm surprised you've had good luck using junket rennet for the mozzarella cheese since it is so much weaker than regular rennet. If you have to order the starter, I strongly urge you to also order some rennet. I think cheddar will be less forgiving than what you have found so far with the other cheeses you've made. I'd hate for you to be disappointed with the results. I've never tried a butternut pie... that sounds intriguing; I might have to give it a go!

      Delete
  25. I have a question about yogert & buttermilk starters. Are they still good as starters after being frozen? Does freezing destroy the good bacteria? My daughter went to the store for me & was unable to find a small container of plain yogert. She came home with a 32 oz. (2#) container. I know we could eat what I don't use, but I would rather eat the home made yogert & save the store bought for starter for something else. (this is Gin again)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gin, although I am not speaking from personal experience, I want to say that you can. I know that my cheesemaking books talk about freezing homemade mesophilic cheese starter to use later to make cheese. Since the idea of culturing milk for cheese is the same as culturing milk for yogurt, I would think that if the one works, the other would as well. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee 100% that this is the case, but it seems quite reasonable and likely. Nonetheless, I think there would be a limit to how long the culture will remain viable in the freezer (I'm not sure what that threshold would be... a few months?), and it would be best to freeze the yogurt as quickly as possible to minimize cellular damage.

      Delete
    2. Thanks! It can't hurt to try.

      Delete
  26. I am just starting out with cheese making. I want to make Cheddar next my mozz came out great. I do not like the smell of the whey and will continue to buy ricotta. I live in South Carolina and it is legal to buy raw milk from the dairy's here. When making Cheddar your way, can I use raw milk? What else will change?
    Julie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Julie, There are no significant differences in making cheddar with raw milk. The big difference comes from homogenized versus non-homogenized... raw or cream-line milk (unhomogenized) will always be better for curd formation. If you are making curds, do be aware that the resulting curds will still be "raw" and unpasteurized. Obviously, if you are drinking raw milk, that will probably not be a concern for you. When you are making pressed, aged cheddar, it is considered "safe" by the FDA after 60 days. I guess the idea there is that if undesirable microbial growth is going to occur due to contaminated raw milk, it will show up before the 60 day period. As for what else would change, I've never had the opportunity to use raw milk (I've only recently come across cream-line milk), but I would anticipate you might end up with a very slightly different taste because the milk has not been heated to as high a temperature. Otherwise, I don't think you would find any major differences at all. My understanding is the difference in curd formation in homogenized versus unhomogenized milk, however, is significant. I haven't had the opportunity to try it out myself yet (just a few more weeks in temporary housing!!), but the curd is supposed to form more easily and firmly when the milk has not been homogenized. If you have any other questions, just let me know!!

      Delete
  27. Wow, bravo! What a recipe this one is. I made my first completed cheddar cheese curds, just like the ones I eat in a poutine back in Quebec, Canada. This process you wrote is perfect, easy to follow and just amazing. Anyone should try it. Homemaking cheese is simple, it is just a question of understanding the process and to follow it. I would say that 'no two cheeses' are the same and making homemade cheese is an endless possibility! Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Oh man... I live in Wisconsin and have never even thought to make cheese curds but it sounds like a good idea. Might have to try it this weekend.

    ReplyDelete
  29. This is amazing! My DH and I are from MN and we miss cheese curds so much. I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog! We're in Lower Alabama now so I'll have to see about what is available for fresh milk :) Hopefully I'll have curds to share at the next FRG meeting! Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  30. My friend introduced me to cheese curds and I fell instantly in love and thanks to you, I can make my own. Made this recipe twice already with exceptional results. Thank you so much for sharing...it's going to be a staple cheese in my home :)

    ReplyDelete
  31. Yeah dear, yesterday my sister in law also told me that I can make cheese at home and not only one but also many other cheese types can be easily made at home. I loved her idea and will surely try this at home.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Do you use single strength rennet(animal) or double (veg)? I have NE Cheese making supply companies Liquid Vegetable Rennet. I'm getting ready to whip up a batch of my childhood favorite. You did a beautiful job posting this recipe, thank you for taking the time it helps us newbie cheese makers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi 4eva, I had to go look at NE Cheesemaking's site and take a peek! I never noticed that their liquid vegetable rennet is double strength. I've used their liquid animal rennet (which is my preference)and their vegetable rennet tablets, but never the liquid vegetable. Based on their guidelines, I would use only 1/4 tsp of it on this recipe. Thanks for the kind words; I hope your batch turns out beautifully!

      Delete
  33. Hi Tara, Since my post I've made 2 batches, I did 2 gallons each time(4 gal. total) we have goats milk coming out our ..........I used 1/2 packet buttermilk as my culture and 1/2 tsp rennet and it worked great. SOOOOOOO yummy, and we all can't believe it taste just like Canada's, we'll be making a poutine tonight. I'm going to browse through your blog for other yum yum recipes. You Rock Girl, Happy Memorial Day- SUMMER!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  34. Great information. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved as a favorite for later!
    Windows 7 Activator

    ReplyDelete
  35. Omg!!!!Im in heaven.I grew up in Wisconsin, moved to Florida when i was 12.Cant get fresh curds anywhere.And to have them shipped is very expensive. Ive never made cheese but been wanting to try.Never even thought of making my own,for some reason i thought there was more to it.Thank you for posting the how to.Im definitely gonna give it a try. ❤❤❤❤

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...