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Friday, January 27, 2012

Pressed Cheddar Cheese

Finally! I am so excited to share this post with you today. It would've happened earlier, but apparently, having 3,297 different hobbies makes it hard to focus on just one for any length of time. And would you believe I picked up another one last week? I am now completing my first stained glass project and planning my second. I've also finally gotten the necessary electrical outlet in our garage to be able to run my kiln. Somehow, in between all these other activities, I have managed to make some molded cheese.

Now, please note, I am not saying that I'm making moldy cheese. While there are some where mold is required, cheddar is not one of them. But I am finally able to progress beyond cheddar cheese curds. Hallelujah!

One of the reasons it took so dang long is because I needed a cheese press and I just couldn't justify spending over 250 bucks to buy the version I wanted. The cheaper styles just didn't seem like what I wanted. I wanted a press where it was super easy to set the appropriate pressing weight and super easy to disassemble and store. I finally decided I would just have to make my own. After a little fiddling, I found out they're not that hard to make! Here's one of my cheese presses. Because I think everyone should be able to make hard cheese without spending over $250, I am now offering them for sale on my Etsy site. You can click here, or click the widget on the top left of this page.

As you can see, there's not much to the design. Fortunately, I have a heavy duty scale that I can use to calibrate how much spring compression relates to how much pressure. The set up has been working Jim Dandy! Yehaw! I'm a cheese making fool!

So, the first hard cheese I'm going to share with you is pressed cheddar. Why? Because I already posted how to do 75% of the process in my cheddar cheese curds post. There are a few slight differences in the recipe, but the process, right up until the salt is added is exactly the same.

Cheddar Cheese for Pressing
Yield: one 2 lb wheel of cheese

2 gallons milk
1 packet mesophilic starter (mixed in 1/4 cup cool water)
1 tsp liquid rennet (mixed in 1/4 cup cool water)
2 TBS cheese salt
1/8 tsp calcium chloride (optional)
1/2 tsp annato color (mixed in 1/4 cup cool water) (optional)

The calcium chloride is helpful when you are using store bought pasteurized/homogenized milk. It helps replace some of the calcium lost in those processes and helps to form a firmer curd. If you choose to use it, add it after the culture has set for an hour. Stir it in and let the milk sit for five minutes before going on. If you choose to color your cheese, add it after the addition and five minute waiting period of the calcium chloride.

So, follow the other blog post for the procedure up until the curds are salted. Please, please, please, don't make the mistake I did in trying to reduce the salt when making pressed cheddar. The salt is necessary and helps things turn out right during aging. Set up your cheese mold by lining it with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Pour the curds in, trying to keep the cheesecloth from bunching up.

Place the separating disk on top of the cheese. Notice how the cheesecloth is still on the outside of the mold. The first couple of times I tried to fold it over the top of the cheese before putting in the follower. It made for some very lumpy cheese.

Place a wooden follower on top of the separating disk. The separating disk is also sometimes called a follower, but I will refrain from doing that here because I think it is confusing. Begin pressing at 20 lbs and press for 30 minutes. This first time there will be a lot of whey coming out. Be prepared to dump the drain tray frequently during the first few minutes.

Each model is somewhat different. In mine, there is a small hole that allows the whey to drain into a small ramekin. Notice how this mold sits up a little bit; it has little bitty feet under there to help facilitate draining. I appreciate that.

I got this mold from homebrew4less (also available from Brewmasters Warehouse). I was using another mold from Caprine Supply first, but I like this one a bit better. The Caprine Supply one was basically a large cylinder. This one has a bottom, with feet -as I mentioned a moment ago - and it is perforated. This really helps the excess whey to drain out in a timely fashion.

After the first 30 minutes at 20 lbs, remove the cheese and carefully flip it over in the cheesecloth. Place back in the mold and press at 40 lbs for 12 hours. Finally, flip one more time and press at 50 lbs for another 12 hours. When using my cheese press, somewhere during the 40 lb press, you'll probably have to add the second wooden follower since the cheese will have compacted so much in the mold.

After that last 12 hours, remove the cheese from the press, discard the cheesecloth (unless you're using reusable stuff), and place it on a sushi mat (or similar) to air dry for three days. Flip the cheese at least once a day while drying. This helps to keep the fat evenly distributed in the cheese.

Once the three days are up, you are ready to wax! Cheese wax is a special, pliable wax, so you'll want to be sure you use the right stuff. It comes in more colors than just red. That's just the color I ended up with. Find an old pot at a garage sale to designated as your "wax pot." Try to find one that will fit comfortably inside one of your good pots so that you can easily make a double boiler. Purchase a natural bristle brush (synthetic fiber ones may melt, so stay away from them) and designate it as your "cheese brush." This system works out great because I never have to do any clean up! When the wax is cooled and hardened again, I put the pot in a plastic bag, brush and all, to await it's next call to duty.

Waxing is easiest if you've stuck the cheese wheel in the refrigerator for an hour before getting started. Brush the wax onto the cheese, one thin layer at a time. If it starts to seem like the wax is no longer staying on properly, put the wheel back in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Be sure the wax is dry, though, before you set the cheese down on anything! I like to brush one side first, then the other, then the sides. Be very careful during this step to be sure the coat is uniform. If there are any places that look like there is a pock mark, fill it with wax. The smallest hole will allow mold growth in that spot.

Once I'm done and satisfied it is waxed thoroughly, I cut a small piece of paper and record the pertinent information so I know what's inside and when it was waxed. I brush a little wet wax on the wheel, lay the paper in it, and then brush wax over the top of the paper to seal. You will now never be plagued by the "mystery" cheese.

And the last step, which I think is hardest of all? You have to wait for your cheese to age. Making hard cheese is certainly not an immediate gratification hobby. Cheddar is best aged 3 to 12 months.


  1. Tara, this is a wonderful post. I never leave your blog empty handed. Be it an idea or recipe I always have something to bring back to my own kitche. I really enjoy the time I spend here. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary


  2. Cooking Equipment

    very nice cooking website and very helpful for me. Thanks

  3. I want one of your cheese presses. How much are they? There was no price on the etsy store.

  4. Hi Daniel, I am working hard on finishing two more presses. Hope to have them available for purchase on etsy by later today or tomorrow. I'm charging $95 plus shipping for the basic model. Thanks for your interest!

  5. Hi Tara, I have looked at quite a few cheddar cheese making posts and so far yours is the most in depth I've read. You really explain a lot better than most I've read.I will use yours to make my cheddar,thanks. Linda

  6. This may be a silly question, but how do you store it after you've made it?!


  7. You're the bomb. Love the helpful pictures too.


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