There is a whole world of specialized cheese making instruments and equipment… however, if you’re anything like me (4 people, 3 bedrooms, urban townhouse with no garage/basement/attic), you don’t have space to store all that extra stuff. Here’s the list of what you do need to have, along with my own DIY alternatives.
Here is a basic list of things you will need that are probably already in your kitchen.
-Large bowl or pot for heating milk
-Measuring cups, spoons, scale for measuring ingredients
-Long knife for cutting the curds (I use a bread knife)
-Colander and slotted spoon for scooping and draining the curds
-Drying rack, cookie sheet and wooden cutting board for draining the whey
There are a few tools that are necessary for cheese making. However, if you are a foodie-type of person, then you may already have some of them in your home.
-Butter muslin for draining the cheese. It not the same as cheesecloth from the grocery store, because you need a VERY fine weave. If you’re at a loss, you could use a non-fuzzy tea towel instead.
-Cheese Mats for draining and air drying cheeses (I use sushi mats).
-Thermometer for measuring the temperature of milk. You need a thermometer that has a good level of precision in the lower ranges (80-100F, 26-36C)
These are the forms that hold the curds for the final draining period. I got a few plastic molds as gifts (what else do you get a fermentation foodie?). You could also make a mold by punching a lot of holes in a 4-8 cup plastic food storage container. The main goal is to have plenty of places for the whey to drain out, while still holding the curds together. You also need a follower (disk) that presses down on the cheese.
Before I had my proper molds, I actually used a large tin can with top lid cut off so that the cheese would be pressed between the two ends within the form of the can. I stuck a jar under the floating lid to prop it up then pressed down on top of the can to press the cheese. Here’s a picture of that set up, it’s hard to tell, but the tin can is actually floating above the cheese:
A proper cheese press puts a certain amount of pressure on the cheese so that the whey is pressed out. The amount of pressure used depends on the cheese and it’s increased at slow increments throughout the pressing.
I don’t have a cheese press, so this exact science of pressure is more about figuring out how much weight I can balance on top of the follower in my cheese press. As you can see from above, I use a combination of weights, canned food and my cast iron pans. The goal is to just approximate the required pounds of pressure using pounds of weight.
For example, if I need 10 lbs of pressure, then I pile up about 10 lbs of canned food on top of my follower. The only downside is that I really can’t get up to the required amount of pressure for some hard cheeses, however, I do get pretty darn close. (I do admit to having my “press” come crashing down on me at least twice, which is why I’m pressing in an unused corner of my dining room floor).
The hardest part of cheese making temperature is maintaining the specific temperature requirements.
When making cheese, the milk and the curds need to be kept heated at the right temperature to allow the lacto-bacteria to do it’s thing. This is typically done at home by using a double boiler, or nesting your pot in a sink filled with boiling water. I’m lucky enough to have my Brød & Taylor Bread Proofer & Yogurt Maker, that I use for everything from yogurt to tempeh. It also works well for cheese making! Officially it’s a folding bread proofer, but bread is the one thing I don’t use it for!
After the cheese is made, it needs to age in a cool place (about 45-55F, 10-15C). There are “Caves” on the market that you could buy, however, you could use a cold room, a cellar, garage or even a bar fridge. In my case, I’m just not heating my guest room for the next few months of winter (sorry Mom!) and hoping to keep it cool enough for my ripening firm cheeses. So far it is working, but I do have to moderate the temperature by opening and shutting the window based on the weather.