There is a whole world of specialized cheesemaking supplies and equipment… however, if you’re anything like me (4 people in a 3 bedrooms urban townhouse with no garage/basement/attic), then you probably don’t have space to store extra stuff. So here is a short list of what you need to have to make cheese at home, along with some DIY alternatives.
This post on cheesemaking equipment is part of a larger series of posts on cheesemaking. Check out Cheesemaking 101: Overview for a complete list of topics.
Here are things you will need that are probably already in your kitchen.
- Large bowl or pot for heating milk
- Measuring cups, spoons or a scale for measuring ingredients
- A long knife for cutting the curds (I use a bread knife)
- Colander and slotted spoon for scooping and draining the curds
- A cookie sheet with a cooling rack for draining whey during pressing
There are a few specialized 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.
- Sterilization chemicals: It is important to ensure that your equipment is sterile. Boiling will work for metal and glass, but if you have a plastic cheese mold, then you need sterilization chemicals.
- Butter muslin for draining, pressing and wrapping cheese. Butter muslin is not the same as cheesecloth from the grocery store. It has a VERY fine weave. A better replacement would be a non-fuzzy tea towel.
- Cheese Mats or sushi mats for draining and air drying cheeses.
- Thermometer for measuring the temperature of the milk. You need a thermometer that has a good level of precision in the lower ranges (80-100F, 26-36C).
Cheese molds are the forms that hold the curds for the final draining and pressing. I got a few plastic molds as gifts (what else do you get a fermentation foodie?)
While it’s tempting to make molds out of plastic containers, they need to be firm enough to withstand u to 40lbs of pressure while pressing cheese. A tin can is actually a better alternative.
Before I had my proper molds, I used a large tin can with one of the circular sides removed for the follower. I pressed the cheese upside down by sticking a glass mason jar under the floating side, then adding weights to the top of the can. It wasn’t very sophisticated, but it worked for soft cheese.
Here’s a picture of the set up. It’s hard to tell, but the tin can is actually floating with the glass jar underneath pressing into the cheese:
A proper cheese press puts a certain amount of pressure on the cheese to press the whey out of the curds. The amount of pressure used depends on the type of 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. I usually use a combination of canned food and cast iron cookware. 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 hard cheeses, however, I do get pretty darn close. To help with the balance, I usually set up my press on the floor in the corner of my dining room, so even if it does come crashing down it won’t do too much damage.
The hardest part of cheese making temperature is maintaining specific temperatures for inoculation and heating the curds.
Start by heating your milk up on the stove to the correct temperature for inoculation. Whisk frequently to ensure even heat distribution and to prevent the milk from scalding on the bottom of your pot. Then maintain the temperature with one of the following methods:
- I’m lucky enough to have a Brød & Taylor Bread Proofer & Yogurt Maker. I use it for everything from yogurt to tempeh. It also is perfect for making cheese.
- Use a double-boiler on the stove, and maintain a low simmer as required.
- Nesting your pot in a sink filled with boiling water. Monitor the temperature and add more boiling water as needed.
Hard cheeses and mold-ripened cheeses need to be aged in a cave. There are “Caves” on the market, however, you can use any cool place. The temperature needs to be between 45-55F (10-15C) and it shouldn’t be too humid.
I have a closet that is on an exterior wall of my home that has a “cave-like” temperature in the winter. (Not great for clothes, but perfect for all my ferments!) You could also use a cold room, a cellar, a garage or even a bar fridge.