Or, “What other foods can I prepare in my bathroom?”
With the success of my Cream Cheesemaking Adventure fresh in my mind, I set about one auspicous January day to begin my second cheese: farmhouse cheddar.
This is supposedly the first step in the hard cheesemaking world. These are the cheeses that require an aging period: at 55 degrees up to 2 years for some varietals. Since we don’t have a cellar built in to our condo (the unit below ours was not for sale, otherwise we may have bought it and put a hole in the floor to climb down), we don’t have a natural 55 degree place. This of course prompted the purchase of a wine fridge (Wine Enthusiast Silent 28-bottle) as a belated Christmas present for myself.
The farmhouse cheddar is simpler in terms of preparation, and can be tasted after just 6 weeks, so it is a great place to start. The process starts rather similarly to the cream cheese: warming the milk and adding bacteria.
Then things started changing. Once the bacteria had turned the milk into a custard I sliced it with a chef’s knife into 1/2″ cubes and began to increase the water bath temperature. This caused the curds and whey to separate and the curds to shrink as the liquid left. This went on for an hour or so, after which time I strained away the whey.
Draining the curds went the same as the cream cheese. From there I had to salt them and pack them into the new 2lb mold I had purchased.
Hard cheeses get pressed at increasing time intervals with increasing levels of weight in order to extract as much moisture as possible. It starts at a simple 10lbs and 15 minutes but quickly progresses to 50lbs for 12 hours. Of course you could buy the $250 contraption to do this, or you can put all those arm weights and excess dining room chairs to good use and do this:
I know what you’re thinking: my that looks stable. At least that’s what the cats must have been thinking when they decided it would be fun to explore underneath the chair. At any rate the homemade cheese contraption worked and survived the night, pressing out a surprising amount of whey from the cheese.
Once the cheese was removed from the press, it sat at room temperature for a few days to develop a rind, and then I waxed it so it looks like a babybel. Six short weeks later we had our first cheese tasting.
Unfortunately I have to admit to disappointment. Maybe it just needs more time to age, but it was not really like cheddar at all. It was very sharply acidic, and almost tasted like chevre. The texture was a little bit chalky, not creamy like I had wanted. There was a bit of mold underneath the red wax so I had to scrape that off. It may be that it was starting to go bad because there were air bubbles.
There are a couple things that I may have done wrong that contributed to this:
For one, the curds never really solidified as much as I thought they should have when I added the bacteria. I had to wait a long time to get it to a point where I could even cut it, but it was still not firm enough.
Secondly, after removing the cheese from its final pressing I cut it in half. I didn’t want to have to eat it all at one time! I wanted to have some after 6 weeks, and some after 6 months. However the cut ends took too long to dry out so I left the cheese at room temperature about twice as long as I should have.
Anyway I still have one round of this cheese to try in a couple of months. I need to do some more research as to what might have contributed to the cheese flavors I don’t like. I want to get started on my parmesan next because that takes a couple years to age!