October has definitely arrived. Fortunately, that just means we’ve moved into football/beer season.
And comfort food season! Fall food is my kind of food. This weekend I decided it was finally time to combine cheese making and beer. Ever put beer in a mornay sauce? Do it and tell me if you ever make macaroni and cheese without it again.
Back in March, I made a wheel of Farmhouse Cheddar that came out pretty darn good. Good, but not great. For the last few months, I’ve been having some…issues…with cheese making. My wheel of gouda dried out because the humidity in my cheese fridge kept dropping too low. I pressed a second one over the weekend, but it will be waxed this time since my cheese making cohorts have advised me that the coating will protect it in a slightly less-than-ideal aging environment. Part of the reason it dried out so easily was due to equipment problem number 2: My pot. Because my largest pot (that fit a burner on my electric range) was still too small to fit two gallons of milk, I was halving recipes and making smaller wheels of cheese. I might have gotten away with the thicker rind on a larger wheel of cheese, but on the small ones it just meant the whole thing turned into a little brick.
Undeterred, I scoured the Internet until I found just the ticket: A 12 quart double-boiler. Now I could finally heat 2 gallons of milk evenly over a water bath with greater accuracy and better long-term temperature control. Armed with a new pot, new blocks of shiny red wax, and recently calibrated thermometer, I got back on the horse with a decidedly autumn cheese:
Just in time for Oktoberfest, it’s a cheddar wherein the curds are soaked in beer before pressing. Let’s do it.
- 2 gallons whole milk
- 1 packet mesophilic starter
- ½ tsp. calcium chloride diluted in ¼ cup cool water
- ½ tsp. rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool water
- 1 bottle stout or ale of your choice , at room temperature. Pick something that you enjoy drinking!
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
Slowly heat the milk in a pot set over a water bath to 88 degrees F over a period of about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the starter into the milk and allow it to rehydrate for five minutes before stirring it into the milk thoroughly with a whisk using an up and down motion. Maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes.
Add the calcium chloride and mix for one minute, then add the rennet and mix for one minute. Once again, maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the mixture to set for 30-45 minutes or until the curd gives a clean break when cut with a knife.
Cut the curd into ½ in. cubes and let them sit for 5 minutes.
Over low heat, slowly bring the temperature of the curds to 102 degrees F over a period of about 40 minutes. Stir continuously throughout heating to prevent the curds from matting together. The curds will release a lot of whey and shrink to the size of peanuts. When 102 degrees F is reached, turn off the heat and rest for 30 minutes while maintaining the temperature. The curds will sink to the bottom of the pot.
Place a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth over a pot or bucket large enough to catch the whey. Gently pour off the whey into the bucket and ladle the curds into the strainer. Let the curds drain for 10 minutes.
Return 1/3 of the reserved whey to the pot on the stove and reheat it to 102 degrees. Place the curds in a colander, set the colander over the pot of whey and cover. Maintaining the 102 degree temperature of the whey, wait 10 minutes and the curds in the colander will have melted into a slab. Flip the slab over and repeat this process every 15 minutes for one hour. After one hour, the slab of curds will look shiny and white.
Transfer the slab to a cutting board and cut into ½ in. by 2 in. strips. Place the strips in a bowl and cover completely with the brew of your choice. Soak for 45 minutes.
Drain and discard the brew. Sprinkle the salt over the strips and toss to combine.
Line an 8 in. mold with damp cheesecloth and pack the curds into it. (See: Building a cheese press and Using a cheese press). Fold over the cheesecloth and press the curds at 8 lbs. of pressure for one hour. Remove the cheese from the press, flip it over, redress in the cheesecloth and press at 10 lbs. of pressure for 12 hours.
Remove the cheese from the mold and unwrap the cheesecloth. Pat the cheese dry and set on a rack to air dry 1-2 days at room temperature or until the surface is dry to the touch.
Coat with wax (See this post for how to wax cheese), and then age at 50-55 degrees F and (ideally) 85% humidity for 4-6 weeks. Flip the wheel of cheese daily to encourage even ripening.
See you in six weeks (the cheese, not you my dear readers)!
This is a really great project for a rainy weekend when you just don’t feel like going outside and would rather huddle in the warmth of a cozy kitchen. Chart out the time you’ll need on paper and you’ll know exactly when certain steps will be ready. Breaking the process down that way really helps first-time cheese makers who might feel a little overwhelmed. As always, feel free to comment below with any questions you might have. I am more than happy to help others who want to take a stab at making their very own cheese.
Ciao for now,