Archive | Cheese / Dairy RSS feed for this section

Press Your Luck: Farmhouse Cheddar

2 Mar

My dad is pretty handy. Proof? Take a look at what he built in my parents’ backyard last year:

When I decided that I really wanted to try making hard cheeses, I quickly realized that cheese presses weren’t exactly the most affordable pieces of equipment in the world. But the mechanism didn’t seem particularly complicated, and I was able to find simple plans on several websites (type “cheese press plans” into a search engine). Dad worked his magic and last weekend, I brought my press home to Arlington. (Thanks, dad!)

I decided to start with one of the simpler recipes in Ricki’s book, a farmhouse cheddar that would be ready to taste in about a month. The main reason I selected this recipe is that it offered the chance to practice many of the techniques involved in cheese making. Much like confectionery, the process is all about timing and chemistry. So, let’s cut to the cheese, err, chase:

First a note about these ingredients. The original recipe calls for double what you see here. I realized upon filling my pot with milk that two gallons weren’t going to fit and cut the recipe in half.

Click on any of the pictures to see larger versions.

  • -1 gallon whole milk
  • -One package of direct set mesophilic starter
  • -½ tbsp. cheese salt (non-iodized salt)
  • -¼ tablet rennet or ¼ tsp. rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup water. (I used double-strength rennet and needed only 1/8 tsp.)

Pour the milk into a large pot and place it in a sink of warm water. Gradually increase the temperature of the water bath, either by running more hot water from the tap or adding small amounts of boiling water, until the milk reaches 90 degrees F. Add the mesophilic starter and mix well for about a minute. Cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes. Check the temperature every so often, you want to keep it as close to 90 degrees as possible. I left my pot in the warm water bath and added small amounts of hot water every 10 minutes or so to do this.

After 45 minutes, add the diluted rennet and stir, using a gentle up-and-down motion, for about a minute. Cover the pot and let it sit at 90 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the curd breaks cleanly. Cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern of ½ in. squares.

Again using the water bath method, slowly increase the temperature of the curd to 100 degrees. This can be a little tricky at first, since you don’t want to increase the temperature by more than 2 degrees every five minutes. Err on the slow side. Stir gently to keep the curds from matting together as they heat up. You’ll notice that they shrink a lot.

Once the curds reach 100 degrees, pour them into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds to drain in a non-drafty spot for an hour. You want to keep them fairly warm, so I hung them over the pot I used for heating.

After an hour, move the drained curd to a bowl and gently break into walnut sized pieces. Add the salt to the curds and toss lightly with your fingers to distribute evenly.

Firmly pack the curds into a mold (the teal pvc pipe pictured) lined with cheesecloth. Put the mold on top of an inverted plate over a pie pan. This allows the excess liquid to drain away from the cheese.

Fold the cheesecloth over the curds and place a snug fitting follower on top of them. Then add the pusher (the thinner, white piece of pvc pipe). Finally, place the board on top of the pusher and add weights as necessary.

For farmhouse cheddar, press at 10lbs. of pressure for 10 minutes, then remove, flip the cheese over and redress it in the cheesecloth…

Then 20lbs. of pressure for 10 minutes, flip, and redress…

And finally at 50lbs. of pressure (Fact: The Joy of Cooking and On Cooking weigh 10lbs.) for 12 hours. Don’t do what I did and neglect to think about how this would time out; I had to get up at 3 a.m. to take the 50lb. weights off. D’oh.

After 12 hours, you should have something that looks like this. Personally, I like the rather attractive dent left on one side from the inverted plate:

Put your cheese on a wooden board and allow it to air-dry at room temperature for 2-4 days. Turn it every so often to keep moisture from collecting on one side. Once the cheese has dulled in appearance and is no longer moist to the touch, you are ready to wax it.

Prior to waxing, refrigerate the cheese for several hours. You may also wipe it down with a paper towel dampened with vinegar to discourage mold growth.

Melt the cheese wax in a double-boiler until it reaches 210 degrees. Gently paint it on the cheese using a natural bristle or silicone brush, one side at a time.

Cover the wheel in two thin coats. My wax job was a little bit messy for a first rodeo, but I’m not really in a beauty contest here. You can always remove the wax and redo it (particularly useful if you decide to age it longer after cutting into it the first time), but we’ll see how things look in a month.

Age in a cool (below 68 degrees) environment for at least one month. Since the aging process began yesterday, I’ll be reporting back on 4-1-11 to let you know how it tastes. Hopefully it will not be a cruel April Fool’s joke.

Ciao for now,


My Cheesy Valentine: Part Deux

15 Feb

Shortly after meeting my best friend in the world, I discovered his disdain for most things vegetable-related. I’ve since learned that while he doesn’t necessarily enjoy a veggie as the star of the show on a plate, he doesn’t mind their flavors in a dish. And to his credit, he’s become much more adventurous in our six-ish years together. Still, I was a little bit shocked the first time I made these little crostini that he found them just as delightful as I did. It’s a great appetizer for a crowd, or just for you and your sweetie.

Spinach, Artichoke and Caramelized Onion Crostini

  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 french baguette

Cut the baguette into ½ in. slices on a diagonal and lightly brush them with olive oil. Toast until golden brown and set aside.

In a wide pan, sweat the diced onions in olive oil until soft, translucent and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook just until it has wilted. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, cheese, sour cream, artichoke hearts, thyme, mustard, pepper, and a few pinches of salt. Pulse to combine. Add the spinach, onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until it has a spreadable consistency.

Top each toasted baguette slice with the spread and serve at room temperature. We had ours with some thin-sliced hot soppressata on the side. In the summer, I serve it as a chilled dip alongside raw carrot slices for a cool appetizer.

So that was our Valentine’s day appetizer, and you heard about the entrée in part 1, but I know what you’re really here for: Dessert.

I made this pound cake, which baked up beautifully. It’s an easy one-bowl recipe. It took a little bit longer to cook in my oven, but not by much. Maybe 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of the indicated 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The cream was whipped with some vanilla bean paste and a few teaspoons of sugar. I kept the it fairly neutral, because the cake was plenty sweet on its own.

The coulis was my favorite part (and apparently was Joe’s as well, because I caught him eating it out of the container with a spoon, haha). If your Valentine, like mine, does not love chocolate, try this!

Mash a pint of blueberries with a few teaspoons of sugar, a few drops of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, and the juice of one lime. You can also add a little bit of the zest for a stronger lime flavor. Simmer gently until thickened and a little bit syrupy, then let it cool to room temperature.

To put it all together, spoon a few generous swirls of the coulis on a plate, and then top with a cake slice and a dollop of whipped cream. The sauce has just enough tartness to balance out the cake’s sweetness and the cream brings the whole dish together. Oh, and the cake has the most wonderful, crackly crust. Delicious.

I hope that you are all having a lovely week! Enjoy the new goodies.

Ciao for now,


My Cheesy Valentine

14 Feb

A few weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at cheese making. It’s something I’ve always wanted to give a go, but wanted to do a little bit of research before trying. (With graduate school out of the way, I’m now working through the backlog of cookbooks and recipes I neglected.) For someone who loves cheese as much as I do, the prospect of making my own was very exciting. Since I’d planned to make Joe a special meal for Valentine’s day, I saw it as an opportunity to get something extra-special on our plates.

I started with ricotta, the easiest cheese to make. If you have milk (whole and 2% yield the best consistency), buttermilk, and some cheesecloth, you can make ricotta in under a half-hour. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and set aside. Combine a half-gallon of milk with 2 cups of buttermilk in a large pot over medium high heat. Stir every so often to keep the mixture from scorching, but once it is hot and steaming, stop stirring. When the mixture reaches about 175 degrees F, the curds will separate from the whey. Gently ladle the curds into the cheesecloth, tie up the corners, and hang the cheese to drain for about 20 minutes. Voila! You’ve made ricotta. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Next up was another favorite: Mozzarella. This required a bit more special equipment, but I was able to order anything I needed from New England Cheese making Supply Co. I must recommend Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making if you’re interested in learning all about the history and science behind cheese.

So here’s what you’ll need for mozzarella:


  • One gallon of milk*
  • 1 ½ tsp. citric acid dissolved in one cup of cold water
  • ¼ rennet tablet diluted in ¼ cup of cold water
  • 1/4 cup of cheese salt

*Note: Do not use milk that is labeled “ultra-pasteurized.” Pasteurized / homogenized milk will work just fine, but UP milk has been treated at such high temperatures that it is not suitable for most cheese making. (It will work for ricotta.)


  • A large pot
  • A small colander that can fit inside the pot and a pair of tongs (or a spider if you have one)
  • A thermometer that will clip onto the pot
  • A board for kneading
  • Heat resistant gloves (I used these—I bought them for when I use my mandoline because the hand guard on it is flimsy.)

Okay, here we go!

Combine the milk and citric acid/water mixture in a pot over medium-high heat while stirring vigorously, then stir gently while the milk heats to 90 degrees F.

Take the pot off of the heat and add the rennet, mixing in a gentle up and down motion for 30 seconds. Put a lid on the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes. When you remove the lid, the curd should look like custard and should show a clear separation between the curd and whey. Test by putting two fingers between the curd and the side of the pot. If you see a clean break, the curd is ready to cut. If it is too soft, wait another five minutes and test again. It took a total of 15 minutes in my kitchen.

Cut the curds into a checkerboard pattern and put the pot back over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring the curds gently until they reach 110 degrees F. Take the pot off of the heat and continue stirring gently for 3-4 minutes.

Gently ladle the curds into the colander over a bowl so that you can reserve the whey that drains off of them. Press them gently to remove as much whey as possible and so that they begin to form a cohesive unit.

Pour the whey that has collected in the bowl back into the pot, add the ¼ cup of salt, and allow it to heat to at least 175 degrees. (Put on your gloves!)

Dip the curds in the colander into the hot whey for several seconds.

Remove, and then knead the curds like bread dough. Repeat this process several times until the cheese is cohesive and stretchable. The cheese is ready when it is shiny and has a consistency similar to pulled taffy. Roll into a ball and place immediately in a bowl of cold water for ½ hour. This will improve the texture of the cheese.

From there you can slice, grate, or melt it however you like.

So what did I make for my Valentine?

I made a batch of homemade pasta (hail Lidia Bastianich’s recipe) and filled ravioli full of fresh cheese and spices. Topped it all off with a touch of tomato & sweet pepper sauce and sprinkled on a little extra ricotta for good measure. Simple, but with ingredients so lovely I wanted to let them speak.

We also had some spinach, artichoke and caramelized onion crostini with hot sopressata, and finished the meal with a decadent little pound cake with vanilla bean whipped cream and blueberry-lime coulis for dessert. Don’t worry, recipes for the apps and dessert are forthcoming!

For now, have a happy (and cheesy) Valentine’s day. Share it with the ones you love and remind them just how special they are to you.

Ciao for now,