How do you make cheese? (Part Two)

How do you make cheese? (Part Two)

Let's pick up where we left off, yeah?

Step Five

Choose your milk carefully.

Do you need fancy milk to make cheese? No. Do you need raw milk to make cheese? No. (Research your state's or country's stance on raw milk. Where I live it is illegal to sell it.) What are the milk requirements? 

Make sure your milk isn't expired. That's a given. Stay away from ultrapasteurized (UP) or ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk. You might not be able to make harder cheeses from ultrapasteurized milk but you can try. Soft cheeses might work. Similarly, try to go with unhomogonized milk or creamline milk if you can find it at a good price. Sometimes I buy fancy milk, but in all honesty, unless I'm really trying to make a super nice cheese, to me, it doesn't matter. That being said, I hear that raw milk cheese is phenomenal. Too bad it's illegal to purchase raw milk where I am.

Step Six

Bring your milk up to temperature. Your recipe should tell you what temperature you need your milk to be at. Words for the wise: Get a thermometer. Seriously, get one. Also, always use a double boiler. You don't need anything fancy. Just get two pots and stack them. This will give you more control over the temperature of your milk and if it is getting too warm, simply remove the top pot from the double boiler.

You also don't want to scald your milk. At this point it's not too big of a deal (unless you are using raw milk... lucky).

But keep in mind that cheese is a living food. You are going to inoculate it with bacteria, and they can only survive at certain temperatures. In the cheesemaking process, you want to make sure you don't kill off those little guys who are going to make your cheese taste good. 

The exact temperature depends on what recipe you are using. But it might be around 80-something degrees Fahrenheit.

The following steps depend on your recipe so from here on out I'm going to simply mention the general steps you will do somewhere in your cheesemaking process.

Step Seven

Add in your Calcium Chloride (CaCl2), annato (if you are using it) and your starter culture (if you are using one). You will want to add Calcium Chloride to your milk if you are not using raw milk. It will help your curd set since homogenization and pasteurization disrupts the calcium content in milk. Adding CaCl2 restores soluble calcium to the milk. Make sure you mix it thoroughly (yet gently) throughout the milk.

Annatto is the colouring that is added to cheese. There is no difference between yellow cheese and white cheese aside from the addition of annatto (Not even in taste, but then again, we eat with our eyes, right?). Annatto will come in a bottle and you will have to dilute it in water. Pour it into your milk and stir. It won't look yellow right away, but your end product will be a yellow cheese. Cheese can turn yellow on its own without annatto but it won't be that neon colour that we Americans are used to. If you use milk from grass-fed cows, your cheese will turn slightly yellow on its own. Grass fed cows will release beta carotene in their milk and it will make the cheese turn yellow.  If you suffer from IBD, skip the annatto. Annatto is known to be an irritant for people wIth IBD. (Want a post on this? Let me know)

When you add your starter culture, if it is a dried culture, sprinkle it on top of the milk and let it rehydrate for a minute. Afterward, stir it gently yet thoroughly into the milk. Your recipe might have a ripening time, if it does, cover your milk pot and let it sit for that amount of time. Not all cheeses have a ripening time at this stage. If you don't have one, move on to the next step.

Step Eight

Add the rennet. What is rennet? Rennet is solution of enzymes. What are enzymes? Enzymes are little proteins that make chemical reactions happen faster. Enzymes in rennet make react with the milk to produce curds and whey. Want a post on the science-y details of this? Let me know.

VEGETARIANS BEWARE: Rennet is taken from the stomach lining of animals, so if you want to make vegetarian cheese, use a plant based rennet. How did we (people) ever come up with taking enzymes from the the gut of an animal? Milk used to be carried in sheep stomachs and if it was in there long enough, it would separate into curds and whey. Farmers had to figure out something to do with it instead of throw it away. So now we have cheese.

Back to adding rennet. Your rennet, even the already liquid one should have been diluted in some water, your recipe and your rennet bottle/box will tell you how to do this. Add the diluted rennet into your milk and stir for no longer than one minute. Stir gently but make sure it is well stirred. Put the top back on the pot and allow the curd to set. Your recipe should give you an idea of how long to let it sit.


This is a lot of information, yeah? Let's stop it here and be on the lookout for part three of how to make cheese.

How do you make cheese? (Part One)

How do you make cheese? (Part One)

How do you make cheese?

When I introduce myself as a cheesemaker, this is the first question I get. And the problem is, that there's no short answer. 

What kind of cheese do you want to make? Soft? Creamy? Hard? Like, really hard?

Most of the cheeses that I make fall into two categories, hard and semi-hard. Hard cheeses are like cheddars, gloucesters, leicesters, jack cheeses. Semi-hard cheeses include gouda, colby, jarlesberg and edam. 

Why do I make these cheeses? I find them simpler to make and I can age them without a lot of fuss. Naturally I would like to branch out into softer cheeses but not now. Lemme finish school and crack open that dissertation cheddar, then we'll talk. Okay? Okay.

I have plans to do videos showing how I make cheese. We'll see if I ever get organized enough to do it, but for now, here's a rundown of what to do.

Step One

Find a recipe for the type of cheese you want to make. The internet is a wonderful place and google is your best friend. There are also full on cheesemaking websites and forums

Step Two

Read the recipe and make sure you have not only the materials needed to make the cheese, but the proper equipment in which to age it in. I stated earlier that I find semi-hard and hard cheeses easier to make; however, they have to be aged in a special refrigerator if you live in a hot humid place. Cheeses age at certain temperatures, about 12 degrees Celcius or 54 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a basement that stays cool year round, that could probably work but this is super important.

Also, some cheeses but not all cheeses require you to add a starter culture. You can buy such cultures online (heck, you can buy cheesemaking kits) or you can make a strategic decision to make a type of cheese that doesn't require a starter culture (these cheeses will be fresh cheeses that won't last as long). You will also need rennet for many cheeses. Rennet is what turns your milk into curds and whey. Again, not all recipes require rennet, but many do. You can purchase some here. 

Step Three

Carve out time to make your cheese. For me, on cheesemaking day, I start in the morning and I don't always finish until the evening. Not all of that time is active work, but I have to plan carefully if there is anything else that requires my time.

Step Four

Sterilize your equipment and make sure your workspace is suitable for making cheese. 

Sterilizing your equipment doesn't require anything fancy. For your pot that you will be placing the milk in, simply boil water in it for 15 minutes. For any other materials you will be using, measuring cups, measuring spoons, a whisk, a knife, a mat, cheesecloth. Put those into the pot before you set it to boil. The steam and boiling will kill any germs. Another handy piece of equipment to have is a squirty bottle full of vinegar. Spray it on your hands before you work (after you've washed them) just to make sure no lingering molds on your hand get onto or into the cheese.

However, sterilizing isn't the only thing you need to worry about as far as keeping your workplace a safe place for making cheese.

Confession time: I haven't made any cheese in a couple of months. Why? Because of this guy.

This is Hamilton. He has a lot of fur.

This is Hamilton. He has a lot of fur.

Don't trust that cute face. This guy is the reason there have been no new editions into my cheesecave and until he has stopped blowing his coat, no cheesemaking for me.


But now that your equipment is in order and your work place is sterilized and ready to go, you can finally start the making your cheese. Be on the look out for part two of this post coming soon.

Dissertation Cheddar

Dissertation Cheddar

Dissertation Cheddar? What the hell is that?

My dear friends, a dissertation cheddar is a cheddar cheese that you do not crack open to consume until your dissertation is complete. One hundred percent completed. No more edits to be made so lemme walk across this stage and put on this hood, please.

Why a cheddar for a dissertation?

If I had started making cheese earlier, I probably would have done another type of cheese. But many cheeses, including cheddar, taste better the longer they age. So as I am writing my dissertation, my cheddar is aging and finally when all is done, I can enjoy the cheese of my labour. (Get it? Instead of fruits of my... yeah you got it.)

The cover image for this post is my dissertation cheddar after it came out of the press and before I waxed it and shoved it into the cheese cave for an indeterminate amount of time. I feel great solidarity with this cheddar. Because completing a PhD is in many ways like a cheese. 

Cheese making is not an extremely arduous task; but, it's not easy either. Milk needs to be at a certain temperature; int needs to be inoculated with a certain type of bacteria; ripened for a certain amount of time. Cut, stirred, pressed, salted and or brined. And then you let it do it's thing for weeks for younger cheeses, and up to years for sharper cheeses. 

But after that time is up, you take that cheese out of the depths of the cheese cave and crack it open.... and it still might not have anything of worth. Scratch that, not only is a PhD similar to cheese. Science in general, and my experiments in particular, have a similar habit of not always doing what you expect. 

Maybe what you made can be saved and reworked into something else, maybe it can't; it's an occupational hazard, I suppose--in scientific research but also in cheesemaking. It's hard not to try to empathize with the feeling of waiting and grinding until suddenly you're ready and you have something to put into the world--or not. At least for this dissertation cheddar, I won't know until May. 

Until then, every week when I flip over my cheeses in the cave, I'll have a rueful smile on my face when I look at my dissertation cheddar as a symbol of hope to come, but with no guarantees. 

A perfect time to shoot myself in the foot

A perfect time to shoot myself in the foot

I've told myself that I should hold off on blogging. I have had a few before; they were start and stop until I completely forgot to update them. But as I am now preparing to finish my graduate program at Georgia State. I thought, why not add one more mechanism by which I can procrastinate while crunch time approaches. Who needs to worry about a dissertation defense, right?

Seriously though, I find writing about non-chemistry things a bit soothing and hopefully this will keep my sanity afloat as I approach my last semester in school. But why cheese?

Firstly, cheese is delicious. Full stop.

Secondly, my love for cheese started when I was young. I remember arguing with my dad to add cheese to my spaghettio's (even though he already put cheese in it). My parents also have stories of me as a kid asking to put cheese on weird food items like cereal. (Honestly though, cheese and milk go together so I might have been on to something).

But most importantly, cheese making is therapeutic. You put in a decent amount of effort and care, and a lot of time and you come out on the other side with delicious cheese. During cheesemaking sessions, I've thought a lot about school and my dissertation. I don't think the two processes are completely unrelated (Click here to read about my Dissertation Cheddar).

I don't just make cheese; I make other stuff.

I make my own leave-in conditioner. I make my own soap (hair, body and laundry). I make my own skin-care and anti-odor products too. I started making these things because I was trying to save money. Now it's just turned into a personal hobby of learning to make stuff.

But this blog might just mostly be about cheese. Usually, people want to hear about cheese, but just try out my laundry detergent; but that's okay. Writing about cheese is more fun. But either way, thanks for stopping by this way. I hope you enjoy my little corner of the internet.