Before I started this cheese making challenge I had never considered what went in to making cheddar. I would casually throw a brick (or two) into my shopping cart without wondering why cheddar tastes so different from mozzarella or brie or Parmesan when they are all made with basically the same ingredients. I was living in a state of cheese ignorance.
But thanks to this month's Cheesepalooza challenge, my mom and I have a better idea of what steps are needed to create those familiar orange blocks. Since we still have the aging process ahead of us I can't really declare that we have successfully made cheddar yet, but we certainly got a few wheels of it started.
It all began with 16L of milk. Creamy, unhomogenized, organic whole milk that nearly broke my fingers off while I was carrying it all to the car. 16 liters is heavier than I thought it would be.
All that milk was heated gently until it reached 86F and then the starter, the calcium chloride, rennet, and the annatto were stirred in.
Annatto is a natural dye that gives cheddar cheese it's orange colour. It's the difference between making an orange cheddar or a white cheddar. It was an optional ingredient but we decided to include it because it just looks more cheddar-y to me.
All the ingredients were whisked thoroughly into the milk and then the pot was left at 86 degrees for 30-45 minutes until it formed a solid mass. Keeping the pot at temperature was as simple as putting the lid on and leaving it under the light on the stove.
Once the milk had formed a mass we used a thin metal spatula to cut it into curds.
The next step caused us a bit of grief. We needed to bring the curds to 104F slowly slowly over 40 minutes without stirring it. The cheese was already at 86F, so bringing it to 104F over that stretch of time meant ultra low heat.. but how were we supposed to do that without stirring? The bottom curds seemed in danger of getting burnt.
The book suggested a water bath, which meant that we would need industrial kitchen sized pots in order to fit our already MASSIVE pots of milk inside them. It would definitely distribute even heat, but we just didn't have the equipment for it. So that idea was a no-go, and our first attempt to gently heat the curds resulted in the temperature of the bottom curds jumping up to 102 almost instantly while the top remained cold.
We consulted helpful Cheesepalooza participants and decided to stir the curd as we heated it. We were extra careful and gentle with the stirring and the problem seemed to sort itself out. Cheese crisis averted.
Once the curds had safely made it to 102F we turned off the heat and stirred the curds continuously for 20 minutes until they shrunk and became less cube shaped and more curd shaped. Then they rested again followed by more stirring to help them mat together. It was a lot of continuous stirring and I was glad that I had my mom there to chat with to pass the time.
Lifting heavy milk, stirring for around 40 minutes continuously.. its part recipe, part workout plan.
Perfect snacking food. In fact, it was temping to just dump them in a bowl or on top of some hot fries for some homemade cheddar poutine. But in order to reach our cheddar goal we had to resist the temptation and load the curds into a cheese cloth lined plastic mold in order to press them into wheels.
After pressing the cheese with 8 pounds for 1 hour we flipped the cheese, redressed them in cheese cloth and put them back into the molds to press overnight. This photo was taken after the cheese had only been in the press for one hour.
The next morning we placed each wheel in its own tupperware container of near-saturated brine and let it chill in there for the next 8 hours. It was starting to look like real cheddar which was pretty exciting.
After the cheese finished brining we let it air dry at room temperature for two days until it was dry to the touch. Then we had to decide how to dress the two wheels before aging them. We decided to wax them first with a layer of cream wax, and then later with a layer of hard wax. The cream wax looked exactly like nacho cheese sauce from the movie theater and it felt strange spreading it around with a paint brush on our cheese.
We didn't have cheese wax on hand for the hard wax layer so I turned to the internet to see what we could use as a substitute. It seems like beeswax with a bit of coconut oil to soften it will work for us.
While I was reading about waxing cheese, a few articles mentioned that you should touch your cheese as little as possible before it's waxed in order to reduce bacteria on it.
So.. I wasn't supposed to parade around holding it triumphantly just before waxing? Oops.
Now it just needs that layer of hard wax and we are going to let it age for 1 - 2 months. Here's hoping it hasn't become a big block of mold or all dried up and inedible by then. I'll keep you posted with a big part 2 reveal of the finished cheese!
My mom and I are on a year long cheese making adventure along with the other Cheesepalooza participants. We are working out of Artisan Cheese Making At Home by Mary Karlin and will not be posting the recipes for the cheese online. You can join Cheesepalooza at any time!