After a couple of years of trial and error, we’ve discovered a few tips that seems to make our cheesemaking adventures go as smoothly as possible. You are going to find lots of great recipes and books, but if you want our top tips for cheesemaking, read on for lessons we’ve learned through trial and error.
Our first few batches of cheese did not go well. Nearly all of them had some kind of mold issue that got out of hand. I was perplexed at first, because I was pretty careful to wash the pots and tools with dish soap. But then I realized I was using the same scrub brush we use everyday in the kitchen. I’m not 100% certain that was the root cause, but it caused me to re-evaluate my entire workflow. Since I’ve adopted some of these techniques, though, things have gotten a lot more consistent!
Use Your Dishwasher
We now put all of our cheesemaking equipment in the dishwasher the night before and run them through on the ‘sanitize’ cycle. This includes the pot, lid, spoon, metal strainer, thermometer, curd cutting tool, presses, and even the cheesecloth. In the morning, we are ready for action. We keep the dishwasher closed and only pull the tools out as we need them.
Beware the Kitchen
We are also careful to lightly spray down the kitchen surfaces and stove with a disinfectant cleaner before we start. Yes, it may be paranoid, but it takes 2 minutes. And it smells good.
Don’t Set Tools On Your Counters
Another suggestion is to keep your spoon in the pot while your milk is cooking and ripening. We use a long-handled metal spoon and it will rest against the side of our pot nicely, so I don’t have to worry about sitting it on a counter and potentially getting contaminated.
Another technique I sometimes use is to keep a bowl of water with a drop of bleach in it. After I use a tool, I will set it in the bowl. When it’s time to use it again, I’ll rinse it well under water, then place it back in the bow for next use.
Wash Everything, Everytime
If you aren’t sure, give everything a quick wash with soap under hot water for anything going near your pot. Especially wash your hands every time you interact with your cheese – when you open the pot, to stir, cut curds, turn the molds, etc.
Getting the Right Temperature
A lot of cheese recipes call for using the double broiler method, where the milk is heated indirectly by placing a pot with milk into a larger pot with hotter water to reach your desired temperature. We’re lucky enough to have a gas stove with a very adjustable gas flame, so our ‘simmer’ setting allows us to slowly raise temperature without having to use a double broiler. If you don’t have a similar arrangement, you can get the same effect by placing risers under your pot to get some distance from your gas flame.
I tried several, including analog and digital, and this one works great. Clamps to the side, easy to read, and cost-effective. Make sure you set the tip in the midpoint of the liquid, ensuring it’s not touching the bottom closest to the heat.
Try A Cooler
Some recipes require holding your curds at certain temperatures for certain periods of time. You can use a large cooler to maintain your pot at holding temperature if you don’t feel you can keep your stove at the right temperature.
Aging Your Cheese
Make A Ripening Box
For a long time, we used our little wine fridge to age our cheeses, which had the benefit of convenience and constant temperature. But we could never keep the humidity high enough for proper cheese ageing. We don’t have a dedicated cheese cave, so for now we use a ripening box: a large, clear plastic container with lid, kept in our garage which has a consistent temperature, with a small bowl inside where we keep a wet sponge that we refresh every few days.
Most cheese books suggest waxing by either dipping your cheese, or by painting the wax on with a brush. Let’s be honest: waxing with a brush is a total pain, at least for me. I tend to get hot wax everywhere, and the cheese always has places where I missed a spot. Instead, I suggest heading down to your local Goodwill and buying a wide saucepan, and dedicate it solely for waxing. You can easily dip an entire cheese into the surface, let it cool, then flip and repeat. Easy easy. When you’re done, let the wax cool, cover the pot and put it away until next time.
Note: There is a very good how-to article at Cheesemaking.com that has more info on waxing cheeses safely.
Get a Combo Temperature/Hygrometer
I bought this combo unit at Amazon to keep in my ripening box. It’s cost effective – less than $10! – and shows you at a glance if your temperature and humidity are at the right levels.
Keep a Journal
I use Day One as a journal app for basically everything, including my Cheesemaking. I will create a new entry with the recipe used, photos, changes or recipe modifications I made, mistakes I made, and a few photos. I set the tag “Cheesemaking” and I can easily filter or search my history. As the cheese ages, I might go back and make additional notes. You don’t have to use an app – a simple notebook will do – but it’s exceedingly helpful to have a record so you can remember what went right, or what went wrong.
It sounds silly, but when you are making your cheese you have a fair bit of downtime; take 5 minutes while you’re waiting for your cheese to ripen to create reminders in your task manager of choice. For instance, for the Gruyère cheese I just finished, I set reminders for brining, drying, turning the cheese, cleaning the rind, and the earliest date the cheese might be ready for eating. Once you have more than one cheese going at a time, it’s easy to lose track of tasks and timelines.