Steve’s Meadow Farm Raw Milk Cheese.
I took Iona’s one day cheese-making course February 2013, and I have made a few batches of cheese since.
I’m not going to cover all the stuff that Iona covers on her workshop – it’s a tremendously useful foundation in cheese-making and if you have an interest it’s definitely worth attending.
This is a story about all the other stuff that I found out about making cheese that surrounds the workshop – and my intent is to tell you my journey, what bad decisions I made and what the consequences were, and what all the other stuff is that I needed to make great cheese at home, so that you don’t make the same schoolboy errors that I did.
I decided to learn how to make cheese reliably – I’m not interested (at this point in my cheese-making career) in making a wide variety of cheeses, I just want to be able to replicate the exact conditions that Iona provided me so that I can make great cheese over and over again. When I buy 40L of milk I want to be sure that I’m going to lose only 36 litres of it, and not have to throw it all away.
I’m making cheese from Meadow Farm raw milk – it’s close to where I live and I understand from them that no one else makes cheese with their milk.
What to make the cheese in?
I bought two food grade boxes, one which fits inside the other. I have the capacity to make cheese from 40L of milk. (I have not found a convenient size of box to allow me to use my biggest box as the vat which would allow me to make 80L).
Two plastic food grade boxes. Radio 4 is an essential ingredient.
Keeping the heating water at the right temperature.
1. Temperature Control
Do not underestimate the knowledge and experience that Iona has in deciding when to put another kettle of hot water in the water jacket – she knows from making cheese in small boxes just how much she needs and when to do it. I’m nowhere near as experienced so I fixed this by turning to technology.
My first engineering job was to make sure that I could keep the water jacket at a programmable temperature. For this I bought a PID and mounted it in a galvanised steel box. This has a temperature probe on a short wire which goes in the water, and has a 240v socket which is switched on when the water temperature is too low. I bought a cheap PID from Ebay, the SESTOS D1S, and many other PIDs are available.
The PID fitted in a rugged box, the 13A switched socket is at the back. This has a 25A Solid State relay switched by the PID.
This is the water jacket temperature probe. The water is that colour thanks to the rust from the pump. Since the water stays away from the cheese, it seems to be OK to have slightly rusty water in the recirculating system.
2. Heating Element & Pump
I originally used a Geezer 3kw heating element and plumbed it into an elaborate system with a central heating pump from Ebay. However, this was an engineering disaster for two reasons; the central heating circulating pump is not self priming, and the heater has to be a certain way up in order to work. I burned the element out, and the pump would give up if the smallest amount of air got into the system.
Having made something that looked really nice but completely failed to work I did more research and discovered the joys of self-priming pumps. They do nothing except spin if completely empty, but add some water to them and they will suck air until they suck water. Simply put, it just needs a teacup of water in it and it will begin to create a vacuum until the water reaches the pump, and then it pumps well. I scored a small self-priming pump from Ebay. However, the problem that I have with it is that between makes the cast iron inside the impeller housing goes rusty if it’s not taken apart and allowed to dry between cleaning. A diaphragm pump would have been better.
This is the self-priming water pump which has the rust issue. Water comes in through the rigid black pipe and is delivered via the yellow hoses.
The heater is a 3kw domestic heater mounted in a black plastic drum. I now leave the heater on all the time – it has a thermostat and keeps 10L of water at 70C until the pump discharges the hot water into the jacket. The pump is only on for short periods of time.
This is the water heater, a 3kw immersion heater element in a plastic container. It’s in a box because it leaks slightly.
This is a self-regulating system and I can dial in the temperature of the jacket and it just keeps the jacket at that temperature. Iona’s commercial cheese vats have a PID and water heater – an automatic system simply takes one of the many variables out of the cheese-making.
So I now have a way of keeping the vat of milk, curds and whey at a set temperature.
I pre-warm the milk in big heavy-bottomed pans on the stove before putting the milk into the vat. I’m using raw milk, so it does not come out of a pasteuriser at a nice temperature – this takes three batches and about 30 minutes to get 40L to temperature.
There is an overwhelming variety of cheese making ingredients, and I didn’t want to try every single kind. Also there’s a huge variety of ingredients that individual cheese-makers cannot get hold of except in huge quantities, so while I’d like to use the ultimate ingredients I have to make do with what I can get hold of in small quantities.
I use Moorlands Danisco Choozit M400 culture, which comes in sachets to dose 50L so it’s easy to use. I’d like to have a crack at MA16 and FLAV54 but I cannot find them to be available in sensible quantities.
I use the standard rennet from Moorlands as well – it seems to do a perfectly nice job.
I do create a process control chart for each make as Iona demonstrated, and I fill it in – it is an incredible source of knowledge about how things should progress and how each stage should go. I’m making cheese about 8 times a year, so there can be quite a time between makes. This is the subject of the workshop, and I’ll say no more about it – I just follow the Process Control chart that Iona did with me in the creamery and it seems to work.
I bought the same kit for testing as Iona has. It’s an expense, but so is 40L of raw milk.
I’m very sure that after a while it’s possible to know the acidity of the cheese from the feel – but I’m not at that stage – for my first few makes I took the TA regularly. I’m now pretty much using the measurement as confirmation of what I’m feeling when the whey is at that ‘shotty’ stage, but I rely on it to know when to stop the cheddaring and add the salt.
My cheddaring – yes my stacking is a bit haphazard, but the result made a TA of 6 and milled beautifully.
I read a lot about how iodine in table salt kills the nice processes we want when maturing cheese and promotes the bad stuff, so I have invested in some Kosher salt which does not have iodine in it. It was the cheapest way to buy iodine free salt by far.
The Curd Table
I have a kitchen drainer to act as my curd table, and it seems that I have to let the curds cool completely before adding any weight to them or oil flows out instead of whey. When I let the curds cool then only the whey comes out. This is different from the process in the creamery – I think it’s because the milk I’m using is not pasteurised.
Cheese on the ‘curd table’. Note the use of the blue cheesecloth – it’s so easy to work with.
Iona kindly gave me two well used cheese moulds from the factory to get me going, and I still use them. I have also made cheeses in 500g Clover pots and 750Kg Waitrose chocolate nibbles tubs, and it is clear that the smaller the mould the quicker and different the resulting cheese is.
Cheese in Clover Margarine pots.
I began with the romantic notion that using cotton cheesecloth would be a good idea. The problem I had is that while it did a good job of forming the cheese, I could not get the cheese easily out of the mould – it was a real struggle and I was at risk of breaking the mould. I invested in some sheets of blue perforated plastic cheesecloth, and the cheese willingly falls out of the mould. I get sharp edges to my cheese and a much more professional finish.
Do not underestimate the need for pressing the cheese effectively and thoroughly – I did for a long time and got mediocre results because I had not pressed thoroughly enough. It’s very cheerful for Iona to press my cheese for me and post it, but I still needed to get some way of pressing my cheeses.
I calculated from the surface area of the cheese mould and the pressure of Iona’s cheese press the PSI equivalent so that I could replicate the right amount of pressure.
I have now made myself a steel cheese press with a 10:1 weight ratio and a standing pressure of 7kg, so with nothing on the handle it delivers 7kg of pressure, and for every 1kg I add to the handle the cheese gets 10kg of force. This does a very lovely job of pressing the curds.
As I don’t have the luxury of a compressed air ram, and I use weight instead, and doing quite some calculations, it comes out as 5, 10, 15 and 20kg of weight on the 8 inch mould progressively applied over 48 hours.
This is the press I welded together, which takes up to two moulds of wensleydale. If I change vat capacity I’ll need to sort out other ways to press.
I read on the internet that a good kind of storage medium for ageing cheese is a wine fridge, so I scored one from Ebay for £30. I matured the cheese I made with Iona in it, and it was a complete disaster – the fan dried the cheese out, making deep cracks in it. No matter how much humidifying water I put in the fridge, it dried the cheese out. Also it’s not possible to thoroughly clean this style of fridge – the fan area is impossible to clean and the fridge must have been carrying something nasty in it which I could not clean out, because it made the cheese go bad and I had to throw my cheese away. I sold the wine fridge and bought myself a newish and barely used domestic fridge from Ebay. This is cleanable and clean, I wipe it down with vinegar periodically and it has aged some lovely Wensleydale, both waxed and naturally rinded.
My 10C fridge, with waxed and naturally rinded cheeses. The water bath adds humidity and the temperature probe in the water stops the fridge cycling unnecessarily.
Fridge Temperature Control
In order to age cheese it wants to be at about 10C, and the warmest that a fridge will get is 4C, so something has to be done to regulate the temperature. Another PID was bought and put into a galvanised steel case, and the fridge is now run through the PID and is set at 10C.
Digital Temperature Control – Precise and not accurate
I have quite a lot of digital temperature probes in the house, and I shocked myself when I discovered that they were accurate amongst themselves to the nearest 4C around 32C – precision to one decimal place is not the same as accuracy, so I invested in some analogue glass cheese thermometers in order to calibrate the digital probes. I know that the cheese fridge needs to be set to 9C to be doing 10C inside and my hand probe needs to show 33C to be measuring 32C in the milk.
I have naturally rinded some Wensleydales, some in cheesecloth and some just on the cheese mat in the fridge. I am also waxing some cheese, and this is a process which can go really well, and can also go wrong. I have an old saucepan which I use exclusively for the cheese wax, and from a previous hobby I know that there is a potential danger if a half full saucepan of wax is allowed to cool and then is heated from below – it can explode as the wax increases in size dramatically when heated and the pressure has to be allowed out. Always allow expansion to be possible at the bottom of the pan. I allow the wax to go cold at an angle so that theres a piece of the pan bottom with no wax on it.
Then there’s the temperature of the wax. Somewhere on the internet suggests that wax has to be 110C and the cheese inserted for 6 seconds in order to get the surface bugs to be killed before maturing. This is quite hot and does not fully cover the cheese but leaves pinholes, but does seem to kill the bugs. The trick is to let the wax cool over a few minutes so that the second coat is a full covering and there are no pinholes. I’m choosing to use clear wax so that I can quickly see if there is any black mould under the surface – if there is I know I have a pinhole and can cut the wax and mould away and re-wax. If I did a lot of waxing I’d make this a temperature measured process with a water bath as well, but I leave this to experience and temperature taking with a food probe at the moment.
A nicely pressed and clear waxed Wensleydale from raw milk after 18 weeks of maturation. It had a creamy and complex flavour.
Naturally rinded Wensleydale. This had not been pressed or handled properly – the cotton cheesecloth was really hard to get out of the mould which opened the cheese slightly and there are areas where the outside mould had encroached to the inside. After this I invested in plastic cheesecloth to make removal of the cheese from the mould easier, and they now slip out under gravity only.