Saturday, February 23, 2013

Making Cheddar Cheese

Making Cheddar Cheese

(Cheddar is naturally white.  To color it yellow,  add Annatto.)

I love cheese.  Of course, you don't have to have cheese to survive; but if you have access to milk, it would be nice to still be able to have it around, even in tough times.  It's cheaper to make too, and you could even use it to barter.  If you have cows or goats or know someone who does, you may want to try it now and practice a little.  :)  You can use store-bought milk also.  I had to use that as raw milk is actually illegal to sell retail in some states, including mine.  Also, you can wax hard or low-moisture cheeses and let them age and store for years.  I plan to also buy cheddar when it is on sale and wax it to store.  I am new at cheese making myself.

Cheddar worked out much better for me than Mozzarella did even though it takes more effort.  When I first started reading about making cheddar, I read about how you have to have a cheese press, cheese molds, etc., which I can't afford.  It sounded too complicated; but after looking at how-to sites on how to make your own molds and presses, I got the general idea of it.  It isn't as hard as it sounds.  I used two ice cream buckets/pails to make a cheese mold.  I made one out of two large lard containers too, but I like the ice cream buckets better.  (I buy lard to make a suet recipe for the birds.)  There are some home-made cheese press directions that look pretty easy, and I still plan to make one; but for now, I simply used a board over the top of the press with the weights on top.  (More on that below.)  If you have small children or pets that might tip over the weights, you definitely want to secure it better somehow. 

You need a thermometer that registers lower numbers like a dairy or meat thermometer.  Most candy thermometers don't go that low.  Also, use a non-reactive pot: stainless steel, glass, enamel.  Here's an article on that if you want to read more. (click here)

Here is a web site with more tips about making your own cheese molds.   (click here)

Here is a web site with directions on making a cheese press, even just to give you a general idea of how to make one with dowels or rods coming up from the base to hold it steady  (click here)

Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese

2 gallons whole milk.  You can use raw milk, cow or goat, or store-bought.
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 1/2 C (4 ounces) of prepared mesophilic starter
1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/2 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup (unchlorinated) water
1 tablespoon cheese salt
Annatto (optional, for the yellow color.  This is what makes butter and cheddar yellow.)

(The container with the blue lid is 
the starter I had prepared earlier.)

(Heating to 90 degrees.)
Heat the milk to 90 degrees in a large pot, (goat’s milk 85 degrees). I found a medium stockpot worked well.  Add the starter and stir. Cover and let it sit for 45 minutes. Then, add the diluted rennet and stir in gently for about 1 minute. (If using fresh cow milk, stir no more than 1/2-inch deep.) Cover and let it sit, keeping the pot at 90 degrees (85 for goat’s milk) for 45 minutes or until you can get a clean break with the curds. Use a knife to cut the curds in about 1/2-inch cubes. (The curds should stay intact if lifted.) Very slowly raise the temperature up to 100 degrees, about 2 degrees every 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, carefully.  Then, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.  Line a strainer with cheesecloth and put the curds in the strainer.

You can tie up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang it from a stick or something to let the curds drain.  I let mine sit in the strainer and lifted it up now and then to gently push a little more whey out.  After an hour or so, put the curds in a bowl and break it up with your fingers, mixing in the salt. 

Line the cheese press with cheesecloth and put the curds in.  Press the curds down with your hand and fold the cheesecloth over the top.  Put the follower in (the part that presses the cheese)and add weight, 10 pounds for 10 minutes, flip the cheese; 20 pounds for 10 minutes, flip the cheese; 50 pounds for 12 hours.

Air dry the cheese until it forms a rind, 2-4 days and then you can wax it and age it.  I put it on something that lets the air get under it too.  Flip it over occasionally to dry it evenly.

 (Break up the curds and mix in the salt.)

(I used ice cream buckets to make a cheese mold. I found I had 
to cut the top edge off both of them for them to press the 
cheese properly.  I used a drill to put the holes in the bottom one.)

(Fold the cheese cloth over.)

(My fancy schmancy cheese press!  lol  I used bricks, 5 pounds each, at first.
  I put the mold on top of a sturdy bowl so that the holes in the bottom of the mold 
wouldn't be blocked.  The whey can run out in the bowl or out in the dish.)

 (Then, I added a cement block, 45 pounds, and a brick on top.  I put it 
between my baker's rack and a table to keep it safe.  I also put something in 
front of it overnight so it couldn't tip over if one of my cats jumped up on it.)

(See the whey pressing out?)

(After  it's pressed, unwrap the cheese cloth.)

(Ta da!  Cheddar cheese!  It has to age though!)

(I cut it into 4 smaller wedges.)

(It has to air dry now for 2-4 days.)

After a few days of drying, it forms a rind.
  (I may have added a touch more Annatto than necessary.) 
When I take the wax off, I find the dried out part, rind, has 
softened again; so that doesn't get wasted.  

Waxing Cheese

Heat cheese wax until melted in a double boiler 
(water in a bottom pan).

Dip one end and let it dry.  It dries fast.  Then, dip it in the 
other way.  Then repeat.  It's better to do a couple of 
coats than to try to do one thick one.

A lovely waxed wedge of cheddar cheese!  :)
Ready to age.

I read, ideally, it should be kept at 46-52 degrees.  You can age it in the refrigerator though.  Keep it out of daylight.  You can age it as long as you want, anywhere from 6 weeks to 18 months or so for sharp cheddar.  I still have to do more reading on that and will do an update.

This is the cheese press I made out of lard containers.  
I like the ice cream buckets better as it isn't as thick. 

This was the batch I made with the lard containers.

Found this article about eating "40-year old cheddar" cheese.  (click here)

You can read some FAQ on cheese making here.  (click here)

Update:  mmmm I broke into a batch I made in mid-February (this being 4/29) and it's very tasty.  Too early to be sharp, just a mild flavor.  The wax had split open on this one.  I need to make sure to press it long enough and then dry it long enough.  

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Easy 30-minute Mozzarella"?

"Easy 30-minute Mozzarella"?
...not so much.  Turned out ok.

Ok, I finally give up.  I've tried.. ummm... let's see... at least 5 batches of Mozzarella now, and none of them turned out completely the way they should.  I got just ok Mozzarella on a couple of batches.  I was waiting until I found the right recipe combination to do a blog post, but I really can't afford to keep spending money on it.  (I'm not one of those people who make money on their blogs.  lol)  It still tasted good, and I ended up with some nice spread for crackers a couple of times.  I ended up with some Mozzarella to shred and freeze, but the consistency seemed off a bit when I used it on a pizza.  (Yes, cheese freezes well.  I do it all the time.)  I was never able to get that nice stretch at the end the way Mozzarella is supposed to. There are a lot of posts floating around on Pinterest and the internet about "easy 30-minute Mozzarella". Well, that's one of the recipes I tried.

Actually, I found this article (click here) where she talks about these very problems and first-time cheese makers being disheartened by "easy" Mozzarella.  She gives a recipe (click here) that she says works (it's in metrics, blah).  I'd like to try it, but it calls for Thermophilic Culture; and I looked it up on E-bay and Amazon.  Including shipping, on E-bay, it was $8.00 and Amazon $13.50 (for just 2 gallons worth of milk).  If you have access to raw milk, I don't think you would need that; and if you don't, I don't think it would be worth spending too much money on making Mozzarella anyway.  Better to just buy it on sale and freeze it.  That's my thought on it anyway. 

If you have raw milk to use, it should work much better.  I personally don't know any farmers in my area to get raw milk from; and it's illegal to sell retail in some states (including mine).  I think, if you have access to someone with cows or goats, or your own, it's very worth while to try making these things now so that, if/when things get tough, you can make your own cheese.  Cheese isn't a necessity of course; but if you love it like I do, it would still be nice to have even in tough times.  Also, you can buy cheddar and other kinds of hard or low-moisture cheese on sale now and wax it for long-term storage, up to 25 years they say.  (I mean to look into that more.)

One article recommended using calcium chloride when using store-bought milk (even though another article said this can take the "stretch" out of Mozzarella), so I tried that once; and the rest of the batches I did were without it.  I tried rennet tablets, and I tried liquid rennet.  I tried more sodium chloride and recipes with less.  I tried letting it cure overnight and not letting it cure overnight, etc.  

(Update: I did make lasagna using the ricotta and mozzarella that I made, and it was delicious.  :)  

Making Mozzarella 

If store-bought, you want to avoid the ultra-pasteurized milk.  Just get regular whole milk.  I've looked up many recipes, and they vary just a little in how much of the ingredients they use; but the ingredients are pretty much the same.  Some vary in heating times or waiting times.  Again, I read that, when using store-bought milk, you should add calcium chloride to help it set properly.  Yet another article said that calcium chloride will prevent Mozzarella from stretching properly, but I gave it a try since it wasn't working anyway. Of all the batches I've done, the best one was the one with calcium chloride; but like the other article said, it didn't stretch properly at the end.  None of my batches did though.  It was still yummy, and I grated most of it and froze it for later use.  With the left-over whey, I made Ricotta and froze to use later.  

You need a thermometer that registers lower numbers like a dairy or meat thermometer.  Most candy thermometers don't go that low.  Also, use a non-reactive pot: stainless steel, glass, enamel.  Here's an article on that. (click here)

Two recipes...

1 gallon of whole milk
1 tsp citric acid
1/4 rennet tablet
1-2 tsp cheese salt

Dissolve the citric acid in a small amount of water and then stir in the milk.  If you are adding calcium chloride, put it in now.  Heat the milk on low to medium heat , stirring often, until it reaches 90 degrees.  

Remove it from the heat and mix in the rennet (diluted in 1/4 cup of water) for 20-30 seconds and then just let it sit for 20-30 minutes or until the curds are set.  Some articles recommend letting it sit overnight to cure.  I tried both.  I think this is where raw unpasturized milk comes together much better but not so much the store-bought.  My house is very cold in winter, so I don't know if this plays a factor or not.

When it thickens to a custard consistency, cut the curd into 1-inch (or so) squares.  Gently reheat it to 105 degrees and then remove it from the heat again.  Use a large spoon or ladle with slot to gently pull the curd out and strain in a strainer with cheesecloth in it.  (Save the whey for other things.)  

Let it sit and drain for a while and gently squeeze more of the whey out.  

Put the curd in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for one minute on high and drain more whey out.  You can use a wooden spoon to press it.  

Then, stretch the curd until it's smooth.  You can microwave for another 30 seconds if necessary.  Mix in the cheese salt.  Shape into smooth balls or oblong shapes and put in an ice water bath to cool.

(I shredded it the next day.)

1 gallon unhomogenized milk
8 drps liquid rennet
1/1-2 tsp citric acid
1 tsp cheese salt
calcium chloride (if using homogenized milk)

Let the milk set out and warm to room temperature.  Dissolve the citric acid in 1/4 cup water and stir it gently into the milk.  (Add the calcium chloride here if using it.) Heat the milk slowly to 90 degrees.  Remove it from the heat.  Dilute the rennet in 1/4 cup water.  Stir it into the milk for 20-30 seconds.  Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes or until the curd is set.  

Cut the curd into 1-inch or so cubes and gently heat again, bringing the temperature up to 105 degrees.  
Remove from heat.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the curds into a strainer with cheesecloth.  

Press the curds gently to drain excess whey.  Put the curds in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for one minute.  Remove and drain the excess whey.  You can use a wooden spoon to press it also.  Stretch the curds until smooth.  If it needs more stretch, return it to the microwave for another 30 seconds and stretch it.  Mix in the cheese salt.  Shape into a smooth ball and put in an ice water bath to cool. 

To make Ricotta with the leftover whey, leave it in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, heat it slowly to a temperature of 220, stirring often.  Take off the heat and let sit until it cools to the touch.  Strain through cheesecloth and let it sit to let more liquid drain off.  That's it.  It can be frozen.

Ingredient Shelf-Life
I looked up the shelf-life on some things if you want to keep the ingredients on hand:
Liquid rennet - Animal rennet is best up to one year and vegetable rennet 4-6 months.  Calf is said to be best for aged cheeses.
citric acid - 3 years from manufacture
calcium chloride - indefinitely 

Cheddar turned out much better for me!  Look for the post.  :)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Making Char Cloth and Rope

Making Char Cloth and Rope

Char cloth is super easy to make.  It's just material that has been charred.  It lights on fire super easy.  A single spark can get it going.  It's very lightweight and great to put in a backpack or bug out bag. 

You need some sort of tin.  An Altoids tin works great.  You need to make a hole in it.  

I used a screwdriver and hammer to make a hole in the top, or you can use a nail, etc.  Cut small pieces of cotton material to put in the tin.  Bandanas work well or an old T-shirt. 

It's the middle of winter here and very cold, so I decided to use an alcohol burner outside that I had made to see if that would work well to make the char cloth.  

(See my post on alcohol and buddy burners.) (click here)

Put the tin over a fire.  Smoke will come out of the hole.  When the smoke stops, it's done.  

It took me a few minutes on the porch to start the alcohol burner because of the cold but then took it outside and it worked great.  I had a large can with the top and bottom off, from another project, so I put that around it to protect it from the wind and cold. 

I'm actually surprised how awesome this worked.  It didn't seem to burn that long.  I was shoveling snow and peeked at it one time, and fire was coming from the hole in the tin so thought maybe it got too hot; but after it cooled and I flipped the top open, it had perfectly made char cloth inside. 

Ta da! Char cloth!

**You can also make "char rope" (using 100% cotton rope only, like that on a mop).  It's less fragile than char cloth. 

Update:  I bought a cheap cotton mop at the dollar store to make char rope.  The handle is metal and the mop head screws off, so the handle can be used for other things like a paint roller extender.  Here are a few photos.  :)

Using my Altoid can (as used above to make char cloth).

Wait until it is done smoking. 

Ta da!  Char rope.  Travels better than char cloth. 

See my post on fire starters too.  I add to it now and then. (click here)

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