Spying on the neighbour’s cheesemaking technique

The other night we went round to the neighbour’s house to see how he made his cheese. To make absolutely sure that I could recreate the same method, I took a thermometer with me. When he makes cheese, he normally warms the milk in front of a fire on the hearth. I was surprised to find that he heats the milk to around 40ºC before adding rennet (42ºC to be precise). He then cut the cheese with a stick (making the sign of a cross by cutting it from north to south and west to east) and beat it quite rigorously so that it was like sloppy cottage cheese. He left it warming for another 20 minutes before transferring the mass of cheese to the mould. For the mould, he uses the traditional “pleita” which is a strip made from plaiting strands of esparto grass. This is wound into a circle and put onto a wooden draining board. Using his hands, he presses the cheese to expel as much of the whey as possible before placing the wooden patterned board on top and leaving to drain. The cheese is then turned and left again to drain.

So, this is the method I used today.

I heated the milk to 42ºC before adding the rennet, turning off the heat and leaving for 45 minutes. I cut, stirred and beat and then left on a very gently heat for 20 minutes. I lifted out the cheese mass into a colander and drained off as much liquid as possible by squeezing the cheese. I then used one of these plastic moulds for a change, pressing and turning the cheese every 30 minutes before salting the top and putting in the fridge.

I decided to try flavouring some of the cheese. Using a stick blender, I whizzed it into very small crumbs and then seasoned with salt and two crushed cloves of garlic. I added back some of the whey as it was very dry and then pressed it in a mould, turning a couple of times.

Patient Cheesemaking

After watching a lot of videos about cheese-making, I realised that I’m taking things too fast: heating the milk too quickly on the gas ring and then reheating it too fast to 38ºC to pitch the curds after they’ve been cut. I’ve also experimented with salting and now prefer not to salt the curd before pressing.

So here is my slow method that I used today:

Gently and slowly heat the milk to 28-29ºC.

For every 5 litres of milk, dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of powdered rennet and 1 teaspoon salt in 1 tablespoon of cold, unchlorinated water.

Add the rennet to the milk, stirring well for about a minute, making sure that the rennet has reached all parts of the milk.

Leave for 45 minutes. Test to see if the surface resists a gently touch. Your finger pad should come out clean. If it does, it is ready for cutting. If not, leave for another 15-30 minutes or so.

With goats’ milk, cut the curds into 2cm cubes horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Then beat with a long stick until the mixture resembles cottage cheese.

Fill the sink with hot water and put the pan with the curds in. Slowly raise the temperature to 38ºC over about 30 minutes, adding more hot water as necessary.

Using your hands break up and stir and curds around so that all parts are heated. Once the temperature of 38ºC has been reached, give the curds a fast, vigorous swirl with a wooden stick so that they will sink together in one mass.

Leave for 30 minutes, uncovered.

Line the inside of the cheese mold with the cheesecloth or muslin.

Using both hands, scoop out the curds, pressing them into a solid mass and transferring them to the cheese press.

If any curds remain in the whey, you can strain these through another piece of muslin lining a colander in the sink.

Put a wooden board on top and gently apply a small amount of pressure. Leave for 30 minutes, tightening the press as the liquid drains out.

Lift the cheese out of the mold and flip it 180º. Put it back onto the muslin before returning it to the cheese mold.

Leave the cheese in the mold for another 90 minutes, applying further pressure.

Take the cheese out of the mold and remove the muslin. Put it back in the mold and press for another 90 minutes.

Remove the follower (the part pressing down on the top of the cheese) from the mold and sprinkle the surface of the cheese with a handful of salt.

After 24 hours, take the cheese out of the mold, flip it 180º and salt the new top surface in the same way.

Put the cheese back in the mold and leave in the fridge on a cheese mat to drain away the excess liquid.

Turn the cheese every 24 hours. When it looks as though it will keep its form without the help of the mold, wrap the cheese in a piece of muslin and return to the fridge. Don’t forget to keep turning it every 24 hours.

In hot weather and the summer months, I place the cheese still in the mold immediately in the fridge rather than pressing it for a third time.

Making Goat’s Cheese

Since I started cheesemaking back in April, I have been trying to find a method that I can repeat successively to produce a good cheese. There have been many attempts, some more successful than others.

Pressing is something that I have found particularly difficult to get right. Having put the curds into the press, I would press the cheese gently, tightening the press as more whey was released. I would then turn the cheese after 12 hours and tighten the press. It was hard to gauge how hard to press and it was in this second pressing that things would go wrong. The idea behind pressing the cheese a second time was to get a more uniform shaped cheese but in the future I might not bother with this stage and I might even leave it longer in the mould for the first pressing.

My current method of making cheese is to first pasteurise the milk by heating it to 72ºC for 15 seconds. It takes quite a while for the milk to cool so that the rennet can be added, so when the temperatures are at their highest, it is best to do this in the evening and leave it overnight.

The next step is then to heat the milk to 28ºC-30ºC. I dissolve powdered rennet (possibly about 1/4 teaspoon) in water with 1 level teaspoon of salt for every 5 litres of goats’ milk. If you were using chlorinated water, it would be necessary to boil and cool this water first. You then slowly pour the rennet mixture into the milk, stirring it gently so that it is thoroughly mixed in.

The milk is then left for 30 minutes to set.

The curd is ready when you can press it gently with your finger and your finger comes away clean.

With a palette knife, cut the curd into 1cm cubes, cutting vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally. Then mix well, almost beating it until you obtain the consistency of cottage cheese.

I then heat the milk to 38ºC. It is important that to heat the milk gently or it will stick to the bottom and burn.

After 30 minutes, the curds will have sunk to the bottom of the pan. Using your hands, squeeze the curds into a ball by pressing against against the sides of the pan and transfer to the cheese mould.

I’m still not sure about what the best type of cheesecloth (if any) to use. The problem with the loose-weave cheesecloth is that it is a pain to wash if the cheese gets squeezed through the holes and dries solid but it has the advantage that it doesn’t take up much space in the mould. Alternatively, baby gauze (the type used as nappy liners) is a good idea but thicker so has the disadvantage of taking up more space around the pressing plate. I think in the future the decision whether to use cheesecloth or not will depend on the consistency of the mass of cheese that I manage to get out. If it is fairly solid, then I won’t use cheesecloth as the mould is made from stainless steel. I have cut out a circle from a coarse weave cloth which is the same size as the cheese pressing plate and this means I can see more clearly how far down the plate reaches when no pressure is applied (using the holes in the side of the press as a guide). If, on the other hand, the cheese is more crumbly, then I will use some fine gauze to line the press with.

The good thing about making cheese is that you can’t go far wrong and although some might be better than others, it is rare that you make one that is a total failure. Although having said that, that is exactly what happened the other day. We had milked the goats on three consecutive days and so had amassed about 15 litres of milk. This is what I had dreamed of and I was all set to make the mother of all cheeses. I had saved the other two containers with the unpasteurised milk in the fridge and pastuerised the 3 lots together. The next morning, however, the heat of the whey was at about 28ºC and the curds had floated to the top of the pan and expanded into a bubbly mass. I tasted the milk and it tasted off. It turns out that one of the goats was ill with a cold and a temperature and so that affected the milk. In the future, then, if any of the goats do look sick their milk should be kept apart from the others and thrown away. It would also be a good idea to pasteurise the 5 litre batches of milk we get when we milk the goats separately and this would mean too that it would take less time for the final batch to cool to the required temperature.

One of the last pieces of the puzzle was provided by our neighbour. I told him how I still got a lot of bubbles in the cheese and he said that where I was going wrong was I was not stirring it with a stick made from a fig branch. I don’t know why it has to be a fig branch but who am I to argue so the next day I made myself one. Here is a photo:

Apparently, it is also important to stir the curds in one direction only (either clockwise or anticlockwise) and not to mix the two.

Once I have taken the cheese out of the mould, I sprinkle both sides with salt. Before now, I have always rolled the edges of the cheese in salt too but according to the neighbour this is not necessary. So I think I’ll try this for the next one.

I leave the cheese to dry on a plastic cheese mat covered with a cloth to keep the flies off for a couple of days, turning every 24 hours and then finish the process in the fridge. It would be better to dry the cheese outside but the temperatures are getting too warm for this.

Cheese Press

This is a photo of the amazing new cheese press I got from Ascott. I couldn’t wait to try it out:

After milking the goats, I decided to try it out. It came with some moulds and I was going to use one but there was more milk than I had thought.

This is the original recipe I used:
4 litres goats milk
1/2 cup cider vinegar
6 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons lemon juice

This time, I used 5 litres milk, salt, a bit more than 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and a small amount of rennet which I dissolved in some cold water first.

I covered the pan and left it to set before cutting the curd into squares.

I then raised the temperature to 38ºC and left it to “pitch” for 30 minutes (for the curds to sink).

This is a photo of the pressed cheese the next day:


Goats and goats cheese

I’ve recently been learning about goats.

Goats produce milk as soon as they’ve had a kid and will continue to produce milk as long as the kid is still suckling or they are being milked.


  • Goats have to learn to be milked but once they have, they are quite happy to stand and let you get on with it.
  • You can either use the knuckle technique (thumb knuckle against the teat and then wrap the other fingers round) or the flat palm technique (press with the thumb and index finger and then wrap the other fingers round)
  • It’s easiest to milk both udders at the same time by alternating between them and holding them between the goat’s back legs.
  • You need to let the teat fill up and then cut of at the top and squeeze the milk out.
  • Goats need to be milked once a day.


  • Goats milk should be pasteurised before you use it. You can either pasteurise it by gently bringing it to the boil and letting it boil up twice before turning the heat off. This method, however, has a negative effect on the cheese so I prefer to gently heat it to 66ºC and keeping it at this temperature for 30 minutes.
  • If you pasteurise by boiling it, milk rennet doesn’t seem to work and if you want a harder cheese it’s best to use cider vinegar.