I can’t remember the last time I made cheese but it was a long time ago, sometime in the pre-COVID era and possibly as long as 5 years ago.
Making cheese in the summer with higher temperatures is difficult and more challenging but it is possible if you have an effective method of cooling the pasteurised milk and keeping the cheese cool afterwards. An ideal temperature would be around 15ºC.
Over the years, I have posted a number of blog posts about how I made cheese. The idea behind this post is to summarise all of these previous posts and to provide the definitive method and procedure.
RECIPE for 5 LITRES OF MILK
- 1.25 teaspoons dried rennet
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon water
- Mix the above ingredients together in a small glass and leave until needed.
COOLING THE MILK AND CHILLING THE CHEESE
We have an old chest freezer from the time when we lived in the Calle Boli in the Sacromonte in Granada. John has set it up with a thermostat so that the temperature will not fall below a certain set temperature with the possibility of being on either for 24 hours or only when the sun is strong enough. Thanks to the thermal blocks at the bottom of the freezer, the temperature is maintained constantly throughout the night if it is not on all the time.
SHAPING THE CHEESE
I use Manchego cheese moulds and have a variety of different sizes (15cm diameter, 17.5cm diameter and 19.5cm). It is useful to know the weight of the empty moulds (without the lids) for calculating the amount of salt to add. The 15cm mould weighs 575g, the 17.5cm mould weighs 715g and the 19.5cm mould weighs 865g when empty.
PRESSING THE CHEESE
Once the cheese in the mould, it needs to be pressed to remove as much liquid as possible from the curds. Over the years, I have tried and tested all manner of cheese press, from shop-bought ones to home-made contraptions. My favourite one at the moment is the simplest of all and consists of a grooved board with two hooks, a square piece of wood with a groove in the top and a short bungee cord. The square piece of wood fits snugly into the top of the mould and applies even pressure to the cheese.
MAKING THE CHEESE
The first point I’d like to make is that temperature is key throughout the cheese-making process and the curing period. If the ambient temperature is too hot and the cheese is not kept at a constantly cool temperature, it will start to ferment and expand.
PASTEURISING THE MILK
If you are able to get hold of unpasteurised milk, you should pasteurise it before making cheese. Apparently, cheese made with unpasteurised milk or “raw milk” is safe to eat after 45-60 days when there is no longer any danger of listeria, the cause of Listeriosis, a serious and possibly fatal disease. However, I think it is better to be safe than sorry and now I always pasteurise the milk.
The pasteurisation process is not complicated and consists in heating the milk to a high temperature: the slow method raises the temperature to 63°C (150°F) for 30 minutes, and the rapid method raises the temperature to 72°C (162°F) for 3 minutes. It is a good idea to use a thermometer with a sensor so you can see what the temperature is without having to remove the lid.
Once you have pasteurised the milk, you want to cool it as quickly as possibly and one way to do this is to place the pan in a sink with running cold water. I transferred the milk back to the plastic 5-litre containers which are more manageable and put them in the freezer. It took a couple of hours to bring the temperature of the milk down to 34ºC. A temperature range of 34ºC to 38ºC is ideal. The next stage is to add the rennet.
I use powdered artificial rennet that you can buy from the chemist or pharmacy. I mix the rennet, salt and water in a small glass and stir well until completely dissolved. I use a slatted spoon to sprinkle the rennet/salt mixture over the milk and stir well to make sure that it has been thoroughly mixed. I cover the pan and leave for 60 minutes.
The next step is to test for a clean cut. As the rennet begins to act, the curds will form and separate from the whey. I insert a long palate knife vertically into the cheese pan and make a single cut. If there is a clean cut with a clear distinction between the curds and the whey, the curds are ready. It is fairly obvious if you have a clean cut as the curds will be white and the whey yellow. If there is not, then leave it for another 30 minutes or 60 minutes depending on how clean the cut is.
When you reach a clean cut, you are ready to cut the curds.
CUTTING THE CURDS
I use a long palate knife to cut the curds. You want to make a series of vertical cuts about an inch apart through the curds and then another series of vertical cuts at 90 degrees. You can also cut at 45º to ensure that the curds have been uniformly cut.
DRAINING THE CURDS
I went a large cheesecloth and use it to line a large, sturdy colander. Using the slatted spoon, I transfer the cut curds to the colander, using a swirling movement to remove as much of the whey as possible. I tie up all four corners of the cheesecloth and hang it over the sink to drain off as much whey as possible.
LINING THE MOULD
I wring out another cheesecloth and use it to line the mould. I then add the curds, pressing them down gently with a spatula. I put on the mould top, fold the remaining cloth around the central part and put the mould in the cheese press.
PRESSING THE CURDS
I leave the curds in the mould and the cheese press on a large circular, china plate in the cool fridge/freezer for an hour. I then take out the block of curds and remove the cheesecloth. I flip the the block and place it back in the mould and return to the cheese press and put it back in the fridge freezer and leave in the press for another 12 hours (or overnight).
This time, I was making two cheeses with 20 litres in two 1.5kg moulds. In the morning, I rinsed off the cheese press boards and poured off any excess whey. I used one of the cheeses in its mould and circular china plate to apply pressure to the other cheese. I left this in place for 12 hours and then swapped them round so that the bottom one was now applying pressure to one that had been on top.
SALTING THE CHEESE
I sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon of salt over the top of both cheeses and placed them back in the fridge freezer without the tops.I left them in the fridge/freezer for another 24 hours. I then removed the cheese from the mould, flipped it over and put in on a wooden board with a plastic mesh. The cheese will still lose liquid so I put it in a slightly larger plastic container. I then sprinkled the remaining salt over the other side. I put the cheese in the fridge.
As the cheese has been made with pasteurised milk, it is possible to eat the cheese whenever you like after only a few days. At this stage of the process the cheese is known as “queso fresco” and salt is only added to enhance the flavour of the cheese.
For matured cheese, however, salt is fundamental for the curing process and helps to preserve the cheese for longer.
It is important not to use iodized salt as this acts as a disinfectant and can hinder the curing process.
The salt can be added at two moments in the cheese-making process: 1. before the curds are put in the mould; 2: once the cheese has been pressed. In either case, it is necessary to weigh the curds to calculate how much salt needs to be added.
In either case, the amount of salt to add is calculated at approximately 3%–4% of the weight of the curds.
Once the curds have been removed from the whey, it is possible to make ricotta or requesón. All you need to do is heat the whey up to boiling point and then skim off the floating ricotta. You can drain the ricotta until you reach your desired consistency.