Home-made cheese press
Originally, I started making cheese using a fruit press but the problem was that it didn’t apply a constant pressure and I would have to wait for the mass of curds to release the liquid before tightening the press further.
I therefore looked on Internet to see if there were any home-made versions and there were plenty. This one is easy to make and I found it on the Fiasco Farm website.
Materials for the cheese press
To make the press, you need:
2 wooden boards measuring 30cm x 30cm
4 dowel rods (40cm long and 2cm diameter)
4 stainless steel base supports
4 stainless steel screws
2cm drill spade bit
3cm drill spade bit
Drill 4 holes (3cm diameter) in each corner of one of the boards with the 3cm spade bit.
Drill another 4 holes (2cm diameter) in each corner of the other board with the 2cm spade bit. It is important that the holes match up.
Screw the base support on each of the lengths of dowel rod, with a washer between the rod and the screw.
I use the bottom part of my original fruit press to press the cheese and place 5kg weights on the press. For the first 30 minutes, I press the cheese with 5kg, for the second 30 minutes I use 10kg and for the final 30 minutes I use 15kg.
Making ricotta cheese
Ricotta is a low-fat, spreadable cheese made by reheating the whey once you have removed the curds for pressing into cheese. The word Ricotta is Italian for recooked. While some prefer it mixed with sugar and then spread on bread, others season it with salt and pepper and use it as a savoury spread.
I had tried making ricotta cheese before but had never had much luck. So I decided to look on Internet to see what temperature the whey should be heated to. I discovered that 94ºC – just below boiling point – was the magic temperature.
It is important not to let the whey boil as this will toughen the curds.
Heat the whey on a medium heat to 94ºC. Once it the liquid has reached this temperature, the creamy curds will float to the top of the pan.
Straining the ricotta cheese
Skim off the curds into a piece of muslin. I used a jam bag and stand and a fine-meshed sieve.
How long you leave the cheese to drain for will depend on how firm you want the finished cheese to be. After a couple of hours, the cheese was still quite moist and spreadable. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added some lemon zest and chives and mixed well and it was delicious.
The colour of the whey changes drastically once the curds have been removed and it almost looks greenish.
A pleita is a long strip of plaited esparto grass which can be used instead of a mould in cheese-making. The band is wound round and round and the end tucked in and the cheese curds pressed down into the middle. It needs to be placed on a wooden board and the finished cheese looks better if the board used below and on top have some sort of carved design which is then embedded into the cheese.
I managed to find one in a shop in Guadix for 12 euros and was quite excited. This is what the neighbour uses and it has the advantage of being able to adapt to any amount of milk for any size of cheese. The only thing you have to be careful of is not letting the curds dry on the pleita as it takes ages to get them off.
This is a picture of the cheese once it has been pressed. As I didn’t have any suitable weights or boards, I pressed it in the fruit press.
I was really pleased with the finished cheese with its design:
Because the first time I had tried using a pleita, the cheese had dried onto it, I didn’t want the same to happen again. So I removed the cheese quite soon from the pleita. As the cheese dried, it lost most of the sharp design and in the future I would probably leave it on for longer before removing.