May 28, 2009

How to wax cheese

I'm often asked what the process is for waxing a wheel of cheese.* My technique is decidedly low-tech. I've basically set up a double-boiler to do the job. Using a small pot I picked up from Ross Dress for Less (no way was I going to destroy my Calphalon!), I boil about 2" of water, placing a steel can (originally from some canned veggies) right into the water. I then melt a few chunks of cheese wax in the can. The goal is to bring the wax up to as high a temperature as possible--that way when it makes contact with the cheese it will kill any bacteria or mold that's currently on the cheese, and simultaneously seal the cheese.

The key is to brush the wax on in many layers--otherwise it'll be too thick and will end up just being mushy as you try to hold the cheese. Then just continue painting on the wax, until you've got a nice, even shell--making absolutely sure not to leave any air holes!

Another technique, which I haven't tried yet, is to heat up a larger quantity of wax, and then simply dip the cheese into the wax (half at a time). You've got to be careful, though, as the wax is very slippery! Best to dip one side, let it cool, and then dip the other, let it cool a bit, and alternate a few times until you've gotten a nice buildup of wax.

Some other pointers:

- Make sure you use a natural fiber brush. Nylon bristles will melt!

- Set up some wax paper on your counters -- as you're working, it'll make a mess (see above pic!), and you can safely set the cheese down for a moment without worrying about it becoming glued to your workspace.

- Chill the cheese first! This will help the wax cool quickly on the cheese, making it much easier and faster to complete this process.

- Label your cheese! I take a small piece of paper, write the name of the cheese and the current date, and then my very last step is to put the label on the top. (Brush a bit of wax on the top, and while it's still wet, slap that label right on there. Then give it a light coat or two on top of the label, and it'll stay put but you'll still be able to read it through the wax.)

- The leftover wax can stay in the can. Just let it cool, and cover with some saran wrap or some such. That way next time you'll be ready to just drop it straight into the hot water.

- Never heat wax by direct flame. It's flammable (and so are the vapors). Don't leave it unattended, either! Keep some air moving in your kitchen and you'll be just fine.

- You can re-use the wax. Melt it down and strain it through butter muslin. Messy, but cost-effective.

* That's a lie. I've never been asked. I'm gunna tell you anyway, though.

May 27, 2009

Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling


Last Monday, May 25th, the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake was held near Gloucester, England. In a tradition that dates back at least 200 years, possibly much longer, groups of fearless competitors chase an 8 pound (3.5 kg) round of Double Gloucester Cheese down an extremely steep and uneven hill, with a 1:1 gradient in some parts. Thousands of spectators gather to watch the five downhill and four uphill races, and to celebrate the winners and console the losers afterward. Injuries such as broken bones and concussions are commonplace, but the event continues to grow in popularity. The winner of each race is awarded the delicious round of cheese they were chasing.

View all the pics; they're hysterical!

May 26, 2009

Where to start?

I received an email this morning from Bonnie, an aspiring cheesemaker:
I was looking at your "I make cheese" website and think it's awesome. I wanted to ask you - when you first started making cheese, what equipment did you start out with? I am a bit reluctant to shell out the money for cheese presses, etc. unless I know I want to become serious about making cheese at home. I'd love to get some insight from you and would be very appreciative if you'd be willing to share your knowledge with me.
...and here's my (rather rambling) answer:
I'd definitely suggest you start with some of the softer cheeses that don't need a press...that way you can try your hand at it, see if you like it--and eat the cheeses a lot sooner!

Are you familiar with Ricki Carroll's book? If not, it's worth starting there. It's a bit daunting at first (especially when you see how many steps are involved in the recipes), but when you break it down into the individual steps it's actually fairly easy.

I'd say go for a 30-minute mozzarella first. The only things you'll need:=
  • 5-quart (or larger) pot (Stainless steel is best, but any pot should be okay)
  • large microwavable bowl
  • mixing spoon
  • dairy thermometer (gotta read accurately between 55 and 88 degrees)
  • citric acid
  • rennet
  • cheese salt
Make sure you also check out Ricki's mozzarella starter kit.

By the way, the mozzarella is an AWESOME party trick. Show up at a friend's house with a gallon of milk and the other ingredients (make sure you bring your thermometer), and spend 30 minutes in the kitchen and voila! fresh homemade mozzarella. Can't beat it!

May 24, 2009

Rosemary Focaccia & Fresh Mozzarella

Click image for a larger view

In a stroke of karmic genius, Sarah brought over a Focaccia dough that she whipped up a few minutes before leaving her house. I had been planning on making a 30-minute mozz (considering this was Sarah & Stephen's first time making cheese, I wanted them to actually get to sample something... four months is too long to wait to sneak a taste!)...

While we were working on the Gouda, she let the focaccia dough rise a bit, and sprinkled on some rosemary and a few other spices (I was so busy with the cheese... salt? pepper? that might have been it).

The bread was absolutely incredible, and the mozzarella was pretty durn good too (I've finally learned how to "salt to taste"... meaning: "Add more salt, stupid!")

We sliced up an organic Roma tomato, and opened a bottle of Curtis Roussanne that I had been saving for an afternoon such as this, and... voilà! Deliciousnessosity!

1 Gallon Trader Joe's Organic Whole Milk
1/4 tsp. Citric Acid, dissolved in 1/4 c. water
1/4 tsp. Double-Strength Vegetarian Liquid Rennet
, dissolved in 1/4 c. water
Approx. 2 tsp. Cheese Salt
(No lipase this time...I think I prefer it without, as the lipase seems to add a somewhat skunky flavor, IMHO)

(Note to self: Get focaccia recipe from Sarah!)


Finally back at it! My friends Stephen and Sarah came over this afternoon to help out with a batch of Gouda. It was only 3 1/2 hours from starting to pressing at the full 50 lbs. ... so much faster and easier than cheddar*!

Tomorrow morning I'll brine the cheese** for 12 hours, and then move it to the fridge to dry for a couple of days... then a few layers of wax, followed by a lot of patience.

Check back in four or five months to see how it turned out... okay, maybe just three months!

* Although the ingredients are similar to Cheddar or other hard cheeses, the process is more like Colby, in that it's a "washed-curd" cheese. Part of the process is to pour off some of the whey and then replace it with hot water (175F) slowly increasing the temperature a couple of degrees (it doesn't take much). The curds are stirred, allowed to rest, and then washed a second time. There's no "cheddaring" process ("cooking" the curds at a higher temperature--just over 100F), and--blessedly--no interminable stirring and stirring and stirring like some of the other cheeses...

** Instead of directly salting the curds, the salt is added after pressing--like Haloumi--by soaking the wheel of cheese in a saturated saltwater solution. The salt is simply absorbed while it's soaking, and will eventually make its way throughout the cheese during aging.

2 gal. Trader Joe's Organic Whole Milk
1 pckt. Mesophilic Starter
1/4 tsp. Calcium Chloride
1 tsp. Double-Strength Vegetarian Liquid Rennet
1 gallon Brine (Water + 1 lb. Cheese Salt)