Category Archives: Cheese Making

Learning to Make Hard Cheeses

Hard Cheese Class

Cheeses that each person learns to make and takes home at the end of our hard cheesemaking class. Clockwise, starting at top right, the cheeses are: Colby Jack, Caraway Gouda, Parmesan, Chipotle Cheddar and Pepper Jack

My wife recently attended a class on making hard cheeses at The Ploughshare. Below is her report on the class:

Caraway Gouda Cheese

My wife holding the Caraway Gouda cheese that she made in the class. Once it has been turned and pressed in the cheese press several more times, then soaked in a salt brine overnight and aged for about two months, it will be ready to eat.

After having made soft cheeses at home I was ready to forge ahead and learn to make hard cheeses, so this past Saturday I took a class. Rebekah (one of the instructors) began our class with a very informative and thorough discussion on how milk becomes cheese that even included a brief chemistry/biology lesson on pH levels and bacteria. She then demonstrated making two types of cheese starter culture—Mesophilic and Thermophilic. She moved smoothly through each step, describing the varieties and types of cheeses, the cultures and the different processes used to make cheese. She shared stories from her own experiences along with examples of what to do and what not to do.

Cheesmaking class

Rebekah, one of the instructors, explaining about the natural rind on Parmesan cheese.

We made six types of cheeses in the class: Chipotle Cheddar, Caraway Gouda, Parmesan, Colby, Pepper Jack and Monterey Jack.

Transferring curds into the cheese press

Transferring curds into the cheese press to make Colby Jack cheese.

Altogether eight people took the class. A mother and son made Pepper Jack together, another team made Parmesan, and everyone else picked one type to make themselves. I chose the Caraway Gouda. We donned our aprons and with our recipe book in hand, took our places at the stoves. As the gallons of milk heated up in gleaming stainless steel stock pots, we chatted and peeked into each other’s pots to see how our cheeses were coming along. Rebekah and Robin bustled about us, answering questions, checking our progress, feeling the curds and giving help wherever it was needed. Although the step–by–step instructions in the recipes were easy to follow, it was reassuring to have such knowledgeable instructors nearby the first time we made these cheeses.

Bandaging the cheese

Wrapping the cheese with cheesecloth in preparation for aging it. Rebekah also discussed several other ways to prepare the cheese before aging.

By lunchtime, the milk had turned into curds and whey. We packed the curds into molds, placed them under the wooden cheese presses, added weights to the levers and waited 30 minutes. Then we pulled the cheese out of the molds, flipped it, repacked it in the molds and pressed it again for 30 minutes. We repeated this step several more times, and the curds solidified more and more into a beautiful round of cheese. Since the cheese needs to age for two months, we left them with Rebekah and Robin. But we all took home five wedges of the various cheeses that a previous class had made. In about two months, another hard cheese class will reap the results of our efforts.

Wrapping up the cheese

Cutting up the cheese and packaging it to bring home at the end of the class.

We left at the end of the day with our cheese-making manual, a bag of delicious cheeses and the inspiration and confidence to make hard cheeses at home. With broad smiles, Rebekah and Robin encouraged us with, “Call us if you need any help!”

Ricotta: A Simple Cheese You Can Make at Home

Homemade ricotta cheese with blueberries

Homemade ricotta cheese with blueberries

Ricotta is a soft cheese that you can easily make at home. It is excellent eaten fresh with fruit, or you can use it in baked dishes like lasagna or baked ziti.

The recipe below, based on whole milk, is one of the simplest ways to make ricotta cheese. In our one day soft cheese making class, we teach another approach, where you first make fresh mozzarella, then make ricotta from the leftover whey.

This recipe makes about 1 3/4 pounds or 4 cups of ricotta.

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid

Instructions

Combine the milk, salt and citric acid in a large stainless steel pot, and mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Pouring the ingredients into a large stainless steel pot

Heat the mixture over medium heat on the stove top, stirring very gently to prevent scorching. Be careful not to stir too much because that will cause the curds to be too fine. Heat until the temperature reaches 195 degrees (F), but don’t allow the milk to boil. By the time the mixture reaches 195 degrees (F), the curds should have begun to separate from the whey.  When this happens, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Ricotta curds forming

Line a colander with butter muslin or fine mesh cheesecloth and set it in the sink (or in a pot, if you want to save the whey).  Scoop the curds and whey using a two cup measure and gently pour them into the colander.

Draining the Ricotta Curds through Cheesecloth

Draining the ricotta curds through cheesecloth

Drain the curds until they are the consistency you want.  The longer you allow them to drain, the drier your ricotta will be. You can eat it right away or store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It also freezes well.

The final product: 1 3/4 pounds ricotta cheese and 3/4 gallon whey

1st, 2nd & 3rd Place at the American Cheese Society Conference!

Last night was the awards ceremony at the 28th annual American Cheese Society Conference in Montreal, Quebec. Brazos Valley Cheese is presenting there and won 1st place in the Brie category for their Eden (Brie with a line of vegetable ash in the center and wrapped with fig leaves), and 2nd place for their plain Brie. In the bandaged-wrapped Cheddar category they won third place.

Here’s Rebeccah with her ribbons!

Our New Underground Cheese Cave

An underground cave for aging cheese is the dream of most cheese makers. And so it was for us at Brazos Valley Cheese.  We have talked over the years about building a cheese cave with an old-world flavor that we could age our artisan cheeses in. Finally, last year, we began work on a new shop and cave, but the cave part was the first to be built since more aging space was our immediate need. Up to this time we have aged our twenty or so different varieties of hard and soft cheeses in walk-in coolers. Aging cheese in Texas can be a real challenge especially in the summer when daytime high temperatures typically peak over 100 degrees, sometimes for weeks on end. Unlike building a cave at a more northern latitude, our ground temperature never gets low enough through the year to allow for a cave without supplementary refrigeration. But still, the advantages of a cave, versus a walk-in cooler, led us to break ground in November 2010 on the new cave. Though we researched other cave designs, we were somewhat on uncharted territory in a climate this warm, and knew that we would have to pay careful attention to insulation.

The cave is basically a cement slab floor with cement block walls and an arched poured-concrete roof. This entire room was encased in a coating of closed cell spray foam with a vapor barrier covering it, along with French drains at the base and then back-filled and landscaped over. The interior measures 6,000 cubic feet and the interior walls have a stucco finish.The pine shelves in the cave hold 3,000 ten-to-twelve pound wheels of hard cheese.Thankfully, the temperature stays a constant 50 degrees with a rather moderately worked 2 ton cooler unit. And that’s in the heat of a Texas summer. 

The cave will be accessible by an elevator inside the shop, in which we can lower carts of cheese.

We will also have a brass fireman’s pole alongside the elevator to allow for a quick descent to the cave, instead of a walk-around to the stairs! For the public we have an insulated observation window at the bottom of the stairs, accessed from the outside of the shop.

We topped the whole project off with a five-inch-thick insulated castle like door with its own skeleton key and wrought iron hinges that never fail to amuse visitors.

Brazos Valley Cheese goes to American Cheese Society Conference

This week three of our staff members, including Rebeccah Durkin, from Brazos Valley Cheese are attending the 27th annual American Cheese Society Conference, Judging & Competition in Montreal, Canada. Last year the conference took place in Seattle and we won our first two awards for our specialty Brie cheeses, Eden and Brazos Select.

This year we entered 10 of our cheeses and await the results which will be announced at an awards ceremony on Friday night. Saturday night includes a festival of cheese in which the 1,676 entries from all over North America will be displayed for sampling.

We look forward to the educational aspect of the event and networking with artisan cheesemakers from around the world.