Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Curds

Only peril can bring the French together. One can't impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese. - Charles de Gaulle

                             Garlic and Dill-Cheddar Cheese Curds.

It's funny, the way family and friends can influence you, and expose you to new and wonderful things, that you wouldn't stumble on yourself, and visa-versa. Most of my family are 'Rambling Roses'. I remember my Mother, quite frequently, during summer vacation from school, announcing early in the morning, that we were going on a day trip. Often, they were historical sites, or a dairy farm, strawberry farm, etc..  She sometimes took two to three day trips, on her own too. I have three sisters, all of which have that same adventurer's bug.

I'm quite different, in that respect. I love to spend my vacations, at home, pouring over interesting books, in the gardens, cooking, or just sitting on the lawn-swing, listening to birds. So I have never been to Wisconsin, and eaten the delicacy, of  fresh cheddar cheese curds, myself. But just a mention of them, would incite, wistful-eyed, wordless, rapture from my family.
Being an avid 'Do-it-yourself '-er, and a hopeless people pleaser, I had no choice, but to learn the art of cheese making.

These are really easy, the only time consuming part, is the waiting. it takes good potion of the day, waiting. then another 12-24hours, in the fridge, before they are ready to eat. The only specialized items you need, are mesophilic starter  and liquid rennet. I bought these at Midwest supply, which cost just under $20.00-(including shipping) I usually receive my order in 3-4 days.
The New England Cheese Making Supply  is a reliable one, on the east coast.
The starter is enough to convert 7-8 gallons of milk, into 7-8lbs. of cheese. If kept in the freezer, it keeps for a few years. The rennet can convert, many more gallons, and can be kept in the fridge.
You can use whole milk from the grocery store, but don't buy ultra-pasteurized, there isn't enough bacteria in it. I hear fresh raw milk, makes better cheese, but I would not attempt it, myself.
I pre-wash everything first, in regular dish water with a capful of bleach added to it, to make sure they are sterile. Be sure you rinse it, well.

Here's a short video, to show you how simple it is.This is exactly the same process, just on a much larger scale. The video begins, when they are heating the curd, after the culture and rennet have been added.

There are similar but different methods, of making these, I like Tara's method over at Cooking from scratch. It's very reliable. Also if your want your cheese to be orange, (The only difference between white and orange cheddar, is a coloring called annato) here's an ebay link for it. ground annato seed. I don't use it.

Supplies needed: (Makes 1lb. of cheese curds)
A double boiler -or two pots (I use a large stainless steel bowl, over a 4quart pan with 2inches of water in the pan.)
A good thermometer that can read below 100*f
1gallon whole milk
1/4tsp. of mesophilic starter culture
1/2tsp. liquid renet
1/2tsp. kosher salt (I have used pickling salt too)
2 layers of cheesecloth -or- 1 very thin kitchen towel
A colander
a rubber band
a 1 gallon jug-filled with water, for weight
parchment paper, or plastic wrap
(optional- I like to add 3/4tsp garlic powder and 1/2tsp dill)

Let's start making cheese:
Heat the milk, in the top of the double boiler, to 85*f . (About 15 minutes)
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the culture. Cover, and let stand 1 hour. This allows the culture to multiply, just like yeast.
After one hour.
If I use herbs, this is when I add them. Just stir them in along with the rennet.
Add the rennet, then whisk it into the milk mixture. Cover and let stand for another hour.
The rennet will make the milk solidify, a bit, sort of like gelatin.
After an hour check to see if it has, what is called "A clean break" in cheese making. (Photo Below) To test it, run a knife through, and see if you can pull it apart cleanly. if it's still mushy, wait until you get a clean break.

Now it's time to separate the whey, from the curd.
Return the curd, back to the double boiler, and (slowly) heat, on a medium-low flame, to 100*f.
I try to take about, 30 minutes to bring it to 100*f .
Once you've reached it, turn the burner off, and set the bowl on the counter. The temperature will continue to rise, a few degrees. Try to keep a constant 100*f temperature for 30 minutes, stirring a few times, You may have to return it to the double boiler, to maintain the temp., but I usually don't.  The whey will start separating from the curd.
After 30 minutes, the curds and whey should be well separated. (Photos Below)

Set the colander over a large pot, and line it with the cloth. Pour the curds and whey, into the colander.
Once it has stopped dripping, (about 20 minutes) Gather the edges of the cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Invert a saucer, over the curd, (still in the colander) And set the gallon jug, on top, to press out the whey. Let it sit for about 2 hours.
After 2 hours, unwrap the curd, and set it on a piece of parchment. Cut it into 1/2 to 1inch cubes.

The next step is called cheddar-ing.
Put the curds in a small bowl. Fill a larger bowl, with very hot tap water. Set the bowl with the curds in it. Floating. This will draw out more whey, and bring out some of the flavor.
Every 45 minutes or so, drain the whey, from the curds, and change the water in the bowl. trying to maintain a 95* temp. (It doesn't have to be exact) continue to do this for 3 hours.
after 3 hours, drain the whey, one last time. Sprinkle the salt, over the curds, and toss to coat.
Set the curds, back on the parchment. Cover and allow them to dry.
You can leave them out, for up to 36 hours, but I prefer to leave them out, until I go to bed, then put them in a bag, and refrigerate, until the next day, when they are ready to eat, after 12 hours. I prefer to let them set in the fridge, for one more day before serving, they really have a stronger flavor then. It's best to eat them within a few days, or they begin to lose flavor.

Heat the milk to 85*f. Remove it from the heat, and whisk in the culture. Let stand 1 hour. After the hour is up, stir in the rennet. Let stand another hour, or until you get a clean break.

This is a clean break, it is about the texture of thick pudding. Run a knife through it, see if it separates, and leaves a knife mark, and you can pull it apart, just a bit. If not, wait a bit longer, 5 minutes can make all the difference.

By the time you reach 100*f, you will see the curds starting to form. (This is from a batch I added herbs to.)

Once you've reached 100*, try to maintain a constant temp., for 30 minutes. Turn the burner off, remove the pan from the double boiler, and set it on the counter. It rose to 105* a few minutes later. (which is fine) but after 20 minutes, it dropped to 99*f, so I set it back on the warm double boiler, without a flame. It maintained 99*f for the final 10 minutes.

Place 2 layers of cheese cloth, or a very thin kitchen towel, over a colander. Pour the curds and whey into the colander.(I save the whey, for baking, and making  ricotta cheese)

Once it has slowed dripping, (about 20minutes.) loosely gather the edges of the towel, and secure with a rubber band.

Place a saucer, over the towel, and set a gallon of water on top, to press out more whey, and give you a nice, solid block. Check after 2hours, you should have a solid, rubbery mass.

Unwrap the curd, and gently set it on a piece of parchment. it is solid, but still fragile.

Cut the curd into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. If you taste it at this point, it really doesn't have much flavor yet. That comes from the next 2 steps, called 'Cheddaring', and age-ing

Cheddar-ing: Put the curds in a smaller bowl. Fill a larger bowl, half full of very hot tap water. This will draw out more whey from the curds, and give the cheese more flavor too. About every 45 minutes, drain the whey from the curds, and dump the water in the bowl, adding fresh hot water. You are trying to maintain a temp. of around 95*, but it doesn't have to be exact.

After 3 hours, Drain the whey, one last time. Sprinkle the salt over the curds, and toss to coat.

Set the curds, back on the parchment, and cover with a cloth. Now let it dry, until you go to bed. while it's drying, it will also be developing flavor. Before I go to bed, I put the curds, in a plastic bag, and refrigerate, where they will further develop flavor. They will be ready to eat in about 12 hours, but I prefer to wait one more day, before serving. Then they have a really good texture and flavor.

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