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These are the very basic steps for home cheese making. Start simple with fresh yogurt or chevre and then work up to feta and ripened cheeses. Cheese making is a relaxing, healthy hobby and a great way to teach practical microbiology to children.
When making cheese, we are using specific bacterial cultures to ripen our milk. We want to avoid contamination of this milk by unwanted bacteria so that the good bacteria we have chosen can do its job.
CONTROLLING THE TEMPERATURE
The kitchen sink is the best choice for this. The easiest way to keep a pot or vat of milk up to temperature is to put it into a sink full of hot water. As the milk begins to warm to target temperature and the bath begins to cool, drain some water from the sink and add some more boiling water. When starting the process, you want the water outside the pot to be about 10-15F hotter than your target milk temperature when starting the process. As you get within 7-8 degrees of your target, reduce this more. Always keep the final bath 2-3 degrees above the milk temperature.
Temperature control can be a bit of a trick to work out in the beginning. To increase the temperature slowly, add some boiling water to the water bath so that it stays about 5-10 degrees warmer than the milk temperature. Fortunately, this slow heating is only for the first 10-15 minutes. Once the curds have released a good deal of whey, you can heat much faster.
TESTING FOR CLEAN BREAK
When you poke your finger into the curd at a 45 degree angle and the curd breaks neatly around your finger, the curd is ready to be cut.
Wait 5 minutes and try again.
Cut it when it's ready or it will continue to firm up and will not drain properly.
CUTTING THE CURDS
This is hard to describe, so here's a page from our book, Home Cheese Making. Click through to read it.
You may use a regular long knife, but it might scratch your pot. We sell a curd knife for this purpose.
It increases the surface area from which the curd can drain its whey. The size of the cut determines how fast and how much the curds will drain. Some recipes call for cutting 1/2" cubes, some for 3/4" and some for 1/4."
You don't ever have to measure acidity if you don't want to. For thousands of years cheese was made without taking such measurements. However, in the past, folks were handed down their recipes from previous generations and the same cheeses were made year after year. Today, it's a little harder to know what's going on with your milk.
The cheese making process is largely a matter of acid development - measuring the initial acid to make sure the milk has not developed too much acidity and then monitoring the rate of acid development during the cheese making process. Most cheeses have a target acid development profile that defines the style. Hence, acid monitoring during the process is a very good idea. This can be done as Titratable Acidity (TA%) or pH.
Home cheese makers do best to measure pH because it yields results that are consistent from batch to batch.