When I was a teenager, I lived less than a block away from a Sargento cheese factory. I also toured other smaller, family-owned facilities that produced cheese. I was fascinated with the entire cheesemaking process and the chemistry behind it. The ingredients are rather simple, but produces a wide variety of flavors. All that is really required is some milk and rennet. From that point on, I knew I would have to make my own cheese someday and experiment.
I am know for my various projects. In a typical Sara fashion, I went big like Clark Griswold from the Christmas Vacation movie. Well... alright, maybe not THAT big.
I have gone to a few wine and cheese events, but never heard of anyone ever hosting a cheesemaking party. Why not? I decided to go for it. So I invited a few of my friends over to our house for some cheesy time!
I didn't want to have superior knowledge about the entire cheesemaking process, so I conducted only very limited research in order to find out what supplies I needed to have on hand for the party. I wanted to experience everything at the same time as my friends without knowing what the final outcome would be.
Well, it ended up being such a hit! Everyone enjoyed themselves. We sampled fresh mozzarella and made some gouda. After everyone left, I decided to make one pound of cheddar.
I strongly encourage people to host a cheesemaking party. Before doing so, however, I have the following tips to offer.
1. Invest in a good dairy thermometer. The cheesemaking kits that we used included a dairy thermometer without a clip. Maintaining the correct temperature throughout the entire process is critical. However, we didn't want to always have to hold the dairy thermometer while also pouring or stirring. I purchased one that could be clipped to the side of the pot.
It worked wonders! It also meant that we had our hands free to communicate using sign language. Sweet!
2. Buy or make a cheese press. When we decided to make some gouda, I did not realize that the curds needed to be squeezed at a specific pressure for a certain period of time. We quickly improvised and this was what we came up with:
Once we put the curds in a cheesecloth lined cheese mold, we basically put the mold inside a stainless steel bowl and topped it with another bowl that had two five-pound dumbbells stuffed with a bunch of dish towels to limit slipping. Even though it did the trick, it ended up being such a balancing act to make sure that the dumbbells did not fall. Guess what? It did and caused a small dent in our wooden kitchen floor. Probably not the smartest thing to do.
3. Buy whole milk. Cheese requires a lot of milk. However, I did not exactly anticipate just how much. My husband probably thought I was crazy when I had him go to the store to purchase milk. He ended up buying so much milk that our refrigerator was literally full of milk-fifteen gallons total.
Even though we were successfully able to make some cheese with minimally pasteurized, store-bought whole milk, the curds actually ended up being a bit weak. When I made the cheddar, I replaced one pint of the whole milk with heavy cream and saw better results.
4. Use stainless steel pots. Let's face it. The cheesemaking process can be a rather messy business. Stainless steel made everything easier to clean.
5. Have a lot of patience. Mozzarella was easy and quick. But let's just say that I did not realize how much time gouda and cheddar cheese required. However, I should have connected the dots because I have purchased cheeses that were aged six months or so from the store before.
But you know what I say now? It is a good reason to invite your friends for another party-this time to taste the cheese!
What other tips do you have to offer? I'd be interested in hearing from you!
After having hosted a cheesemaking party, I developed a new appreciation for cheese because there really is a lot that goes into the process with more steps than I originally anticipated.
I am already thinking about what my next cooking project turned into a party will be.