Ever since the cheese course ended in June, I have wanted to try out my new skills at home, but haven’t quite had a chance. Mostly because I have been house-sitting in lovely Camps Bay with distractions that include taking the very naughty dogs to the beach, spending too much time outdoors in this warm and sunny winter weather, and drinking too much wine. Thankfully, a friend I met at the cheese course invited me to her farmhouse for the weekend to make cheese. I left for the west coast on a Saturday morning and soon found myself in Hopefield: an old settlement (I can’t really call it a town) of barely 5000 people (and probably more sheep) that is named after the two people who founded it in 1852, Major William Hope and Mr. Field. Not too far from the sea, Hopefield is very picturesque with its bright green fynbos speckled with fluffy white lambs, big blue sky, exotic birds (including flamingos), and wild flowers. This quiet, peaceful landscape is the perfect place to focus on making cheese.
Our milk came fresh from local Guernsey cows that produce rich milk, high in butterfat, similar to Jerseys. We wanted to make a firmer cheese and after flipping through recipes, we decided on Farmhouse Cheddar – a more rustic version of traditional cheddar that is slightly easier to make as it excludes the stacking process. Farmhouse cheddar is left to air dry on a wooden board for 2-4 days before aging, and is ready to eat in one month.
We started with raw milk and pasteurized it at 65 C for 10 mins, but this step is up to you. It is recommended to use pasteurized milk if you want to reduce the risk of unwanted bacteria, which can destroy your cheese.
- Heat 10 litres of milk to 32 C on your milk thermometer in a large pot, add the culture, and stir.
- Cover and let it “ripen” for 45 mins. Then add 5ml of rennet diluted in water and stir gently with an up-and-down motion.
- Let it sit for another 45 mins until you have a clean break with a knife through the curd.
- Cut the curd with a knife or long metal spatula into ½ inch cubes, going back and forth across the pot in a grid.
- Slowly heat the curd to 38 C taking care to not increase the temperature more than 2 degrees every 5 mins (we put the stove on “3”, which worked well). This should take about 15-20 mins. Stir the curds gently throughout this process to prevent them from clumping together.
- Let the curds rest for 5 mins. Then pour them into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Reserve the whey for ricotta later!
- Tie a knot with the ends of the cloth over a wooden spoon and let the curd hang over a pot or bucket for 1 hour. A warm, non-drafty location is best.
- Place the curds into a large bowl and break them up with your fingers into walnut-sized pieces (this is the best part!) and mix in 1 tablespoon of non-iodized sea salt.
- Press the curds firmly into a cheesecloth-lined mold and apply 10lbs of weight for 10 mins.
- Unwrap the cheese, turn it over, and re-wrap it with the cheesecloth. Apply 20lbs of weight for another 10mins (bricks and buckets of water work just fine).
- Unwrap the cheese and turn it over once more, re-dress it, and apply 50lbs of weight for 12 hours.
- Remove the cheese from the mold and unwrap it. Leave it to air dry on a wooden board at room temperature for 2-4 days (even up to a week) until a dry butter-coloured rind has formed. Turn the cheese twice a day during this period.
- Wax your cheddar (or leave it to develop a natural rind like we did) and age it for one month at 10-12 C.
We started making the cheddar in the late afternoon and finished just in time for a braai for dinner, which allowed us to leave the cheese overnight for the 12-hour pressing period. This worked really well and is a nice little surprise in the morning! The next surprise will be a month from now…