The Very Fancy French Cheese Cave (cheese recipes and homesteading lists)

My fancy, French cheese cave arrived today. Well, it’s a mini fridge, but it will work the same!

The cheese cave does not take up much space. It has shelves built in. At the very, very lowest setting, the mini fridge will be around 55 degrees. Which just so happens to be perfect for aging cheese.

Use a laser thermometer to check temps often. I turned the dial down a little further.

One must take care to keep a drip pan under the tiny freezer compartment, because it will not get cold enough to stay frozen, so it will drip. That moisture is just the right amount of humidity to age cheese.

Once a week, wipe down shelves with soapy water, taking care to leave no residue that could permeate the cheese. Mold will start having a party, because that is what mold does when it is given ample amounts of cheese and temperate weather. Never mind it, it will not hurt you. Just wipe off mold from aging cheese with salt water (1/2 lb sea salt to 1/2 gallon hot water until dissolved. Keep in refrigerator.) Turn the cheeses over once a week.

Make sure to label the cheese. They all do begin to look amazingly alike after awhile. This one is a Parmesan cheese I made that will be ready next year on my birthday in April. It is already almost three months old and is getting a nice layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.

I have a hard Italian cheese in the press. A woman reached out to me on Facebook and offered me my dear, dear departed friend and farmgirl business pal, Nancy’s cheese press! Lots of homestead memories right there sitting on the counter. The cheese will go into a brine this evening (same sea salt recipe as above) and then dry for a few days, then go into a red wine bath for another day or two, then will age for three weeks. (for a trip down memory lane, click here) (for the Italian cheese recipe that is no longer in the new additions of Home Cheesemaking, click here)

The soft cheeses, like Chevre, stay in the regular refrigerator and should be eaten in about a week. The cheese cave is for cheese that is aged longer than a week, typically 3 weeks to 9 months. (to learn how to make soft goat cheese, click here)

Even though we just moved onto our new homestead a month ago and are missing key elements to a self sustaining homestead (like goats, sheep, and gardens), there are still plenty of ways to homestead without a homestead while getting a homestead set up! The gal down the street sells me her milk that I make cheese out of. I purchase beautiful yarns (or use what I have!) and am getting ready to crochet some beautiful pieces for fall. I can tend to my chickens, pray that my farm dog will like goats, get the goat fencing put up, break down a processed chicken for supper, and make kombucha and other delicious additions to a healthy, happy homestead. Which now has a very fancy French cheese cave.

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(Note: this particular mini fridge has ended up staying at around 44 degrees. So, I have been experimenting with using it as a cave with ice packs and that seems to be keeping it closer to temperature.)

The Kitchen Counter Cheese Cave

I was pleasantly surprised last year that not only did I enjoy making cheese, it also turned out amazing.  I usually do not enjoy tedious tasks that take a long time, but I rather enjoyed the process and definitely the result!  The problem is finding a place to store the wheels of cheese where they can properly age and develop flavors without being eaten by mice or molding.

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The proper temperature for aging cheese is 55 degrees with a bit of humidity.  I thought our old coal chute in the basement in the last house would be good but it was very dusty, had mice, and was sixty-five degrees all summer. I read that one could use a mini-fridge and I borrowed my friend’s.  The problem was that by keeping it on the highest setting to attain fifty-five degrees, the small freezer part kept leaking on the cheese.

I found a refrigerator on Craigslist that was cheap because it didn’t cool any lower than fifty degrees.  Jack pot!  After placing a bowl of water in there with the cheese I created quite a nice environment.  Then we moved.  The jostling of the fridge on the trailer made it begin to work!  It froze the cheese.  When it defrosted,  it began to mold something awful and the chickens were gifted wheels of really stinky cheese.

We tried a cooler with an ice pack.  We tried the back guest room.  No where was quite right.

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I thought about it all winter.  Fifty-five degrees.  What keeps its temperature at fifty-five degrees?  And then I recalled the wine fridge that sat atop the counter at our friends’ house.  Fifty-five degrees for good red wine.  Holy smokes, I was excited.  Wine and cheese at the ready all summer.

We found one at the hardware store on sale, no less.  I am borrowing another cheese press this summer to make more cheese.  I’ll have two going at a at time.  Manchego, a light Italian cheese, Parmesan, sharp Cheddar….oh my.  I’ve missed my own cheese.  Purchasing it in the store is sadly lacking.  The girls are due in four weeks!  Fresh milk is on the way!

Making Hard Cheese (an adventure in patience and goat’s milk)

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I plot and wait.  Plan and save up.  Read and wonder.  Then in a matter of minutes decide to buy something.  Now.  I have been dreaming (drooling) over getting a cheese press for a long time.  Ever since Nancy and I were in her kitchen separating cream to make butter and making goat’s cheese some time back. (Read here)  She said she had a cheese press that I could borrow.  When she died her children couldn’t find it and eventually the house was empty and someone has the cream separator and cheese press I had my heart set on!

Alas, we went to the homesteading store and bought one on Father’s Day.  I know, I know, that seems a bit like getting him something I want, but believe me, this will benefit him.  I have a pound and a half of cheddar ready in seven days.  We love cheese.

We were vegetarian for a long time and still don’t eat a tremendous amount of meat.  We were vegan for two years after linking the veal and inhumane factory farm conditions to cheese.  We are so grateful that we have our own milking goats now.  We love milk and we so enjoy various wheels of cheese.  The test was to take all the traditional cheese recipes designed for cow’s milk and make them with Isabelle’s milk.  I am always up for a challenge.

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Hard cheese is so much more time intensive than I imagined.  It starts with heating the milk to a certain temperature according to the recipe, adding the cultures, then stirring again and letting it rest.  During this time, with my first batch of cheddar cheese, I was stirring then set the spoon down, then added the cultures, then picked up the spoon again.  It had a small inch square piece of paper towel stuck on it.  It flew up into the air and in slow motion (well, faster than my brain could react) fell into the swirl of milk and disappeared.  Frantic, I stirred trying to pull the paper towel to the surface to remove it.  I am afraid it was never seen again.  I am not proud of this.  Whomever shares the first slices of cheddar with me next week be warned, there is a tad bit more fiber than I previously planned in said cheese.

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The next step is adding the rennet.  I naturally gravitate towards veg products so I got a vegetable rennet instead of the typical which is made out of calf stomach lining.  Of course I defeated this purpose when I bought Lipase to add to some of the recipes like the Truffle soaked Manchego I just made.  Lipase is made out of the same animal organ.  I wonder if most vegetarians know that cheese is not a vegetarian product.

The cheese sits a bit longer.  Then using a long knife I sliced the set gelatinous orb into half inch squares.  Slice across one way then the other.  A small squared checker board.  Then slice at an angle the same way.  Some recipes require stirring for thirty or more minutes.  Completely against my nature!

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Sometimes it is just time to raise the temperature.  Turn up the burner?  No sir.  Put the pot in the sink and fill with hot water little by little, using a kettle half way through to make hotter water and raise the cheese about twenty degrees no more than two degrees per five minutes.  The laser thermometer makes this more fun and taking the pot out of the water or adding more hot water to achieve desired temperature gives me just enough to do to keep from wandering off.

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The cheese curds are now set into the cheesecloth lined mold and placed under the cheese press.  I had to get real creative with weights.  I use old milk jugs and fill them with water to create which weight I need.  There are lines on the cheese press handle that have a number.  Times that number with the weight of the milk jug to come up with the total weight of pressure.  For instance if I need fifteen pounds of pressure according to the recipe I fill the jug with water until it weighs five pounds and place it on the line that says three.  For fifty pounds I place the Dutch oven with the handle on the 4 line and hope that is 50 pounds!  The pot could be twelve and a half pounds.  I don’t have a kitchen scale that goes up that high.

I have made cheddar, derby, gouda, an Italian softer hard cheese, and manchego.  Tomorrow I will make Swiss.

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I thought I could just place the cheese in the basement to age.  Wrong.  The ideal temperature needed to be between 50 and 55 degrees with 80% humidity.  My basement is 65 degrees with more humidity than upstairs, but I live in Colorado y’all, there is no humidity here.  So I may have had like ten percent humidity.  The answer came in the cheese making book.  Set an old refrigerator on the lowest setting and place a bowl of water at the bottom.  Perfect cheese cave conditions.  I put old wood planks on the plastic refrigerator shelves.  I borrowed a friend’s mini-fridge for this.  She needs it back for her classroom as school is starting soon and I am out of room in there anyway!  I need to find an old fridge.  Red wine keeps perfect in there too, incidentally.  It only needs to raise a few degrees at room temperature to be perfect to pair with the cheeses.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I am following recipes in the “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll.  I’ll let you know how they turn out!