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Adventures in At-Home Cheesemaking

Mar 19, 2015

by Sarah Lohman

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour

The back rooms of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in New York City smell like toasted cheese and barnyard. That’s because 52,000 pounds of fresh milk arrive at 2 a.m. every day from local farms to be made into 5,000 pounds of cheese. I had arrived at Beecher’s on a Monday in early March to meet Andrew, the head cheesemaker, and try my hand as a guest cheesemaker for a day.

After dressing in a hair net, rubber gloves, a smock, and a pair of slightly-too-big galoshes, I stepped into a room of stainless steel and ruthless sanitation. Over the next six hours, I helped an extremely muscular team of cheesemakers transform that farm-fresh milk into a cheddar-like cheese known as Beecher’s Flagship. The milk was pasteurized before bacterial cultures and rennet were introduced, to add flavor and and curdle the milk. I used a cheese harp to slice the semi-solid milk into jiggly, finger-like curds, which slowly drained of their liquid whey. Finally, the curds were cut apart again before being salted and compressed into molds to be aged for 18 months to four years. Your arms, shoulders and back don’t know pain until they’ve spent a full day’s shift leaning over metal troughs to shovel curds into 60-lb. cheese molds

Exhausted but intrigued at day’s end, I wanted to bring the cheesemaking experience home with me — only on a much smaller scale and without the need for secondhand galoshes. Luckily, that’s possible with a kit from Green Cheesemaking or Urban Cheesecraft. The Deluxe DIY Cheese Kit from Urban Cheesecraft includes supplies and instructions to make mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese, queso blanco and paneer. Unlike the cheddar I had made at Beecher’s, these are all known as “fresh cheeses.” They originate from climates where it’s too warm and humid for cheese to age; they are designed to be made and consumed right away.

I decided to start with paneer because, according to the kit’s recipe booklet, it is a “non-fail cheese.” (I needed to start simple, since I had already shattered the thermometer that came with the kit by dropping it on the kitchen floor.) It’s also a fun cheese to cook with: paneer doesn’t melt and can be fried until crispy, but it absorbs sauces well.

To begin, I heated one gallon of non-homogenized and low-temperature pasteurized whole milk, bought from a local organic grocery. When the milk reached 200 degrees, I stirred in crystals of citric acid to curdle the milk. The curds formed immediately, big and fat, and smelled very cheesy. I pressed the curds together in a cheese form to drain, then set it aside to be made into a traditional Indian curry, saag paneer.

Feeling confident, I gathered the ingredients for mozzarella. Unlike the other cheeses in the kit, Mozzarella is curdled with rennet, rather than with citric acid. After the curds cook, you stretch them by pulling on the cheese with two spoons and folding it over. But when I heated my milk, I wasn’t paying attention, and the temperature got way too high. My mozzarella never quite formed into a satisfying ball; it was more like a cheese puddle. But the instructions that came with my kit were very supportive — they basically said, “That’s okay! Just eat it.” It tasted like mozzarella, even if it didn’t look like it.

vintage cheese molds

Vintage ceramic cheese molds from FrenchVintage4You

For my final attempt, ricotta, I went off-book. Although most ricotta is made from whole milk today, Andrew had told me that ricotta is traditionally made from whey, the liquid left behind after the cheese curds have formed. It’s watery, milky-tasting, and loaded with protein and calcium — and I had gallons of it left over from my first few batches of cheese.

I heated the whey to 170 degrees, added salt, then citric acid when the temperature reached 185. It was amazing to see the curds rise; you really do get the last bit of oomph out of the whey. After I strained the liquid, I had about 3 tablespoons of ricotta to smear on my breakfast toast and drizzle with honey.

sarahcheesesecondimage

Sarah Lohman’s finished cheeses.

Making cheese at home was fun and easy — if not all that practical. At the end of the day, it’s simpler and more cost-effective just to buy cheese from the store. But that’s not really why we take on projects like this, is it? It’s the thrill of discovery and the special pride of presenting something unusually homemade (and delicious) to our friends and family.

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85 comments

  • WildRoseAndSparrow

    Liana from WildRoseAndSparrow said 3 years ago

    Those look amazing! I live in Quebec, which has some of the most diverse range of cheeses, second only to France, in the world, so needless to say, I've developed a taste (and by taste, I mean deep love) for quality artisanal cheeses. Some of my favorites are brie and mimolette, which both remind me of my time in Paris, and Pleine-lune, a Quebec cheese that is specially crafted and aged in maple ashes to give it that special, discreet smoky taste. This is such an interesting look at the artistry and hard work that goes into making these delicious cheeses. I'll have to try this some time. Delicieux!

  • suemako

    Sue from SuesAkornShop said 3 years ago

    Wow, this would be so neat to be able to make!!

  • muchandquick

    Kalisa L. from MuchandQuick said 3 years ago

    What fun! I would love to spend a day working as a cheesemaker to see how it is all done! I am always jealous of restaurants that get to work with huge wheels of cheese as well as lots of artisanal cheeses. The cheese making kits shown here look like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

  • FreshRetroGallery

    Elizabeth Knaus from FreshRetroGallery said 3 years ago

    My husband’s grandmother used to say, "cheese is better than candy". I’d have to agree, with chocolate running a close second. Keep up the good work, Sarah.

  • DianasDecor

    Diana Tinelli from DianasDecor said 3 years ago

    Mmmmmmm cheese, my favorite! I'm Italian so I would love to make my own cheese. Also makes it a fun activity! Thanks for sharing something I've never knew you could do before!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 3 years ago

    Looks like fun. Thanks for the info!

  • saraermisch

    Sara Ermisch from LeosLovelyTreasures said 3 years ago

    looks yummy!

  • mschoene92

    Jeanne S from EclecticSageVintage said 3 years ago

    Great article. I'm in love with cheese and spending the day helping professional cheesemakers with a batch sounds like a dream, sore arms and all. I've made my own ricotta and I can attest to the joy and pride in making it yourself. I've been wanting to make mozzarella (because I think homemade cheese will take my lasagna to the next level) but didn't know where to find rennet. Now I do! Thanks for the info and inspiration!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 3 years ago

    Love this! Our family has a blast when we make our own cheese. The kids love it!

  • sheepyshoes

    Jen Root from SheepyShoes said 3 years ago

    I LOVE cheese, as do my daughters. I think it'd be really fun to make cheese with them sometime. I got a peek inside the cheesemaking process in Wisconsin years ago, and it is fascinating. Thanks for sharing how we can do it ourselves!

  • Lousje

    Marlous P from Lousje said 3 years ago

    Cheese! I love cheese!

  • truetexasscents

    Beverly Mahanay Short from truetexasscents said 3 years ago

    Love to snack on cheese sticks and so do the grandkids. I surprise them sometimes with Pepper Jack. Good story.

  • linekeessed

    Lineke Essed from StudioLinus said 3 years ago

    In our family cheese is a big Yes as well! Great stuff to do with my little boy when he gets just a little bit older! I doubt we will be very patient though hahaha... We'll probably won't make it to the end of the cheesemaking process ;P

  • tinastjohnjewelry

    Tina St. John from TinaStJohnJewelry said 3 years ago

    Yum Yum! I'm French and LOVE cheese. Nice story.

  • Agasart

    Aga from AgasJourney said 3 years ago

    Yum!!!

  • macb25

    Blake from Love4paintings said 3 years ago

    This story sounds very delicious. I did not know that cheese requires so much attention and hard work. I am a huge fan of cheese and sausage. My favorite cheese is cheddar.

  • WoodsyWools

    ACR from WoodsyWools said 3 years ago

    Looks delish !!

  • BlueSeaPaintShop

    ACR from IntoTheBluePaintShop said 3 years ago

    This looks fabulous, I love cheese!

  • DeepSilence

    Sonja Bikić from DeepSilence said 3 years ago

    I like this.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 3 years ago

    Great article!

  • ByBunni

    Bunni Russell from ByBunni said 3 years ago

    I really enjoyed this piece and it makes me want to make cheese. It was fun to dream of having the time to make cheese and will make me appreciate the work that goes into each the process with each biet of cheese.

  • shellydbutter

    Shellie from ButterandCompanies said 3 years ago

    Wow, great article...can't wait to try it!!!

  • SuzisPillowStudio

    Suzi from ThePillowStudioShop said 3 years ago

    This sounds so fun! Thanks for the fantastic post that allowed me to actually imagine myself doing something so cool.

  • gooddove

    Brenna Stocker from SunsetCrafts said 3 years ago

    cool I love making things like this at home thank you for the article <3

  • WetDesert

    MJ Toops from WetDesertVintage said 3 years ago

    Fantastic article. I absolutely love cheese and have favorited a few cheese kits on Etsy to purchase. This article reminded me that I really need to buy a kit and try to make my own cheese!

  • thedollsuniqe

    Beata Uniqe from thedollsunique said 3 years ago

    Delicieux!

  • beachbabyblues

    Susan Wagner from beachbabyblues said 3 years ago

    ~ Oh my goodness !!! ~ I dream of owning goats and making cheese ! Perhaps I should start with a KIT instead ~ Thanks for sharing this !

  • madebymirjam

    Mirjam from madebymirjam said 3 years ago

    amazing!

  • MyChouchou

    MyChouchou from MyChouChou said 3 years ago

    looks so delicious! if i had to choose one food on earth it would be CHEESE!!!!! and my drink of choice would be earl grey tea with lemon and honey. I would be super happy just drinking my tea and eating cheese for the rest of my life, ha, ha : )

  • thewildplum

    Christina from TheWildPlum said 3 years ago

    ***Moving hands back and forth like Wallace*** "CHEESE!" I shall never be a cheese maker BUT I will always be a cheese appreciator. Thank you for this article!

  • petitemignonette

    Lisa from TheCreativeHearth said 3 years ago

    We have made paneer before and it was both fun and delicious. But I have never thought to look for a kit to try other cheeses. I think we will try some mozzarella next. Thanks for the information :-)

  • aleksandrawhittle

    Aleksandra Whittle from AWDeBijoux said 3 years ago

    Looks yummy!

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 3 years ago

    ♥︎ CHEESE ♥︎ Such an impressive process, I have a new found respect for cheese and shall enjoy it that much more now!

  • nshprinz

    Naama Shprinz from Juli711 said 3 years ago

    Amazing and inspiring

  • mytreasury

    Mia Blaz from MiaBlazdesign said 3 years ago

    mmmmmm!!!

  • WendyWildcraft

    Wendy Joubert from WendyWildcraft said 3 years ago

    I'll have to share this with my husband. He's been wanting to try his hand at making us some cheese

  • mlr2com7

    Roost Paperie from RoostPaperie said 3 years ago

    Making cheese at home has been on my bucket list for awhile. This year we have collected 3 Nigerian Dwarf Goats and 2 Nubian goats in hopes of kicking off our cheese making. I am thrilled to read this thread and get some pointers.

  • rellyh

    Relly from RelsFindsNapaValley said 3 years ago

    I'm a Cheese Lover. Thanks for sharing this cheesemaking process.

  • simplystonedjewel

    Joseph Wyse from SimplyStonedJewelry said 3 years ago

    Yea! Something new to try! Thanks for sharing!

  • skylaboutique

    Wirat J. from SkylaBoutique said 3 years ago

    I am always curious how cheese is made and this really helps. :) Homemade food are always great. You know what you are actually eating not to mention fun factor in the process.

  • KnittyVet

    Kendra Ann from KnittyVet said 3 years ago

    Oh man, now I'm really hungry. Cheese!!!

  • christelpaola

    christelpaola from ConstellationKnits said 3 years ago

    sounds like a great project! never thought about making my own cheese :)

  • allwood1

    allwood1 from AllWoodToo said 3 years ago

    Not sure I would try making cheese myself...Nice post..Thanks for sharing!!

  • Concertino

    Carol from Concertino said 3 years ago

    Impressive and amazing~

  • kirstylucas1

    Kirsty Lucas from lovegivesafairytale said 3 years ago

    They look fantastic! x

  • wigginssandy

    Sandy Wiggins from SandyWigginsImages said 3 years ago

    Delicious feature. Thanks!

  • Zaaina

    Purvi Desai from Zaaina said 3 years ago

    This is such a fascinating story. I have been really impressed with those DIY cheese making kits ever since I came across them on Etsy few months ago. Being an Indian, I know how paneer is the main ingredient of many of our vegetarian dishes so I learned how to make paneer an old fashioned way and still make that. I can't wait to try making those cheese since I am a huge fan of cheese and can eat cheese all day long. I was really impressed with the process Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is made of. I always learn something from each story, and this article taught me that we can buy anything from the store but the pleasure of making something at home is much more enjoyable. This article also gave me plenty of ideas on how I can create a kit for someone else to make simple products at home and feel as good as I do when I make each of my products.

  • lilleilu

    Kätlin from PAPERandBEAUTY said 3 years ago

    We made last year at home also a cheese, long time ripening ( we let at least 6 month to ripen) and the tase was delicious, also the texture was correct. So I think that every person who wants can make short time ripening cheese. This kit seems to be very good!

  • rhondastubbs2

    Rhonda Stubbs from RhondaCorner said 3 years ago

    This sounds like fun! It makes me want to try!

  • isewcute

    June from isewcute said 3 years ago

    I've never tried this before... sounds fun!

  • ValeriaDraws

    Valeria Poropat from ValeriaDraws said 3 years ago

    I can't eat milk but it would be such fun to try and make soy (not tofu please!) cheese. Have you tried doing it?

  • TDNCreations

    Trang Dai from TDNCreations said 3 years ago

    Wow! That looks yummy! I'm going to try it!

  • smilingrabbit

    Jessica from CreativeDollCrafts said 3 years ago

    I wish I could have milk...looks so good!!!!

  • amysfunkyfibers

    Amy Gunderson from amysfunkyfibers said 3 years ago

    I bought a kit from Urban cheese craft for my son for Christmas- It is so much fun to do with kids, plus, the results are delicious! Try the yogurt- you will never want to buy it from the store again!

  • GrayKeyDesigns

    Candy from GrayKeyDesigns said 3 years ago

    Makes me hungry!

  • katieprichard1

    katie prichard from KitAndCaboodleSupply said 3 years ago

    Love me some cheese :) That was even a nickname of mine in college :)

  • BeadingTimes

    Zeynep from ZeyJewel said 3 years ago

    thanks!!

  • admspeicher
  • bestfire

    Kou jing from bestfire said 3 years ago

    ╭︽╮╭︽╮ │ Gorgeous │ ..╲▅▅▅╱ .... ..╲ ╱ Fantastic treasury.Thank you for sharing!

  • carlina1960

    Carolyn Hoover from DonorGlassDesigns said 3 years ago

    Anything made with love is always better! Lovely!

  • ArtisanSoapInVegas

    Cristy Ramos from ArtisanBathandBody said 3 years ago

    I'm doing this without a doubt. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • ladyjazz

    ladyjazz from ladyjazz said 3 years ago

    I used to think I could never give up cheese. I LOVED it ALL. (before I knew the truth about animal agriculture) I learned that the dairy industry drives the veal industry. I learned that every piece of cheese destroys families and causes suffering. Why you ask? Only female calves are useful to dairy farmers and they need to be constantly pregnant in order to lactate. The males are considered unwanted byproducts, and are typically killed on site or sold at auction to veal producers. The mothers mourn and bellow for their stolen babies. I’ve seen footage of terrified, days-old calves with wobbly knees and their umbilical cords still attached being dragged by their ears onto the auction floor and it’s something I’ll never forget. Re-think your food choices. There are so many great alternatives to dairy.

  • HanseaticJewels

    Volker Modschiedler from HanseaticJewels said 3 years ago

    I love cheese and this is a great article. Just thinking about Riccotta on toast makes my mouth water. And now I know what those 'tea strainers' now used for tea lights really are, cheese moulds. Double great. Thanks.

  • jpstyle

    jenny present from jpstyle said 3 years ago

    Sounds delicious!

  • bennaandhanna

    benna and hanna from bennaandhanna said 3 years ago

    wow! this is amazing!

  • chotikalife1

    Chotika Prasitsaeng from ChoArtJewelry said 3 years ago

    looks yummy!!!!! i like your picture .. I think it good more than If i get it ;))

  • macheanimal

    Macheanimal animal from Macheanimal said 3 years ago

    It is Yummy!

  • TreasuredMemoryLane

    TreasuredMemoryLane from TreasuredMemoryLane said 3 years ago

    Yum yum!! I love cheese and like add it to most of my dishes. Thank for sharing.

  • TropicalGarden

    TropicalGarden from TropicalGarden said 3 years ago

    Sounds great! I love cheese but have never thought to make myself. Thanks for sharing!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 3 years ago

    Yum . I love cheese. Those cheese molds from Frenchvintage4you are beautiful. I didn't know that that's what those are for.

  • boloties
  • MadeByDawn2

    Dawn Niedetzki from Ten22CraftBoutique said 3 years ago

    Great article! I love cheese! I never knew there were kits to make cheese at home; these could be great gifts for that hard to shop for, adventurous person!!!

  • omabina70

    Sabine Miner from StudioSabine said 3 years ago

    new trend - back in time..........that is a good thing -

  • MatkaShop

    Miri from CyanByMiriWeiss said 3 years ago

    This looks fabulous, I love cheese!

  • i4modernart

    Nandita Albright from ContemporaryArtDaily said 3 years ago

    Paneer is one of my favorites! Keep doing what you're doing!

  • divinecartomancy

    Bren from PsychicBren said 3 years ago

    I am going to fave your shop. If it were not for this little bit about you I would not have known about your tasty shop. Thank you for sharing, Bren

  • Dorinavdbrandeler

    Dorina van den Brandeler from DoriKri said 3 years ago

    Inspiring story!! I make my own ricotta cheese but definitely it's time to try those too!!!

  • HoodVintageandWool

    Elisabeth Ryan from hoodwool said 3 years ago

    yum thanks!

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna said 3 years ago

    I love cheese more than sweets !

  • naruettaya

    June from UtilizationLeather said 3 years ago

    ํYumm!!

  • deegeemariegifts

    Dee from DeegeeMarieGifts said 3 years ago

    I've always wanted to try making cheese! A kit seems like a great (and safe) way to get that experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kashuen

    Kashuen Collectibles from Kashuen said 3 years ago

    That is so cool. I've got to try it. It will be great lesson for my homeschool kid too. Thanks!

  • SallysVintageKitchen

    Sally from SallysVintageKitchen said 3 years ago

    Great article! Looks delicious. I love cheese. Thank you for sharing!

  • natthanitpoonphon

    Yadaluk from Muntra said 3 years ago

    Wow..!! I love cheese.

  • MyLoftVintage

    My Loft Vintage from MyLoftVintage said 2 years ago

    Brilliant idea!

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