Equipment for the Home Cheese-Maker
LARGE STOCK POT
You need a big stock pot that can hold up to four gallons of milk (a 20 qt pot). Look for a non reactive material, stainless steel is best. I have two types of stock pots, I bought two at Wal-Mart which work fine, but my favorite is the Norpro KRONA 20 Quart Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Lid. The Norpro is hands down better than any other pot I have for three reasons, first it’s wider than it is tall (makes it easier to stir and see into!), the handles are wide and easy to grip and the lid is stainless.
WATER BATH CANER W/ RACK
You probably have one of these stashed away, use it. You don’t need to keep a separate one for cheesemaking. The one I have is available here.
A thermometer is crucial, don’t skimp here get a good one. You want a thermometer that is 12” long, stainless steel and measures zero degrees to 220 degrees. Notice I said “ZERO” degrees. I have the Tel-Tru 12” from Cheese-making.com and Dial Thermometer 12” Probe Stainless Steel from Amazon, both of them work well.
STIRRING, STRAINING & MEASURING
- Long handled stainless steel spoon: Stainless Steel Spoon – 21″ This one on Amazon is long but it doesn’t have a curve on the end to keep it from falling in the pot. I ordered my spoon directly from Hubert (It’s called a professional serving spoon).
- Long handled stainless steel skimmer: Stainless Steel Skimmer. You need this. Get one with the curve at the end.
- Long handled stainless steel curd 12” knife: 12″ Curd Knife
- Measuring spoons including the mini measurements down to smidgen. I bought this set on Amazon, Norpro 18/10 Stainless Steel Measuring Spoon Set (Including Mini) to have on hand just for cheese-making. It’s nice because it includes all the sizes smidgen up to TBS.
- Stainless Steel Measuring Cups. Don’t use your kitchen set. Buy another set for cheese-making! 🙂
- A 18” Stainless Whisk. You need a looonng whisk. I never could find of theses at Wal-Mart or any Department store. You’ll use this to cut the curd on hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterrey Jack etc. I could never get the curd a uniform small size needed for hard cheeses without using a whisk. I got this idea from Margaret Morris’ DVD.
- Stainless Steel Colander. Don’t use your kitchen colander, buy another colander just for cheesemaking.
- Mesh Strainer Stainless Steel. I use this strainer all the time!
If you’re handy or you know someone who is, you can build your own cheese press.
If you decide to make your own press, I recommend looking into the dutch style, or one that uses nuts and bolts to squeeze out the whey instead of actual separate weights to reach 50 lbs max weight (for hard cheeses). After I used our homemade press for two years, we decided to get this one (pictured) from New England Cheesemaking.
I have the press that has springs. It comes with a stainless steel mold, follower and whey dripping tray. I like this system because it’s compact, doesn’t have any weights to mess with, it’s easy to clean and it presses great cheese.
If you want to buy a beautiful handmade dutch press, I recommend calling Homestead Heritage, ask for their gift Barn. You can order one of there Dutch presses and they’re made right there in Waco, TX. Really beautiful presses.
I bought all my molds from New England Cheesemaking. I have their soft cheese, Camembert molds (see below picture with Isabella), stainless steel hard cheese mold (see above picture under cheese press) and followers, Tomme molds and follower and pyramid molds.
I started out with a homemade PVC molds (See picture taken in class at Homestead Heritage), they worked well, but after a while I decided to invest the ones I have now.
Cheese Wax: Cheese wax is an edible grade of paraffin, which is an industrial waste bi product of crude oil. To get to paraffin, it’s distilled and then purified by solvent refining. I can’t in good faith recommend cheese wax. I have a whole crock pot of the stuff. I used cheese wax for years until I figured out what else I could use. If you want to use cheese wax, I’ll sell you mine, discounted! I despise cheese wax.
If I’m going through all the trouble to make a natural superior product to what I can get in the store, why should I use crude oil to cover my cheese?! And the worst part is it DOESN’T WORK WELL! If the temperature and humidity aren’t just right, or if it sticks to something, it cracks… and when it cracks, mold get’s in there. Also, cheese can’t breathe in cheese wax. I am not a fan of cheese wax.
Beeswax Cheese Wax: Ok, this is cool and it does work the same as paraffin wax. I have a crock pot full of it. It’s natural, because beeswax is natural. It has similar downsides to paraffin wax, it can crack and it sticks to stuff and then that pulls off the wax… and you’ll have to rewax. Also, when the wax cracks, molds get’s under the wax! It’s better than paraffin, but it’s really frustrating when it doesn’t work well and you spent all day making a cheese! Also, cheese can’t breathe in beeswax. I had several wheels covered in beeswax and they cracked so I took all the wax off and recovered with bandage wrap.
Vacuum Wrap: This works. I have the FoodSaver V3835 Vacuum Food Sealer. Vacuum wrap is not perfect and I’ve been told that it is like putting a baby in a plastic bag. The befits of vacuum wrap are that the cheese will retain all it’s moisture, you’ll have a higher yield of finished cheese and all that’s required in aging is to flip the cheese (no brushing or washing etc.). The truth is, cheese is a living breathing food. For the cheese to really “culture” and turn into a fantastic super food, cheese needs to breathe. Cheese can’t breathe in plastic wrap! I do vacuum pack some of my cheeses when I don’t have the time to bandage rap.
Cream wax with mold inhibitors: This works and it does allow your cheese to breathe a bit more than wax or vacuum pack. If you use cream wax, just put two layers of this as the outside coating and that’s it. Do not put wax on top of that, it will trap a layer of moisture and will make your cheese bitter. I bought my supply of Cream wax from Glengarry Cheesemaking.
Bandage rap: This is my favorite way to cover hard cheese that need a protective coating! Bandage rap is done using a fat (lard, tallow, or butter) and cheese cloth. The fat is rubbed on the cheese and layers of cloth are put on and then more fat is rubbed on the cloth. During the aging time, all kinds of neat molds grow on the cheese and the molds eat the fat instead of your cheese! This is the best way to protect your cheese during aging because it’s natural and your cheese can breathe! This is the traditional way to age and preserve hard cheese.
Natural rinds: There are so many cheeses that you can make that have natural rinds, no protective coating required! Usually these cheeses have a blooming rind (e.g white mold on Camembert) or they are wiped/brushed down 2-3 times a week with either a culture, olive oil, or a mixture of vinegar, salt and water. Love love love natural rind cheeses.
Don’t get “cheese cloth” from the store it’s like dental floss and the holes are to big. Also, it’s a mess and it doesn’t last and is a big pain to use. What you need is called “butter cheese cloth”, it is a smaller weave. The two places I buy from are New England Cheesemaking and Glengarry Cheesemaking. I recommend them for small quantities. If you start bandage rapping your cheese and use cheese cloth in your molds and also in your every day life in the kitchen (like I do), than I will be sweet to you and share my secret I learned from the folks at Homestead Heritage. Buy your cheese cloth in bulk!
If you use lots of cheese cloth, like I do. Buy it in bulk. I bought 100 yards of there tightest weave cheese cloth wholesale from DeRoyal Textiles (800) 845-1062. With shipping it was around $90 for 100 yards.
Refrigerator: If you use your refrigerator, it’ll work, but the cheese will probably take twice as along to age and the cheese might not turn out as well as it would at the ideal temperature for most cheeses between 50-55 degrees.
College Dorm Room Fridge: This works, but you may have trouble getting the fridge warm enough, around 50-55 degrees is your target. There are ways to over ride pre-program refrigerator temps and put on some kind of temperature thermostat thing… but I never got into that so I can’t tell you what to get.
Wine Cooler/Fridge: This is my favorite option. Wine and cheese require the same temperature, 50 to 55 degrees. A wine cooler is preprogrammed for cheese! I started out with one wine cooler and than recently bought another 🙂 One fridge is for blooming rinds, washed rinds and natural rind cheeses and the other cooler is for hard cheese that are bandaged wrapped, vacuum rapped and waxed cheeses. I bought this Frigidaire 35-Bottle Wine Cooler at Lowe’s brand new for just over $20o. The only adjustments I made to the fridge was to remove the wine shelves and put wood ones. I also have a small humidifier on the bottom of the fridge.
I bought the Travel-Size Personal Humidifier on Amazon for my cheese cave. See picture above in left cheese cave at the bottom. I’ve been very happy with it. It’s small and doesn’t take up a lot of room. Blooming rinds, natural rind washed rind cheese need a high humidity around 80 to 90 percent. I tried putting several open jars of water in the cave as well as wet sponges sticking out and hanging wet cloths that I had to rewet every other day… I still could not keep up my humidity. A humidifier did the trick. I have it set on the lowest setting and I refill the bottle about once a week.
You need a hydrometer. It measures humidity and this is a very important measurement if you have a cheese cave. Spend the extra money and buy the Thermo-Hygrometer by ThermoWorks, because it’s easy to use and has a large display you can see without opening up your cheese cave.
I have two different hydrometer models I picked up at Wal-Mart and they’re confusing and the screen is small and difficult to decipher (See pic, it’s on the left).
The ThermoWorks hydrometer is almost idiot proof… I said almost. I made a silly error with it. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting an accurate reading until I wrote into New England Cheese-Making Company and asked them what I was doing wrong… you need to put the whole device in your cheese cave. Let me say that again, put the whole hydrometer in the cave!!! The hydrometer only reads humidity from the base. That long string thing only reads temperature.
This is an optional accessory to cheesemaking. I bought the Hanna Instruments HI 98128W pH Meter. If you’re new to cheesemaking, don’t buy a pH meter. Tracking pH is a confusing world so wait until you have some cheesemaking experience before you get into the world of pH.
The Hanna Instruments HI 98128W pH Meter requires three liquids to calibrate. You can buy this meter on Amazon or from Cheesemaking.com.
CHEESE TRACKER NOTE PAD
The simplest way I found to keep track of all my cheeses is with a simple yellow legal pad on a clip board. Simple, inexpensive and it works!