Cheddar Fail (and save!)
The beauty of a delicious cheddar can not be understated. A well-aged cheddar can add a knock-out punch of flavor with just a few crumbles or be the star of the show when wrapped up in phyllo dough with some fig jam and baked.
Making most cheese types is not a fast process. With the exception of some 30 -90 minute recipes (mozzarella, feta, chevre to name a few), making cheese requires babying. There’s usually a temperature to hit, another temperature to hold, curd cutting, more temperature waiting and then the draining, turning, pressing, draining, turning. This process takes anywhere between 8 to 36 hours depending on what you’re making.
In this case, I was making a cheddar. Well, alas … the best laid plan became a soupy soppy mess. There was no way that this was going to be a beautifully aged cheddar wheel.
2 gallons pasteurized whole cow’s milk
½ teaspoon Mess II powdered mesophilic starter culture
¼ teaspoon liquid annatto diluted in ¼ cup cool nonchlorinated water (optional)
½ teaspoon calcium chloride diluted in ¼ cup cool nonchlorinated water
½ teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool nonchlorinated water
One 12-ounce bottle dark ale or stout at room temperature
1 tablespoon kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal brand) or cheese salt
1. Heat the milk in a 10-quart stockpot set in a 98 degrees Fahrenheit water bath over low heat.
2. Bring milk to 88 degrees in 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
3. Add the starter over the milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Using an up-and-down motion, mix well using a whisk. Cover and keep at 88 degrees for 45 minutes.
4. Add the annatto (optional) and gently whisk for 1 minute.
5. Add the calcium chloride and gently whisk for 1 minute. Then add the rennet and gently whisk for 1 minute.
6. Cover and let sit at 88 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until the curds give a clean break.
7. Still maintaining the 88-degrees, cut the curds in ½-inch pieces and let sit for 5 minutes.
8. Over low-heat, slowly bring the curds up to 102 degrees over 40 minutes, stir continuously to keep the curds from matting together. They will release whey, firm up slightly and shrink to the size of peanuts.
This is where I diverged from the book
9. Heat the cheddar all the way up to 140 degrees for at least 15 minutes. This meant that the cheese will be more like a mozzarella in consistency and ooey, gooey.
10. Cut it into 1 x 2 strips and soak the cheese for an hour in a dark stout beer.
11. Put it in cheesecloth and leave overnight to drain. (I left it in a press, hoping that the cheddar would magically come together but, it didn’t.)
12. Sprinkled the 2 pounds of cheese with 2 tablespoons of salt, cover this with a wet cheesecloth and leave it in the fridge overnight to sit.
By morning, the salt absorbed into the cheese. It tasted like a squeaky cheese curd with a hint of beer and oak. The salt gave it a great kick. I served it to the team at Bramble Berry with apricot-jalapeño preserves.
My lesson learned from this experience was that in cheesemaking, like soapmaking, temperatures matter. And, that just because something didn’t work out, like the Hot Process Hero for soapmaking, you can sometimes save a batch of cheese and have a yummy finished product, even if it’s not quite what you thought it would be.