How to Make Cheese Curds for Hard Cheese

A Cheese Curds Recipe Transitions Into Hard, Pressed Cheeses

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Many dairy goat owners quickly learn how to make cheese curds and turn goat milk into soft cheese, but hard cheeses can be intimidating. Recipes may look daunting because they are longer and more involved, and your equipment needs will increase. But if you’re willing to invest more time, they are well worth the effort.

Here’s what you’ll need for hard cheeses that you might not need for soft varieties:

  1. A mold (or form) to press your cheese curds
  2. A cheese press
  3. A refrigerator for aging

First, you need a cheese form. You can find an assortment of simple forms (also referred to as molds) that won’t break the bank at many cheesemaking supply websites, or you can make one out of PVC pipe. A cheese form includes two parts: the form and the follower, which is the piece that presses the cheese curds. To make your own form from PVC pipe, just choose the size of pipe you want (I’ve made tiny forms out of 3 ½ inch diameter pipe and larger forms out of 5 inch diameter pipe), cut to the height you want (usually the height will be roughly the same at the diameter), and drill small holes on the sides for whey to drip out. Make a follower by using a jig saw to cut a round disk from a piece of thin plastic cutting board.

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A small PVC form and a larger hard cheese mold.

Next, you’ll need a cheese press. In the last issue, I taught you how to make a simple and homemade cheese press plan with buckets. You can also buy presses from cheesemaking supply companies, and you can find instructions online for building a Dutch-style press. Below are some simple presses:

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Simple homemade press.

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Simple bucket press.

Last, you’ll need an aging space, or a “cheese cave.” Few home cheesemakers I know actually have a real cheese cave, but we lovingly refer to our mini-fridges as caves! You can turn a dorm-style fridge up to its warmest temperature setting (about 50 degrees). Wine fridges are also a good option. For a more precise temperature, purchase a temperature controller and plug the refrigerator into it for a DIY cheese cave. These will cost around $50. If you don’t have these options but have a basement or a place in your house where it stays pretty cool (no more than 55 degrees ideally) this can also work as your “cave.”

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Photo by Becca Heins

Now decide what recipes to use. In the last issue, I gave you two very easy pressed and aged cheese recipes: Queso Fresco and Guido’s Italian hard cheese. If you’re ready for something more involved, a few of my favorites are Colby and Monterey Jack. Many cheesemaking books suggest you start with a farmhouse cheddar recipe, but in my experience many of these don’t yield the best results. If you want a cheddar-like cheese without doing the full cheddaring technique (which can take five or more hours), these two recipes have been quite successful and flavorful for me!

Colby is in a category known as “washed curd” cheeses, because they share the technique of removing some whey and then replacing it with water. This reduces acidity, which gives you a milder, creamier texture. Monterey Jack is a style many call a “California-style cheddar,” but it isn’t a cheddar. However, if aged long enough, it can have a sharper flavor similar to a cheddar. I have made both recipes many times, using fresh goat milk or even store-bought milks, and have been happy with the results.

How to Make Cheese Curds for Hard Cheeses: 2 Recipes

Colby

  1. Heat 1 gallon of pasteurized whole milk quickly to at least 70 degrees in a large stockpot. Add 1/8 tsp of mesophilic culture. Let hydrate for several minutes and then stir into the milk with an up and down motion.
  2. Continue warming the milk to 86 degrees. Cover and maintain temperature while the milk ripens for about 1 hour.
  3. Add 1/8 tsp liquid annatto diluted in 1/8 cup cool, non-chlorinated water. Gently stir for 1 minute.
  4. Add ¼ tsp liquid rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool, non-chlorinated water. Gently stir with up and down motion for 1 minute. Cover and let sit for 30-45 minutes until the curd makes a clean break.
  5. Cut curd into ½ inch pieces and let sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Over low heat, bring the temperature up to 104 degrees over 40-50 minutes, stirring gently but continuously.
  7. Once the cheese curds reach 104 degrees, turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes. The curds will sink to the bottom of the pot.
  8. Ladle out enough whey to expose the curds. Replace the whey with the same amount of 104 degree water. Gently stir for 2 minutes, then cover and let curds rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Line a strainer with damp butter muslin and ladle the cheese curds into it. Let drain 5 minutes.
  10. Line a mold (or form) with damp cheesecloth and gently transfer the drained cheese curds into the mold. Set the follower on top and press at 5 pounds for 1 hour.
  11. Remove cheese from form, unwrap, flip and redress, then press again at 10 pounds for 12 hours.
  12. Make 2 qts. of brine (14 oz salt to ½ gallon water) and chill to 50-55 degrees. Remove cheese from the form and place it in the brine to soak at 50-55 degrees for 8 hours.
  13. Remove cheese from brine, pat dry and air dry at room temperature for 24 hours.
  14. Wax the cheese and age at 50-55 degrees for 6-8weeks, flipping it once a week.
  15. ENJOY!
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Waxed homemade Colby. Photo by Kate Johnson

Monterey Jack

  1. Heat 1 gallon milk in stainless steel pot to 89 degrees and then sprinkle 1/8 tsp Mesophilic culture on top and allow to hydrate before stirring into milk.
  2. Cover pot and let ripen for 45 minutes, keeping milk as close to 89 degrees as possible.
  3. Dilute ¼ tsp liquid rennet (or ¼ tablet) in ¼ cup non-chlorinated water. Add to milk stirring with up-and-down motion. Cover and let set for 40 minutes.
  4. Cut curd into ½ inch pieces using a knife for the vertical cut and a skimmer for the horizontal cut. Let cheese curds stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
  5. Slowly warm the curds to 100 degrees, stirring gently and continuously taking 30-40 minutes to reach your final temperature.
  6. Turn heat off and hold for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the curds from matting.
  7. Let curds settle for another 30 minutes without stirring.
  8. Pour contents of pot into a cloth-lined colander. Then fill a cheesecloth-lined form with the cheese curds. Cover with the form’s follower.
  9. Press at 25 pounds for 1 hour.
  10. Remove from the form, flip, re-wrap and put back in form. Press for 30 pounds for 12 hours.
  11. Remove cheese from press. Unwrap and place in brine (1 part salt to 5 parts water) for 12 hours.
  12. Remove from brine, dry the cheese and place on a cheese mat at room temperature for 2-3 days, turning every 12 hours or so, until fairly dry to the touch.
  13. Coat the cheese in cheese wax and then ripen at 50 degress for 2-3 months.

Variations and Additions

 Colby-Jack

You can combine curds made from a ½ gallon Colby recipe and a ½ gallon Monterey Jack recipe to make a Colby-Jack. Simply follow each recipe up until the point where you put the cheese curds into the mold. Then gently mix the two varieties of curds together before filling a single mold with the combination. Press at the lower weight (10 pounds) for 12 hours and then brine and age 6-8 weeks for a milder taste or 3 or more months for a sharper flavor.

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Colby & Jack cheese curds — ready to press!

Additions

Adding flavors to your cheese is part of the fun and expands the cheeses you can create with a single recipe. In general, you can add anything that is sterile and has no fats or live matter. For instance; spices, dried herbs, dried chilies, canned jalapenos, etc. If you’re unsure of the sterility of the item, just boil it for 10 minutes before you add it directly to the curds before pressing.

After you learn how to make cheese curds, what’s your next step? Will you try pressing them into hard cheeses? Let us know in the comments below!

Originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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