So this past weekend's cheese making extravaganza wasn't what you would call a success. I'm trying to use some new cheese cultures, which supposedly will give me a better final product. They do have the slight disadvantage of being rather temperamental. Rather than setting into a firm curd, they produced a soft, runny curd that broke into separate solutions of watery whey and globby little milk fat particles. To put it another way, instead of getting a curd that looked like vanilla pudding, I got a curd that looked like rice floating in milky water.
But onward! Rather than pitch the broken curd over my porch railing, I decided to save it by straining the watery curd through a cheese cloth to collect what few solid particles remained. I think this was a smart move, and since my neighbor parks his Jeep underneath my porch, I think he would agree as well.
So now I have a cheese cloth bag full of salvaged butterfat and milk proteins. Not pretty, but still edible. The "cheese" (if you could call it that at this point) was also still pretty watery. So to make it a bit more interesting, I mixed it with smoked salt. This would both add flavor and help to drive out excess water that might lead to spoilage. And then I got out my cheese press.
If you want to get into cheese making, you'll find lots of references to cheese presses. Cheese presses are pretty straight forward; they press out air pockets and excess moisture to give you a tight, uniform texture. They're also expensive, ranging from $100-$250 for consumer-sized models. Or you can make your own.
My Dad loaned me a Do-It-Yourself book from Reader's Digest that tells you how to make everything from a stone foundation for your house to (ta da!) a cheese press! A few weeks ago while visiting Carla's family, her Dad helped me assemble this one. Basically it's two old cutting boards on four maple posts. The top board "floats" above the base, adjusting depending on how much pressure you apply. The cheese is wrapped inside muslin cloth, pushed inside a perforated cheese mold that allows for drainage into the pie plate. A blue plastic follower keeps the cheese down, while a PVC pipe sticks above the top of the cheese mold and applies pressure from the weighted top board.
So now I'm just pressing for 6 hours, flipping the cheese over to keep it even, pressing again, flipping, then upping the weight. Tomorrow morning all the excess whey should be pressed out, so I'll begin to age it at 50 F until it gets a nice rind on it. And onward from there...