How to make cheddar cheese

The amounts below make 500g of cheese. Worthy to note that it takes just as long to make a small cheese as it does a larger cheese.

You will need

  • 5 litres of milk – using fresh, whole milk from grass-fed cows (from a nearby farm) will produce the best results.
    1 tsp cheese culture or liquid starter – cheese cultures and starters include bacteria, moulds and acids that encourage coagulation and/or help develop unique flavors.
  • ½ tsp rennet – rennet, which comes in liquid, tablet or powder form, contains enzymes that cause milk solids to separate from clear whey and form curds. Traditionally, rennet is made from the stomach lining of an infant ruminant or grazing, animal. (The enzymes help the animal digest its mother’s milk.) Although most store-bought cheeses rely on animal-based rennet, vegetable rennet also is widely available. It’s made from plants that have coagulating properties, such as fig and thistle.
  • 10g salt – salt enhances flavor, draws out excess moisture and acts as a preservative. Avoid iodized salt, because it can put the brakes on active starter bacteria.
  • Filtered water, as some water supplies contain compounds that compromise milk’s ability to be made into cheese.

Pasteurisation: Pasteurise the milk to destroy unwanted bacteria. To avoid damaging the subsequent curd, this is normally 65°C held for 30 minutes. Cool to 21°C.

Starter: Stir in the starter and leave the milk, covered in a warm place, for about an hour so that it can acidify. Don’t leave it for much longer than this otherwise the cheese may be too dry and crumbly.

Rennet: Increase the temperature to 28°C for goat or ewe’s milk, or to 30°C for cow’s milk. Mix the rennet with two teaspoons of previously boiled and cooled water and then stir it in. Give it another stir five minutes later to stop the cream collecting at the top. Cover the container and then leave the milk to set in a warm place.

Setting (Coagulating): The curd is normally ready when it is firm to the touch, gives slightly and does not leave milk on the back of the finger. Setting takes longer with vegetarian rennet than with animal rennet.

Cutting the curd: This is where the curd is cut in order to release the liquid whey. Cut down into the curd, from top to bottom one way then cut it at right angles to form square columns. The curd is then loosened from around the walls of the pan. Stir gently with the hand for a couple of minutes.

Scalding: Sometimes referred to as cooking, this is where the temperature of the curds and whey is raised slowly while occasional stirring of the curds takes place by hand. Gradually increase the temperature to 38°C over the next 30-40 minutes.

Pitching: This is the process of giving the whey a final, circular stir so that it whirls round. The curds then gradually sink to the bottom and collect at a central point. Turn off the heat and leave the pan until all movement has ceased in the liquid.

Running the whey: Ladle out as much of the liquid whey as possible, then place a previously sterilised cloth over a stainless steel bucket or large basin and tip in the curds. Make the cloth into a bundle by winding one corner around the other three. This is called a Stilton knot. Place the bundle on a tray which is tilted at an angle to let the whey drain away. Leave for about 15 minutes.

Stacking or cheddaring (Texturing): Untie the bundle and the curds will have formed into a mass. Cut this into four slices and place one on top of the other then cover with the cloth. After about 15 minutes place the outer slices of the curd on the inside of the stack, and vice versa. Repeat this process several times until the curd resembles the texture of cooked breast of chicken when it is broken open.

Milling: This is the process of cutting the curd into pea-sized pieces. Traditionally a curd mill was used for this, but it is easy to do it by hand.

Salting: Sprinkle 10 grams of salt onto the milled curds, rolling them gently without breaking them further.

Moulding: This is the process of lining the cheese mould from the press with previously boiled cheesecloth and adding the curd until the mould is full. The corner of the cloth is then folded over the top of the cheese and it is ready for pressing.

Pressing: Once in the mould the curds have a wooden ‘follower’ placed on top so that when the mould is put into the press there is a surface on which to exert an even pressure. Pressing cheese is essentially a process of compacting the curds while extracting the liquid whey. For the first hour, apply a light pressure so that the fats are not lost with the whey then increase it to the maximum and leave until the following day. The next day, remove the cheese from the press, replace the cloth with a clean one and put the cheese back in the mould, upside down, and press for another 24 hours.

Drying: Remove the cheese from the press and cloth and dip it in hot water (66°C) for one minute in order to consolidate and smooth the surface. Place it in a protected area at a temperature of 18-21°C and leave it to dry for a day or two until a rind begins to form.

Sealing: Once the rind has formed the cheese can be sealed to prevent it becoming unduly desiccated while it is maturing. Large cheeses are sometimes bandaged but it is much easier to use cheese wax that is available from specialist suppliers. Using a water bath, heat the wax in a pan and stir it to ensure that it is melting evenly. Do not leave the pan unattended! Dip the cheese into the liquid wax and coat thoroughly. It sets quickly, so rotate the cheese so that the area where your fingers are touching can also be coated.

Maturing: A cheese that is tasteless and bland when freshly made, is full of flavour and body after its proper ripening period. Leave to mature in a cool, dry place at 8–11°C where it should be turned daily for the first three weeks, then on alternate days after that. For a large mild cheese, ripening should take place for at least three months. A longer period of ripening produces a more mature cheese. Smaller cheeses are usually ready after a month.

Cheddar classifications:

  • Mild cheddar – matures for one to three months.
  • Semi-matured – matures for three to six months.
  • Matured or tasty – matures for six to 12 months.
  • Vintage – matures for 12 to 24 months.