Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Andrew Wilder Makes Chevre

What Could Be Easier?

Last January I posted three of Andrew Wilder's recipes- one was for both Horseradish Cheddar and Jalapeno Cheddar and the other was for Ricotta Salata.  They all came from his wonderful

These days, Andrew devotes most of his time to his other where there's a lot of good information about the food situation in this country.  This last October he led 415 folks in his October Unprocessed campaign where they all pledged to give up processed foods for the entire month.

I was looking for an easy New Year's Eve recipe and I thought of Andrew.  Sure enough, in November, 2009, he posted the recipe below which also appears in our book, Home Cheese Making.  Chevre is a natural choice for a party because it's quick, it's easy and everyone loves it.  Your guests are sure to be impressed when they find out you made it!

By Andrew Wilder

I'm embarrassed to say it took me so long, but I finally decided to try making a fresh Chèvre.  Turns out this is the easiest cheese I've ever made.  Seriously.  Oh yeah, and it was insanely delicious, too.

If you're just getting started making cheese, I'd suggest you do this one first -- even before the 30-minute Mozzarella.  If you start around 7pm you can have a pound and a half(!) of fresh Chèvre with dinner the next night!

1.  Heat a gallon of goat's milk to 86F.

2.  Add one packet of Chèvre starter, mix well.

3.  Let set for 12 hours, at room temperature (at least 72F).

4.  Gently ladle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin (like cheesecloth, but with smaller holes).

5.  Tie up the corners and allow to drain for 6-12 hours, at room temperature (again, at least 72F).  The longer it drains the drier it will be.  Just check in on it every few hours.  I use twist-ties and rubber bands and just hook it onto my kitchen faucet.

6.  Remove from muslin, mix in a little salt (optional--but makes a pretty big difference), and form into "logs" or whatever other shape you want.

7.  Carefully roll in fresh herbs, cracked pepper, dried herbs, or whatever else looks yummy.

From top to bottom: with fresh chives from my garden, with Herbs De Provence, with fresh ground pepper, plain  (unsalted), and Organic Fuyu Persimmon from Love Delivery.

8.  Indulge!

Panini with grilled veggies (eggplant, red bell peppers, and onions), spinach, fresh chèvre on Sourdough.  Oh yeah!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Using Hygrometers to Measure Humidity

When it comes to aging your cheese, one of the most useful devices to have is a hygrometer (to measure humidity) or a thermo-hygrometer (to measure both humidity and temperature).

These devices are sold at hardware stores, discount stores, hobby stores, Amazon and other online retailers, as well as eBay.  They range from $1 on eBay to hundreds of dollars at the labware websites.  However, for cheesemaking purposes, you can easily find a good one for less than $50.

Mechanical Hygrometer

The simplest ones are the mechanical ones, like the one Jim Wallace (our technical advisor) uses in his cave:
Jim's model now sells for over $100.  But, there are less expensive ones:
Sauna Hygrometer Thermometer Combo, Up North Sundries, 5' diameter, $55.99
Home Depot, 8.5" Thermometer with Humidity, $2.98
There are many inexpensive analog hygrometers offered online.  However, be careful when buying the very small ones which might have been made for a humidor, like the one in the picture below (unless you get several of them from eBay for a few dollars each).  They are not necessarily as accurate as you might like.  The advantage is their size (often less than 2" diameter) so they will fit in even your smallest containers.  Many cheese makers buy 3 or more of these at a time on eBay.
Cuban Crafter, PTHYG-MIO, $6.99, 1.75" diameter

With mechanical hygrometers, even if you pay more for a good one, you might have to calibrate it more often than you would like.  (For directions to calibrate, click here.)  If your hygrometer doesn't have a calibration adjustment, follow the directions to the point where you know the difference between readings on your hygrometer and the actual humidity.  Then, always add or subtract the difference from your readings.

Electronic Hygrometers

Digital hygrometers and thermo-hygrometers are sold at most hardware stores and the large discount stores.  They usually require a battery and they do not have a calibration adjustment.  However, you can test their accuracy by following the same directions for calibration above.  They also take a little longer to adjust to changes in the humidity.  When checking calibration, it is recommended that you wait at least 2 hours.

There are literally thousands of models online.  They come in all different sizes and prices, but there are certain features you would want to consider when buying one:

1.  The size of the hygrometer is important.  If you are using small containers, you need the smaller hygrometers.  
Digital-Edmunds Scientifics, $69.95,  Fits in shirt pocket.

2.  The size of the numbers on the display screen is important.  If you are looking at your device from the outside of a clear plastic container or a wine refrigerator, you want to be able to read the numbers.
3.  The sensor situation:  Sensors enable you to read the results outside of your "cave."  You may not need this feature in, for example, the above scenario where you are using a clear container or a wine refrigerator with a glass front.

Sensors can be very useful, however, when your cave is an old refrigerator or a closet because every time you open the unit to check the humidity, you expose your cheese to ambiant bacteria.   There are two kinds of sensors- wired and wireless.  Needless to say, the units with wireless sensors are much more convenient and they can be used further away from your cave.  Of course, they are also more expensive.

Here's a popular thermo-hygrometer with a 10' wire sensor.  Unfortunately, the sensor is for temperature only which seems to often be the case.
Indoor-outdoor with 10' probe, $9-$14 at Amazon, Ace, Grainger, Sears, etc.
4.  Most of the digital ones have a min/max function where you set the highest and lowest temperatures and humidity and when they reach the min or max, a buzzer goes off.  But, let's say you go away for a few days and when you come back, you want to know how hot or how humid it got.  If you had set the min/max before you left, the device would tell you the highest and lowest points it reached while you were gone.

One of the best digital thermo-hygrometers is probably the one below.  It is wireless and you can buy it with or without the sensor.  (I have seen it on e-Bay where you can Buy It Now for $20, including the sensor.)  Although the sensor is said to have a range of 100 ft., according to Cheese Forum, if the unit is located inside a steel refrigerator, the reach will actually be 10-15 ft.
Amazon, Honeywell TM005X Wireless Indoor/Outdoor Thermo-Hygrometer, $23.19

Amazon,  Honeywell TS33C Temperature and Humidity Sensor with LCD,  $23.47
In conclusion, if you have room in your cave for an analog (mechanical) hygrometer with a calibration adjustment, that will be sufficient.  If you need a sensor, the wireless ones will be the most convenient.  In any case, hygrometers are well worth the cost.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Locust Grove Farm, Farmstead Sheep's Milk Cheeses

T'was the Night Before a Snow Storm
By Sheri Palko

T'was the night before a snow storm, when all through the farm
Not a creature was stirring in pasture or barn.
The stock tanks were full and de-icers in place,
And extra buckets were filled to the brim,  just in case.

The sheep they were nestled out under the trees,
With visions of alfalfa piled high to their knees.
And papa in his carhartts, and I in mine too,
Put out plenty of hay for the entire crew.

When out in the pasture there arose such clatter,
I sprang from the tractor to see what was the matter.
Away to the gate I flew like a flash,
And what do I find but a frozen gate latch.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes see through the glare,
A newborn lamb - no wait, it's a PAIR!

With a protective new mama, they were as white as the snow,
How I spied them at all we will never really know.
With wind howling around and the chattering of teeth,
And the gate in the way, maybe I'd crawl underneath.

More exposed to the elements than I really did like,
I tore the gate off the hinges to get to the site.
As I approached like a whirlwind and the ewe she did paw,
I knew those lambs really needed a new bed of straw.

So under each arm, those new lambs they did go,
With momma following close, trudging through the deep snow.
The ewe knew the barn provided shelter from harm,
Where she could dry her new lambs, and feed them in the warm.

With the shelter around them, and clean straw for a bed,
I retired for the night with nothing to dread.
The ewe she would care for her sweet little lambs,
My duty was done, the end of the day's demands.

I retired to the house, finally a building that was heated,
Where the warmth of the fire and hot cider awaited.
As I crawled into bed, all warm, dry and snuggly.
I thanked God for our roof, food and wonderful family.

So I close my eyes knowing that all will be fine,
I've see to all that I can for the safety of mine.
The morning would bring carhartts with boots and warm gloves.
More precious new lambs, and a life that I love.

Sheri Palko Really Loves Her Sheep!

As Sheri Palko pointed out to me,  There are more sheep than goats or cows milked in the world."  And, many of the very lucky ones are being raised on Sheri's farm.  At her lovely website-, she describes exactly how she tends to their needs and it's very clear that Sheri knows what she's doing.  In fact, in 2006, she got the first sheep dairy license in the southeast.

When I asked her to do this interview, she wrote, "Thanks so much for your interest… any time I get a chance to get anyone else interested in anything sheepy I go crazy… I love the sheep, their lambs, the cheese… everything about em…

Just an addict I guess and can’t figure out why everyone who makes cheese doesn’t do it with sheep’s milk… not biased at all huh?"

Sheri loves her sheep, but as many of you know, making cheese is hard work.  She wrote, "Milking 100 ewes twice a day… lambing out and feeding 200 bottle lambs…. Making cheese with 75 gallons of milk every 48 hrs… and doing all the sales, marketing, shipping, invoicing, etc…

That’s more than a full time job… couldn’t do anything else if I had to.  Although… I do attempt (for sanity and fitness reasons) to play tennis 4-5 times a week… otherwise I wouldn’t leave the farm."

Because of the care she takes with her flock, Sheri's farmstead sheep's milk cheeses have become extremely popular.  You will find them on her website (reasonably priced) and you may order by phone or e-mail.   There are 4 varieties of aged sheep's milk cheeses- a semi-hard with a crusty rind, a washed curd (similar to a Gouda), a Manchego, and a Manchego with chilis and spices.  I have tried them all and I can tell you they are fabulous!

Prism, a Belgium Tervuren
How did you get started?

Oh my… well… I'll give you the reader's digest version…

I am a software engineer by degree… those of us who are anal need a hobby - BAD!

As a hobby I trained my dogs for competition obedience and herding…Dogs needed sheep… sheep needed to earn their keep…Nuf said… I'll attach a few pics of my best employees…  

(shown at left and in the picture below).

Got my bachelor's in '85… worked until hubby, Leonard, got Masters (he's a nuclear engineer), and first daughter was born.  Been a "mom" ever since… In addition to being married to the most incredible guy who ever walked the earth… I have 3 wonderful daughters…

Frances, who is a senior in college studying Nutrition and Food Science,

Megan, who is a sophomore in college,

Shannon, who is a sophomore in high school… she has her own flock of tunis sheep which she shows in 4-H and fairs all over the state each year.

When this crazy idea came about in '05 my husband thought I was crazy… as a matter of fact I believe his words were "Honey, if I had wanted to milk something when I grew up, all I had to do was raise my hand… I went to college instead." (He grew up on a large Holstein dairy.)  That said… he is my biggest supporter, number one handiman, electrician, and plumber… and even cooks most dinners during lambing season.

Morning milking with Dixie, a red tri Border Collie.
Do you make cheese year-round?

No ma'am, I only milk and make cheese from mid-January thru August.  I will begin lambing on Jan 4th, 2011 this year, 62 of my ewes are due to lamb the third week in January (that will be the no sleep week)… will finish lambing in February.

All my cheese is "farmstead", which means it's made exclusively from my sheep… so I don't purchase any extra milk.  I only make aged, raw milk cheese, so I do have product to sell year round.

I currently have 1 cave, but we are relocating over the course of the next 3 seasons to a larger farm and we have 2 caves designed on the new property.  That will enable us to experiment and provide more varieties of cheeses.  I made 9000 lbs of cheese this year, full capacity will be about 20,000 lbs in a season.

But… my current cave doesn't have that capacity, so I am holding my production back, but growing my flock, to make the quick jump to full production the final year of the move.

I ship all over the country every Tuesday and do several farmer's markets each week during market season.  We are planning to delve into more agri-tourism on the new property.

What are some of the differences between making cheese with sheep's milk vs cow's or goat's?

In general, sheep's milk components are much higher than goat or cow - actually double.  So, pound for pound, you will get double the cheese yield from sheep's milk.  While sheep's milk is higher in protein and fat, it is actually lower in cholesterol.

Some other unique qualities of sheep's milk are its ability (with proper handling) to be frozen and thawed for cheese making.  Due to the small molecules in sheep's milk it can be frozen without changing any of the qualities of the milk.  For cheese makers who are more familiar with working with other milk, making cheese requires some obvious adjustments from other milk to sheep's milk: 

* Sheep's milk is flocculated and gets firmer in a shorter time… so it is easy to get overset curd with sheep's milk if the proper adjustments aren't made.  Commonly these adjustments are made with a combination of time and rennet dosage.

* The higher fat in sheep's milk means that you will have less drainage ability, the higher protein content will give you a faster hardening time.

* Having slightly less lactose than cow's milk means that  you will have less risk of post-acidification.

Why is it so hard to find sheep's milk?

One of the biggest challenges we face in the US today is quantity - or should I say, lack of.  The dairy sheep industry in the US is considered to currently be the fastest growing dairy industry.  The demand for quality sheep's milk is very high.  Because the development of high quality dairy genetics in the US is still in its infancy, dairy genetics are at a premium.

I will have 200 dairy lambs in 2011… all of which were sold prior to conception in August.  Still, compared to cows, the quantity of milk produced in a season is much smaller.  An exceptionally high producing ewe gives 1000-1500 lbs in a 6-7 month season.

Another challenge the industry faces is lack of ability for many dairy sheep to breed out of season.  This means that fresh sheep's milk is very hard to come by in late fall and early winter.

As an active member and  board member for DSANA (the Dairy Sheep Association of North America), I am currently helping many startup dairies all over the country.  With the proper help in establishing a good business plan, high quality genetics, and excellent product, we hope these dairies will provide an income and lifestyle so many are seeking these days.

What's in the future?

I actually have the "cheese half" of my business up for sale to the right person.  As in… I've tried to hire a quality cheese manager and have not be successful at finding someone who cares as much as I do.  So… I decided to offer that half for sale with a contract to purchase my milk… 

I thought an "owner" might take more of a vested interest attitude.  And also be more qualified than myself to develop new cheeses.  Genetics are my love and my sheep are my passion… that combination produces high quality milk… someone more qualified needs to be using this milk for higher purposes.

Locust Grove Farm, Farmstead Sheep's Milk Cheeses
(865) 388-4123

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mother and Daughter Foodbloggers on Making Mozzarella

Lauren Kincke and her mother love to make Mozzarella!

Lauren is a second generation foodie.  She and her mother, Dee Kincke, have a blog they call "Fresh From the Heart of Texas."  Lauren has her own blog called "Bytes From Texas: One Longhorn's Adventures."  If you're looking for some good recipes, check them out.

I asked Lauren how she came to be a foodie:

I grew up with two parents who are very capable cooks so it was something I was always exposed to. My mother trusted me early to do a little bit of cooking, as a kid on weekends while the parents slept a little later than the crack of dawn I would microwave eggs (I wasn't allowed to use the stove) and mix up various concoctions.

I didn't cook a ton until I got out of college, then it started out as baking, it was an easy thing to do as a 'stress' reliever after work, plus there was the added bonus of being able to take stuff to work and/or friends so that I didn't have to be surrounded by tasty but fattening cookies, brownies, etc.  Slowly I started adding savory non-dessert type cooking to the mix and really it's what has taken over in the last few years.  My love of cooking has expanded into an obsession with sourcing cool new ingredients, exploring great restaurants in the area and really digging into new methods and cuisines.

By day, Lauren works as a Data Account Manager (analyzing data) for a network software company in Austin.  It seems appropriate that the name of the company is "Spiceworks."  She also has a summer garden and she will be growing her first winter garden this year. 

Here is Lauren and her mother's account of their adventure making mozzarella from

Monday, November 8, 2010

You see milk, I see cheese....

Never have I considered that cheesemaking is something I would try, frankly it sounds rather crazy, even though I now know I have actually been part of it! The story begins in a round-about way, for my birthday (back in September) I was given a Rocco DiSpirito cookbook, Rocco's Italian American, it has beautiful color photos in it of mozzarella being hand pulled, I was curious, searched the index and found no recipe for making mozzarella....well I couldn't stop there! I started Googling around and found Ricki Carroll's fantastic website, when I saw the '30 Minute Mozzarella' recipe I knew I had to try it. So I kept digging and found out that I would need some very specific supplies, away I went, clicking my way to a Cheesemaking Kit (yup that has crazy written all over it!).

While waiting for my shiny new cheesemaking kit to arrive I started reading up on the history of cheese, both in Ricki's book Home Cheese Making and online. Being a food nerd is something I am not ashamed of and frankly reading about the history of cheese was pretty fascinating.

Cheese is ancient (technically speaking), dating back to times before recorded history, potentially as far back as 6,000 B.C.E. According to The, cheese was part of the Sumerian diet, 4000 years before the birth of Christ, made from both cows’ and goats’ milk and stored in tall jars. Egyptian tomb murals circa 2000 B.C.E. show butter and cheese being made, and other murals which show milk stored in skin bags suspended from poles demonstrate a knowledge of dairy husbandry.

Cheese is made in virtually every country on earth and is created with a multitude of animals' milk, ranging from the reindeer in Scandinavia, the boar in Africa, the water buffalo in Italy, the yak in Tibet, the mare in Russia to the cows, goats and sheep we all know.

I'm not just going to ramble on about the history of cheese, the point is, every culture, every country and nearly every animal has some kind of cheese associated with it. Two things that are key to making your own cheese, good, fresh milk and not using ultra-pasteurized milk. In Texas we are very lucky to have great local milks available to us, this time we used Promised Land Dairy Whole Milk, it's a pleasure to have such great Texas products available to us and it made a delightful choice for our first attempt at cheesemaking.

The instructions for making this cheese come directly from Ricki Carroll's website but you'll note that you won't find these ingredients at your local grocery store, for that you'll need to go to a supplier who stocks cheesemaking supplies (my recommendation is of course, I won't go into the detail here but instead suggest you check out the link I've connected and will share our photos instead.

First we had to heat up the milk with citric acid, temperature is key so we had a thermometer constantly at hand.

Then we added rennet and let it sit for a few minutes, after it reached a solid state we sliced through it and we mixed it slowly bringing it back up to temperature.

At this point the curds and whey become so clearly cheese-like it got very exciting to be able to see some semblance of the product.

After more time we had to don plastic gloves and begin to press the whey out and bring the cheese to an even higher temperature.

Once it was hot enough it was ready to stretch, the fun part.

Finally, the finished product!
We had a fantastic time making the mozzarella, it was such a cool experience to see it come together in such a short amount of time and is a truly unique thing to produce your own cheese. I can't wait to try other recipes and to further explore this niche of cooking that is really a combination of science, cooking and art that I had no idea would be so easy to experiment with.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Munster Anyone? Suzanne McMinn Did it Again!

There's snow in Appalachia, but our "Chick in the Road" is still moving forward with her quest.
As you know, Suzanne McMinn has accepted our challenge to make a new "hard" cheese every month until she dies and goes to cheese heaven.  Her first test came last month when she absolutely nailed Monterey Jack which is, admittedly, a fairly easy cheese to make. (See Cheese Challenge-Monterey Jack.)

This month, she chose a more complicated cheese and, again, she rose to the challenge.  Could it be that making cheese is easy?  Or, is Suzanne a one-in-a-million culinary genius?  Here's her post as it appears on her wonderful website- "Chickens in the Road." 

Making Munster
By Suzanne McMinn of "Chickens in the Road"

Stinky cheese! I love stinky cheeses, but I was a little bit (or a lot) intimidated by the idea of making them. The process involves weird ingredients and new (to me) methods. I started this cheese challenge series for New England Cheesemaking to push myself out of my comfort zone, though, and Munster was a big enough threat to make a fine adversary.

Perhaps the “scariest” part of the whole thing is the red bacteria. Brevibacterium linens. WHAT IS THAT?! And you have to brine the cheese. I’ve never made a brined cheese before. It’s also a washed curd cheese–the cheese is “washed” or wiped with salt water during a 10-14 day ripening period before waxing. And you press it under its own weight in a mold sandwich. WHAT IS THAT?! You have to spray the red bacteria on the surface of the cheese with an atomizer. Seriously, I thought finding an atomizer would stop me from making this cheese. I only needed a little atomizer. Not some big spray bottle. Finally it hit me that I could use one of the body spray misting bottles that I ordered to make scented body sprays. They are 8-ounce size with a fine misting pump. (A 4-ounce atomizer would be perfect, if you’re getting one specifically for stinky cheese purposes, by the way.)

Munster cheese is one of a family of cheeses known for their strong smell from the red bacteria. The flavor varies from mild to strong, depending on how long you age the cheese. Other cheeses in this dysfunctional cheese family with odor issues include Brick and Limburger. There is a difference between Munster and Muenster, by the way.  Munster is a deli-style cheese while Muenster is a soft and butter-like cheese with a yeasty red rind.

I held a meeting with the staff and told everyone we were going to make stinky monsters.
You just can’t get good help anymore.

To get this cheese from starting the milk in the pot to the time you’re finished flipping the mold sandwich and ready to let it sit overnight is 3 1/2 hours. The best time to start this cheese is around 6 or 7 in the evening.

There’s more than one way to make Munster. You can find another method for Munster-making here. The recipe below comes from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making. (My personal cheesemaking bible!)

Here’s what you need to make Monster Munster cheese:

2 gallons whole milk
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter
4-8 drops cheese coloring diluted in 1/4 cup water (optional)
1/2 teaspoon liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool water
2 pounds cheese salt for brine
1 gallon water for brine
1/2 teaspoon Brevibacterium linens diluted in 1/2 cup cool, sterile water

Note: Prepare your red bacteria FIRST, right before you start your milk in the pot. It should be rehydrated at least 10-15 hours before using. Brevibacterium linens is an odor-producing bacteria and is, in fact, the same bacteria that makes your feet stink. Isn’t that weird??? That is red bacteria’s ugly side. Its pretty side is its contribution to the fermentation of cheese. The bacteria comes in a dry powder form. I tried to sterilize an atomizer by dropping it in boiling water but it melted the atomizer. Let that be a lesson to you. I ran the next one through the dishwasher instead. It was from a box of 12 brand new body spray atomizers I had ordered, so it had never been used, but I made my best attempt to further sterilize it. (The atomizer cost $1.05.)
I boiled the water I used to rehydrate the powder, cooling it after boiling then mixing with the powder. I poured it into the atomizer bottle using a small funnel. (I stored the red bacteria in the atomizer bottle in the fridge between uses. One bottle is enough to use for multiple cheeses.)

1. Heat the milk to 90 degrees (88 for goat milk).
Add the starter; mix well. Cover the pot and let ripen at 90 (or 88 for goat milk) for 15 minutes. Add the cheese coloring. I used all 8 drops. (Munster isn’t supposed to be a highly colored cheese, but cheese coloring is pretty subtle, so I usually add on the high end of the suggested amount.) Cheese coloring can hamper the coagulating power of rennet, so it must always be added before adding rennet and mixed in thoroughly before proceeding with the rennet. If you forget the coloring and add the rennet first, forget the coloring. You missed it!
2. Add the diluted rennet and stir gently using an up-and-down motion for 1 minute. Cover and let sit at 90 (88 for goat milk) for 40 minutes or until the curd gives a clean break.
3. Cut into 3/8-inch cubes and let set for 5 minutes.

4. Raise the heat by two degrees every 5 minutes, until the curds reach 100 degrees (98 for goat milk). This should take about 25 minutes. Stir gently to keep the curds from matting.

Do NOT raise the temperature too quickly–that can trap whey inside the curds. Don’t stir too wildly as that can cause a loss of butterfat. The more I work with cheese curds, the more I realize how the little details of this process effect the result. Don’t be afraid of the process, though–the more experience you have with curds, the better your cheeses will become. I’m still learning, and every cheese I make is more experience.

While you’re in the process of raising the temperature of the curds and letting them sit (in Step 5), put a large pot of water on to boil to prepare for Step 6.

A watched pot never boils.
Do yourself a favor and get your pot and your materials sterilized during Step 5 so you aren’t freaking out waiting for the water to boil while your curds ruin.

5. Maintain the curds at 100 degrees for 30 minutes. You should just be able to put the lid on the pot and keep the curds at a level temp, taking the lid off periodically to stir the curds gently to prevent matting. After 30 minutes, let them sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

6. Sterilize in boiling water one cheese mold, two cheese mats, and two cheese boards.
I have a 2-pound mold and a 4-pound mold. I tried the 2-pound mold and couldn’t fit all the curds in there so I ended up using the 4-pound mold. Cheese mats are cute little bamboo mats–you can get them from a cheesemaking supplier. I got mine from New England Cheesemaking. They’re also handy for other hard cheeses for the air-drying process.
For cheese boards, I used a small wooden cutting board and a small platter. Rather than sterilize them in boiling water (which seemed a tad difficult!), I wrapped them in foil. The cheese doesn’t actually touch the cheese boards, so I figured this was good enough if not ideal.

Now you have to figure up your setup for the “mold sandwich” you’re about to prepare. Bacteria- and mold-ripened cheeses press under their own weight rather than in a cheese press. The cheese drains through the holes in the sides of the mold and through the cheese mat underneath it. You set the whole thing over a sink or a pan (to catch the whey drainage).

Place a cheese mat on top of a cheese board and set the mold on top of the mat. You should be preparing all of this for Step 6 during Step 5 so that you are prepared immediately to move through Step 6 and get on with Step 7. Otherwise, your curds will be sitting and sitting in the pot–and you may ruin your curds.

7. Drain the whey down to the level of the curds. Transfer the curds to the mold that is sitting on top of the mat. Place another cheese mat on top of the mold and the other cheese board on top of that. Now the cheese is pressing under its own weight alone.

8. Let drain for 30 minutes then carefully–very carefully!–flip it. (The most whey drains out during the first 30 minutes. Each time I have made Munster using a pan for drainage catching, I temporarily set the mold sandwich on the counter and emptied the pan then put the mold sandwich back on the pan.)

9. Repeat the process 5 more times, flipping the mold sandwich every 20 minutes. Flipping the mold sandwich is a real balancing act. You have to be quick! Or the cheese will go sideways in the mold and mess up.

Here is my mold sandwich situated over the sink. I used a large baking rack to set it over the sink. I didn’t like this setup. It was a bit rickety and it almost fell into the sink a couple times.
Here is my mold sandwich over a 9 x 13 pan, using another baking rack. This was much easier to deal with, and is how I did my setup after the first time and forever after.
10. Let the cheese rest (in the mold) overnight at room temperature.

11. Make a saturated brine solution with 2 pounds of cheese salt and 1 gallon of cold water.  Remove the cheese from the mold (just lift the mold up from the cheese, it will come right up) and place it in the brine.
Keep it soaking in the brine at 50 degrees for 12 hours. Flip it over several times. Munster, like a number of other cheeses with a short aging time, isn’t salted before pressing but is instead soaked in a brine.

12. Remove the cheese from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the brine for other uses. You can store the brine in the fridge and use it over and over. To re-use it, boil it, add additional salt (until the salt no longer dissolves in the brine–that’s how you know it’s saturated) then cool and refrigerate.

13. Lightly spray the surface of the cheese with the red bacteria. I wasn’t sure what lightly spray meant exactly, but what I did was spray the surface all over (including the sides) twice using the fine misting pump on my atomizer.

14. Flip the cheese and spray the other side.

15. Let the cheese ripen at 60 degrees and 85-95 percent humidity for 10-14 days. To create a humid environment for my cheese, I placed the cheese on top of bamboo skewers (to keep it up off the surface of the container and let air circulate) in a 9 x 13 storage container and put on the lid.

16. Check the cheese every other day and gently wipe the surface with cheesecloth or a paper towel dampened in lightly salted water. This is the “washing” process. It helps spread the bacteria evenly over the surface and inhibits unwanted bacteria, yeast, and mold from developing. The surface will gradually develop a reddish-brown color. The longer the bacteria develop, the stronger the taste of the cheese will be.

Remember to be attentive to your Munster.  After 10 days, my Munsters started developing a slight red cast to the surface.  I have been washing them with salt water every other day and will be waxing them soon.
17. Air-dry the cheese at 50 degrees and 95 percent humidity for several days.

18. Wax it! Age it at 45-50 degrees for 6 weeks.

Yield: Two pounds of stinky treasure.

My experience: I was surprised and delighted by the process of making Munster. It was FUN. And fascinating. It presses under its own weight! How weird is that?! I always think dealing with a cheese press is a little bit of a hassle, so I loved that part. Flipping the mold sandwich can be a tricky balancing act, but it’s kinda fun, too. The mold sandwich, the brine soak, and spraying bacteria were all new to me, but they aren’t difficult. It’s just the initial hurdle of trying something new. For me, the most difficult part of making cheese continues to be building my experience in working with the curds. Time and temperature are so important in making cheese of any kind. I’m not a perfect cheesemaker–yet! But making cheese is a journey. I may never think I’m perfect at it, but I am getting better.

Here’s my first Munster, out of the mold and ready to go into the brine soak:
I thought it was a work of art! I think I did pretty good with the curds. They’re knit together fairly well. NOT PERFECTLY. But for me, as a beginner, this isn't bad.

Here’s my second Munster, out of the mold:
Fail! And I know exactly what I did wrong. I was involved in a few other projects at the same time I was making this cheese. I was heady with my success from my first Muenster and I didn’t pay enough attention to time and temperature and I let my curds sit way too long while I finished something on another project. Big mistake. My curds went into the mold too dry, having set in the pot too long and expelled too much whey.

This cheese wasn’t worth the cheese wax it would take to put on it. I cut it open out of curiosity. Big holes inside because it didn’t press.
I gave it to the dogs.
Coco thought it was a tasty treat.

Here’s my third Munster, out of the mold and ready to go into the brine soak:

Pretty good! Worth continuing! I paid attention to my time and temperature and got my curds into the mold immediately. I still don’t have my curds knit together perfect and smooth, but it’s not terrible, either. (See Munster #2 for truly terrible.) 

The main thing I need to continue working on, with every cheese, is getting my curds right. Since my curds, even in my best efforts in Munster #1 and Munster #3 weren't knit perfectly smoothly, that means my curds were still a little dry. Cheese expert Jim Wallace from New England Cheesemaking gave me this advice on my Munster adventure: "This cheese should have a moist enough final curd that it easily forms a nice smooth surface after the first turn or so with very little weight. The dry curd can be caused by temps running too high, too much stirring, or even too much acid development caused by excessive milk ripening. I also find that sometimes it is also caused by too much culture addition. For my work here I normally use 1 pack for 3 gallons of store milk or 4 gallons of raw milk. Different milks will behave differently as well."

On my next hard cheese, I'm going to do a trial using only half a packet of mesophilic starter (per 2 gallon recipe) and see if that improves my curds. That's something you can try, too. I make all the mistakes so you don't have to!

I can’t completely pinpoint why, but making Munster is the most fun I’ve ever had making cheese. I know I’ll be making more of it. I’d make Munster every day if I could, it’s that much fun! For next month’s cheese challenge, I’ll be making another brine-soaked cheese, but soon I want to try more mold-ripened cheeses. I want to try it all. I love making cheese!  My Munsters are still ripening in the storage containers, by the way, and I'll report on them as they progress. Soon, I'll be breaking into my Jack cheeses, too, and will show you how they came out.