Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making a Home Cheese Vat

The wire on the right is the probe which goes to the thermostat (next picture).
Total cost- $285!

Clyde Poser in Buckley, Washington earned his "do-it-yourselfer" honors by making his own temperature controlled cheese vat.  A couple of months ago, we received this note from Clyde:

I thought I would share some pictures of my home thermostatically controlled cheese vat I cobbled together. 

I am using a restaurant food warmer I got at Costco for about $96.00 and an Auber PID for Bradley smokers.  The PID is a dual probe unit but they also make a single probe unit that would be less expensive.  I had the dual unit already so I used it.

The food warmer is a standard restaurant unit.  Costco has several different capacity inserts.  The one I am using is the deep half size, plus the cover.

Thermostat showing the temperature for starting Colby.

I plugged the food warmer into the PID and turned the thermostat up to full and let the PID control the temp. (Before I started this cheese I played around with the PID temp setting to find a temp that would give my exactly 90 degrees of milk.)

It takes about 30 minutes to heat 1 gallon of milk to 90 degrees and then hold it within +/- 1 degree.  I taped over the spoon slot in the cover and stuck the digital thermometer to monitor the milk temp.

The nice thing about this set up is that when I make other cheeses that need a slow temperature increase to cook curds, such as Colby or Cheddar, I can set the PID and it will increase the temp as fast as I want it to.

Small submersible pump to circulate the water so the water temperature is even and there are no hot spots.

The whole setup cost me around $285.00 for a simple thermostatically controlled cheese vat.  Quite a bit less than the multi-thousand dollars you would pay for even the smallest commercial unit.

(Note:  After he wrote to us, he added a small pump (shown at right) to circulate the water to keep the temperature more even. Now, he is working on a stirring mechanism to stir the curds as they are heated for the different types of cheese.

How did you get started making cheese?

As a Christmas gift last year our good friends and neighbors gave me a 3 month cheese delivery.  Each month I would receive three ¼ lbs. chunks of artisan cheese.  I began reading the little cards inside the box about how the individual company started and thought, "I wonder how hard it is to make cheese?"   I like learning new things and enjoy good food, so I started surfing the internet and found a few cheese supply places and kits.  I ordered one of the kits and made my first cheese, which was Camembert.

What gave you the idea to make your own vat?

I came up with the idea when I saw all the warnings about keeping the temperature of the milk constant for making a quality cheese.  I was wondering what I could use to accomplish that since our kitchen has a big 6 burner commercial gas stove - not exactly something to produce low constant temperatures in milk.

I needed something that was a water bath and could be thermostatically controlled.  I remembered seeing the food warmers at buffets.  I found an inexpensive food warmer with inserts at our Costco for only $97.00.  I already had the temperature controller for my meat smoker.  After some experimentation I figured out how to make it work and control the temperature of the milk within 1 or 2 degrees. 

What kind of cheese are you making now?

Colby - I made a Colby about a week ago from the recipe on the New England Cheese website.  And I just received an order of Camembert molds so I will be making a batch of 8 small Camembert next week.  The first time I made Camembert I only made two.  I learned that those go rather quickly when I bring them out for guests.  It was great to see I could actually make them successfully, but 2 is a bit ridiculous when the same amount of work would produce 8.  After the Cams I plan on trying a Gouda.  I am working on getting my cave filled up with cheese because it is difficult to wait for them to age.

I just made 8 Brie and so far they look ok.  I just wrapped them yesterday as the white mold was grown out over the whole cheese.  Right now I am having a little problem with the refrigerator I use as a cheese cave.  The second hand appliance store I bought it from thought it would be a good idea to put a sheet of fabric softener in it to make it smell good.  So far, I can't get that smell out and I am afraid the cheese is going to taste like fabric softener.  Consequently I just have the Brie aging in my basement which is only in the mid 50's for temperature. 


LibertyShepherd said...

I cannot find this food warmer. Can anyone help me out?
thanks, Gary

LibertyShepherd said...

I cannot find this food warmer. Can anyone help?
thanks, Gary

Ross said...

You can find them on Amazon. That is where I found some and am going to purchase mine.