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.

Wayne T said...

Please can you clarify did you plug the power cord into the PID and the temp probe into the water, obviously the PID must be plugged into the power source to power both and the small pump separatly to circulate the water.
I was unaware that PID was connected in this way if that is what you are saaying