Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Make a Cheese "Cave"

Jon with his cat, Koba
This takes your dorm sized refrigerator to a whole new level!

As you may know, we sell a refrigerator thermostat which enables you to convert your refrigerator or freezer into a cave by regulating the temperature.  This solves the temperature issue.  And, for most purposes, you can add enough humidity by simply keeping a wet towel in your cave.

However, for some cheeses, regulating the humidity is just as important as regulating the temperature.  You can monitor it with a hygrometer, but controlling it is always a challenge. 

We love to hear from folks about how they are dealing with this issue.  So, it was our lucky day when we received an e-mail from Jon Little in Black Mountain, North Carolina about his cheese cave.  He said he had been buying our products to make his parmesan cheese for the past two years.  His parm was fantastic, but his biggest challenge was figuring out how to make a cave that wasn't a "mold machine."  Through a ton of research and his own "ignoramus ingenuity," he had finally achieved his goal:

The beauty of what I have created is that I get a 100% reliable 85-90% humidity and temperature of 55F.  My cave also pushes in fresh air from my humidifier and keeps the cave mold free.  The fridge is a freezer that I have device that allows me to choose the temp and can easily adjust from room temp to freezing.  The best part of all is my total cost is $180.  I did have to make my own wooden racks, yet that was fun too.

Jon has given us detailed instructions on how to build a cave like his, and he is willing to answer any questions -  jonlittle@bellsouth.net.  Thank you, Jon!

How I Made a Cheese Cave for Under $225

By Jon Little

Items needed:

1.  Find a used small fridge.  Best if it is no more than six cubic feet.  A larger fridge will not work with the temp and humidity controls, due to drawing too much power.

I am using a full fridge type by U-Line (Model 75R) that I found on Craigslist for $75.  Note: This purchase may change the cost dramatically.  This U-Line originally sold for $800 since it was designed for under the counter.

Also, the humidifier is limited to a cave area - no larger.


2.  Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm humidity and temperature controller which is designed for a reptile terrarium and is $60.  It needs to be the model that can work with up to 1000 watts.

3.  Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump (for 170 gallon tank) for $30.

4.  Silicone ¼ inch airline tubing (cheaper at $7 for 25 feet).  You most likely need more than ten feet option.  I use the silicone tubing due to longevity, strength and sterile quality.

Air lines for the humidifier

5.  Six T connectors and one 90 degree elbow for the airline tubing at about $5.  If you have three shelves in the fridge, you only need five connectors.

6.  Tropicaire reptile humidifier and air exchanger for $20.  This is a simple humidifier that operates with the Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump.

7.  Vinyl tubing and a hose clamp for draining of excess water from the evaporator pan area of fridge.  I used about ten feet of ½ inch tubing for total cost of $3.  Also will need a container for this hose to drain into and tends to fill at about a pint to a quart per month.
Creating drain pipe for cave

8.  Depending on the type of fridge you may need to make racks.  My U-Line had glass shelves and I had to make wooden racks.  The wood may contribute to the lack of any mold issues for me and I can’t be certain how the metal racks will do.  I still have to use sushi mats as part of the curing process till I vacuum seal my cheese.  Also I am a Parmesan fan and this tends to be a less moldy cheese.

At any rate…here is how I did my wooden racks.  I used ¼ inch dowel rods that I bought in 36 inch lengths for about $1.25 each.  I had left over wood for the sides, yet you could simply use a ½ inch dowel rod for the sides.    I used small brass nails to put it together and had to pre-drill holes for each nail.  This is a labor of love and there may be simpler options for other creative minds.  This ends up being about $7 per shelf (five to six of the dowel rods).  For the average cheese maker you will need three shelves and four for the ambitious types. The total cost will be about $20 to $25.

Print this


1.       Make sure you have an indoor space which will work well.  Be certain you will not be irritated by the sound this makes with the pump and humidifier noise. They will be going on and off frequently to maintain the humidity.   This cave will not work in a space where the room temperature gets colder than the cave temp needs to be.  I must have a room above 55F for my Parmesan.  Take into consideration the height of the fridge for ease of access since you will be flipping cheese regularly and could get hard on the back bone if it is a long low reach to the cheese.  Also, you won’t want to be dropping any wheels on the floor.

2.       Read owner’s manual about your fridge. I found mine online even though it was quite old.  Most will have schematics and instructions on how to clean it properly.

3.       With the fridge unplugged, clean the fridge well according to instructions.  Plug in and test to make sure it works well using thermometer. I suggest running it long enough for at least a week or so till 100% confident.  It would be a shame to lose the hard earned cheese!

4.       Unplug the fridge and carefully identify where the water drain goes to the evaporator pan.

5.       Connect ½ inch vinyl tube to the drain spout of the fridge for draining excess water.  Position the hose properly to drain well.  My cave fit well on a table and made for a good drain.

6.       Decide the best method for placing the Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump and the Tropicaire reptile humidifier and air exchanger.   My fridge made it easy for both to ride on top and this may help with the flow of humid air.  Once this is settled, connect the Top Fin and Tropicaire.  This will take three T connectors to reduce the four leads of the pump to one single lead to the Tropicaire.  Use remaining T connectors to create the exhaust tube from the Tropicaire.  The T connectors will create a spout to be placed in the middle of each of shelves.  The lowest shelf will use the 90 degree elbow to end the run. So if you will need two T connectors for three shelves and three Ts for four shelves.  Tape the line in place inside the fridge.   Once all is set follow the instructions on filling the Tropicaire with water.   Make sure the Top Fin is pumping at maximum pressure.

7.       Follow instructions for connecting the Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm humidity and temperature controller.  The lead of the sensor may need to be taped to the inside of fridge where it hangs in the center.  Set the temperature and humidity for your recipe and have a test drive till confident.

8.       Use additional thermometer/hygrometer gage if available for added assurance.  I used our digital remote weather station.  It was nice being able to see the history and map if there were any odd fluctuations.  I have kept mine there for the purpose of proofing this method and so far have extremely consistent readings for 22 months of 55F and 80 to 85% humidity.

9.       Once confident then you may need work with the fridge’s door insulation to minimize any cracks caused by the sensor lead of the Zoo Med and the exhaust lead from the Tropicaire.  I cut into mine to make a solid seal around the leads.

10.   Make the wooden shelves if needed.

11.   You may want a good light source to look inside your cave, since the “once was a fridge light” is now controlled by the Zoo Med and on much less.

12.   Congratulations!  You are now a caveman or cavewoman! So have at it with your cheesy self and enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cajeta with Ben Guyton from Austin, Texas

Great Gift Idea for Upcoming Holidays

If you've never tasted cajeta, you're in for a real treat.  It is THE BEST.  Just tie a few ribbons around a canning jar of cajeta and you have the ultimate present for any occasion.

Ben picking agarita berries for his agarita jelly
My Guest Blogger (with the best hat ever!)

Ben Guyton has access to all the goat's milk he could possibly want and he makes good use of it.  I found his post about cajeta at his blog, Hammer on Rye.

I asked him where he got his goat's milk and he wrote:

I live and work on Pure Luck Farm and Dairy, a farmstead goat dairy in Dripping Springs, Texas, that produces award winning goat cheeses.  

When I am not running around the farm taking care of the goats, delivering cheese, working a farmers' market, cutting herbs, milking goats, feeding pigs, collecting eggs, or... well anything else that might need doing, I like to cook interesting things in the kitchen.  

With a background in computer programming and a degree in photography, it made sense to share my creations online.  This is how Hammer on Rye was born.

Pure Luck has won many ribbons at the American Cheese Society Competitions.

Cajeta Making – 101 Goat Milk Caramel Made Easy.
By Ben Guyton at Hammer on Rye 

If you want the best dessert topping in the world…. you HAVE to make cajeta.  Dessert topping, flavoring for your coffee, a spoonful for your mouth…whatever you decide to do with it, it’s worth the time.  Cajeta is basically a dulce de leche or caramel made from goat’s milk and sugar.  The milk is heated until the sauce thickens, browns, and gets super tasty for your mouth.  I have made plenty of cajeta, but since I got back from Mexico in February, I have been making it in a copper pot, also known as a cazo de cobre.  It is a traditional way to make cajeta, and really helps to speed the process because of the excellent conduction and distribution of heat.  If you don’t have a copper pot, you can use a heavy pot as long as it’s not cast iron.

On to the recipe…  First thing’s first… you need some goat milk.  Lucky me, I live on a goat dairy.  For my recipe, I used a gallon of milk.  It condensed down to about two and a half pints.  Here’s all the ingredients you will need:

    1 gallon goat milk
    4 cups of sugar
    1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a tiny bit of tepid water

Pour your milk into your pot and add the sugar and vanilla.  Turn the heat on medium and stir it all up.

Heat the milk to a nice simmer… stir frequently.  Add the baking soda and water mixture.  You may want to take the pot off the heat because it will bubble up when you put in the baking soda.  I just add it very slowly and it doesn’t foam up too much.

Keep simmering… and stirring…

Slowly, the milk will start to evaporate and the sauce will begin to thicken.

Keep stirring often.

When it is as thick and dark as you like it, remove it from the heat.  I have found that I like mine very thick and very brown.  If you want your sauce to be thinner… stop sooner.  Thicker?  Stop later.  Just don’t let it burn… and keep stirring.

It’s all a matter of your taste.

When it’s done, pour it into a heat safe pitcher (or straight into heated jars).  Then pour into some canning jars and store in your fridge.  I like to take a part of each batch and mix it with some nice bourbon.

This photo is from a previous batch that was thinner and lighter. Half of the batch we mixed with some Eagle Rare, a very tasty bourbon. (We didn’t use the whole bottle in the cajeta… really)  Enjoy!

Print This:

Cajeta made from goat's milk

Prep time: 2 mins
Cook time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours 2 mins


    1 gallon goat milk
    4 cups sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda mixed with a bit of tepid water


    Mix the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a heavy non-cast iron pot.
    Heat on medium to a simmer, stirring frequently.
    Add the baking soda *SLOWLY* while stirring.
    Keep heating and stirring frequently until the cajeta is the color and consistency you want.
    Mix with some bourbon (or something else) if you want.
    Pour into canning jars.
    Keep in refrigerator.

Monday, November 19, 2012

PART 1 - The Cheese Queen's Story

A Little Bit of the History of New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

Ricki, from "Mother Earth News," March, 1986

Many folks ask Ricki how she got started in the cheese making supply business.  Even today it seems like a somewhat unusual enterprise ... 

The Good Old Days

In the 1970's when Ricki and her husband, Bob began making cheese, there were no businesses where they could find help, ingredients and supplies.  In fact, hardly anyone had heard of or thought about the concept of making cheese at home. 

There were big companies making cheese (and cheese-like substances), there were farmers who had learned to make cheese from previous generations and there were a few entrepreneurs trying to make cheese on their own farms and sell it.

That was about it. If you got a goat or a cow and you wanted to make cheese, you traveled to the nearest farm where someone knew how to make it.  Then, you were on your own.

That is, you were on your own until Ricki and her husband, Bob got their first goat...

New Jersey Girl Heads for the Country

Ricki grew up in Englewood, New Jersey - the oldest of three siblings.  Her mother was active politically and later became Mayor of Englewood.  Her father designed the machinery to make candy and, of course, Ricki was happy when he "brought the office home" with him.

She was always an artist (see Ricki's Fabulous Art).  She attended the Boston Museum School and earned her B.A. from Tufts University in Art Education.  While there, she met her future husband, Bob Carroll from Concord, MA.  He was painting houses and saving his money to take pre-vet classes at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

High school

Ricki at a friend's dairy farm in Wisconsin

After she graduated, Ricki was teaching elementary school art in Englewood when Bob called her from Ashfield, Massachusetts.  He had put $100 down on a large house in Ashfield, and they had to get married.  Within a week, they were Mr. and Mrs. Carroll.

The house had (and still has) 16 rooms, 56 windows, 2 stone columns in front and 3 acres of land.

The house was solid, but it needed work when they bought it.

The house 20 years after they bought it.

The house in 2011

Back to Basics

So, in 1975, Ricki and Bob were young newlyweds living with a number of friends in their huge house, situated right in the center of a small village on a mountain in rural western Massachusetts. Being young and energetic, they began growing almost all of their own food - raising pigs for meat and geese and chickens for eggs.

They saw an ad in the paper, placed by an organization offering to pay all their bills in exchange for running a group home for young boys who were in the custody of the law, awaiting trial.   One of their first guests stole a car and blew it up (not realizing there was a blanket over the engine!).

Unfazed, Ricki and Bob tried to expose these young folks to country life- fishing, sledding, hikes in the woods, swimming at Ashfield Lake, arts and crafts.  They had them build a garden shed, boil maple syrup, cut and stack wood. They even put up a skating rink in the side yard!

One of the boys made his own rocket!

After a fishing trip on the first day of the season

A Goat Named Renalda
Growing boys drink a lot of milk.  So, when a neighbor came by offering a good deal on a goat, they paid their $75, named her Renalda and built a little milking shed in the backyard.

Did we say milk?  Well, not exactly.  Renalda, for some unknown reason, yielded less than a pint a day.

So, they traded Renalda for Mary-Lou and Lydia and then bought 2 more goats, Dinah and Ember (a very stinky buck). Now, they had milk- in fact, they had several gallons per day.

Soon after they began raising goats, Bob and Ricki decided to give up on the home for human development.  (They had lasted 1 1/2 years, longer than any other home of it's kind.)

That meant they had a lot of milk to drink!  They fed most of it to the chickens, but soon they began to fear their hens would start laying curdled eggs if they were fed any more milk!

Let's Make Cheese!

It seemed obvious that the solution was to make cheese, but how?  There didn't seem to be any help for home cheese makers who needed supplies and recipes.  Bob wrote to embassies all over the world for information about sources for equipment and Ricki scoured the University of Massachusetts library for recipes.

So, there was a lot of experimentation going on!  They bought some rennet and cultures from the CHR Hansen Company in Wisconsin and they came up with a wide variety of interesting cheeses (from grossly disgusting, to almost edible to WOW!).  

They were pressing their cheese in coffee cans and orange juice cans and hoping for the best. 

Is Anybody Out There?

After Bob had written to the embassy in England, they received a letter from the Wheeler family.  Rodney Wheeler was making home cheese presses and his mother was making cheese.  They extended an invitation for the Carrolls to visit them.

Ricki with Rodney Wheeler and his mother, 20 years after they first met.

Right before they left on their trip, Bob placed an ad in the Dairy Goat Journal (cost -$9) - "For a catalog of cheesemaking supplies, send 25 cents."  There was no catalog, no supplies and no ingredients, but he figured the ad would give them an idea if there was any interest.

Then, they went to England where they quickly learned to make cheese from Mrs. Wheeler's lush Jersey milk.  It was a great trip.

When they returned, their mailbox was stuffed with envelopes containing quarters.  It seemed they weren't the only ones wanting to make their own cheese!

Stay tuned for the next episode ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Booker Dechert in Earlton, New York

Booker with Annie, born last May

Did we mention that he's 13?!

He raises his own goats, milks them every day, and makes cheese.

We first heard about Booker from his mother, Larissa:

I have been amazed by son's interest and steadily increasing skills. We had a harvest potluck recently, and he prepared a plate of manchego, ricotta salata with paprika, and chevre rolled in chopped rosemary. It was a beautiful plate, and was devoured.

He milks his goat every morning, and now that she is drying off, he is having us make runs to a local dairy for raw cows' milk.

He built his own cheese press (when we refused to buy him the $300 one he wanted), and is now looking for a cabinet he can modify to make a cheese cabinet...

Amazing, and we are the lucky ones who get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. 

Milking Ruby

I asked Booker:

Do you live on a farm?

Before we moved, we were living in Brooklyn, NY.  We moved, and then slowly started acquiring different animals. We had several chickens in our backyard in Brooklyn, then once we got upstate we quickly got more.

I am living on a hobby farm now, we have four horses, four turkeys (not after Thanksgiving), an ever changing amount of chickens, and for now five goats. At least two (if Annie is eighty pounds by January she will too) will be bred this winter. So next year we'll have a lot more babies, and milk, and cheese.

How did you get into raising goats?

I can't really remember what drew me to them, but I remember in the last year before we moved upstate, I was totally obsessed with them, and it was all I wanted to talk about.

For my 12th birthday in 2011, we went to the only Nubian breeder that wasn't 12 hours away from us, Lynnhaven. I got two little reject (meaning they weren't show quality, Ruby had 'bad' ears, I don't know what was wrong with Jeanie) does from her, in April.

We bred them that December.  Jeanie, the bigger one got ketosis and died that spring, but Ruby, the other one, had an adorable buckling, and an adorable doeling the next month.

Goats are just fun, they're incredibly personable and friendly and adorable. They hear you talking in the distance and yell out loudly. One of the wethers we have (neutered boy) we like to say is a cat. His favorite pastime is to sit in someone's lap and chew his cud next to their ear. It's going to be more difficult when he gets to be 200 pounds!

So, are you milking Ruby now?

For my 12th birthday in 2011, we got the two does that started the herd I have now.

This year I had one goat give birth, Ruby, and she was giving me a half gallon of milk once a day. Frustrated with the amount I was getting, I went to the breeder and got another, one that was already milking.

She has a lot of deep seated anxiety, she doesn't handle change well, so she only gave me about a cup. I recently stopped milking both, although Ruby still makes a little, for her babies.

Before when I could get enough milk to make a gallon batch I was making all of the cheese with goat's milk, but now I use raw cow's from a local dairy farm.

Chevre hanging in the kitchen

How did you decide to make cheese?

I started doing it because that's just like what the plan was. We had goats, then goat's milk, so the immediate thought was to make goat cheese.

I've made ricotta, mozzarella, chèvre, ricotta salata, manchego, and on Monday my first gouda (not all with my goat's milk, the manchego and gouda were with raw cow's milk from a local dairy farm). I plan to make several cheddars, and a bunch of mold and bacteria ripened cheese this winter - blue, swiss, muenster, just experimenting, you know?

We know, Booker, we know.

Getting cheese out of the mold
Booker made his own press.

Cutting the manchego
Trying the manchego
Booker's cheese plate for their harvest party.