Category Archives: Cheesemaking

Urban Farm Handbook March Challenge Kickoff – Home Dairy

Last month we asked and you delivered. And now with soil building under your urban farming belts, it’s time to tackle home dairy.

Why bother making dairy items if you still have to buy the milk?

Because it’s easier to source good quality, local milk; because it’s possible to get to know your dairy farmer; and because of the questionable ingredients that you won’t have in your own creations. I don’t know about you, but I just love not having to read labels!

Now, how do you know good quality milk when you find it?

  • The animals have access to pasture most of the year
  • You are allowed to visit the farm and see the conditions of the animals
  • The farm doesn’t use growth hormones, and only medicates to save the life of the animal, then withholds the milk until treatment is completed
  • The milk is so clean it doesn’t need to be ultra pasteurized
  • Bonus points if the milk is not homogenized and is sold in a returnable glass jar

In my family we drink raw milk but I’ve done my research and feel comfortable with the dairy (in fact now our milk comes from our own mini-nubian goats).  The mason jars of milk in my refrigerator have labels like “Val” and “Mary”.

In the drawing below, this maiden has poured milk into shallow bowls in order to create the greatest surface area possible then left the milk undisturbed so the cream could rise to the surface.  You can do this too, if you have non homogenized, raw milk.  If your milk is pasteurized you should leave it to separate in the refrigerator.  Once separated, you can skim the cream off the top using a wide spoon or a turkey baster.  There – you already made another dairy product – cream!  Look at you go!

But I know you, you’ve built up your soil and you are ready for a real challenge.  Making cream from milk isn’t going to satisfy your urban farming soul.  You want to know more.  You want to know how to make buttermilk, kefir and yogurt too.   If you have raw milk you can even make curds and whey then sit on a tuffet eating them.

What’s that? You want to make cheese first? Good for you – go for the gusto.

Jennie Grant of the Goat Justice League lobbied unrelentingly until mini dairy goats were legalized in Seattle. She has personalized a recipe given to her by Lora Lea of Quillisascut Farm. If you can’t make it to Farm School you are going to want to buy the book, trust me on this one. Jennie Grant is also writing a book on dairy goats in the city, due out in Fall of 2012.

Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules has been a home cheesemaker for years and has put together a great cheesemaking equipment primer and cheesy challenge for you.

Next week we’ll learn about things other than cheese back here on this blog.

And then at the end of the month, come back to this blog and link up your blog entries or comment on the round up post on what you’ve all done during the month.

You’ll be rewarded with the chance to win great prizes like cheesemaking kits, books and cultures.

So, go visit Andrew’s sites and find the next round of challenges. Ready, Set, CHEESE!

Upcoming Cheesemaking Classes

I’m super excited to share some local cheesemaking classes with you. Mark Solomon, home cheesemaking extraordinaire, will be teaching two classes coming up at Mangia Bene Cooking School in Maple Leaf- Tuesday October 4 for soft cheeses and Tuesday October 11 for hard cheeses. Both classes are from 6:30-9:30 pm. Mangia Bene has four stoves so there will be opportunity for hands on experience. In the soft cheese class you’ll learn how to make seven different cheeses including mozzarella, ricotta, chevre and mascarpone. You’ll make some of the cheeses in class and learn how to make all of them using simple equipment you have at home. In the hard cheese class you’ll make a Gouda and learn the steps involved in making almost any hard cheese. You’ll taste a variety of homemade hard cheeses including Cheddar, Gouda, and Colby and learn what you need to know to make them in your own kitchen. In both classes you’ll learn some cheese chemistry and find out about sources of cheesemaking equipment and ingredients. For more information go to

Bloomy Rind, Improves with Age, I Call This Cheese “Annette” by Pav Cherney

Left my cheese aging after only 10 days, Right Mt. Townsend Seastack

When Annette and I started talking about cheesemaking, it didn’t take much time for us to share the woe that many, if not all, cheesemakers experience: cheese failures. For those who have made cheese before, you probably know what I mean.

That gouda that smelled like fresh creamy goodness out of the mold, but has since developed enough hairy mold colonies that it was actually used as a prop in a chia pet commercial, and you’re afraid to come near it because you think it might bite off your kneecap.

Or that fresh chevre or crottin that dried up in the fridge to resemble a pre-historic hockey puck that survived Mt Vesuvius. It’s serious business and serious disappointment when that happens, even if the chickens are happy about it.

From there we wondered if it was possible for those disappointments to not happen—to develop a make process that resulted in an aged cheese style suitable for anyone using any type of milk that required little expertise, little ongoing effort, and produced wonderful results. Annette wanted something easy that didn’t keep her up until 3 in the morning. We established the following criteria for the cheese characteristics:

• Must be an aged cheese that keeps for at least 3 months without requiring much intervention or care

• Preferably a cheese that’s ready to eat in 45-60 days

• Make process does not tie up the kitchen for more than 2-3 hours with molds, pots, weights, and other associated cheese paraphernalia

• Must be organic and not use synthetic or chemical preservatives

• Preferably a great snacking cheese without being high in fat

• Must have a rind that requires little maintenance

• Must be as universally applicable as possible (translation: kids would eat it)

• Must be possible to make using old-world technology and techniques

• Must be easy for normal people without extensive experience or tools to make in the kitchen

This was a tall order, and I’m not a novice cheesemaker. I’ve reverse engineered many cheeses, have helped dairies fine tune their processes and business operations, have spent more money over the years than I care to admit on textbooks, supplies, and failures, and manage to fit in teaching cheese classes, but I was stumped at first. Whenever I thought of a family of cheeses that might fit, it wouldn’t fit all criteria. A very basic cheese that’s acid-coagulated or acid-coagulated with a little rennet, like boulette d’avesnes, chevre, or labneh doesn’t fit because rind maintenance was not a set-it-and-forget-it affair.

One of the simplest of aged cheeses, a tomme, doesn’t fit because it either takes too long, or requires too much rind maintenance, or an herb/spice rub on the rind that not everyone likes, or similar challenges. A classic brie or camembert doesn’t fit because it takes too long to wait for the acid to develop, and the curd must be ladled at the right time, which ties up the kitchen, and unless done well can develop issues like slip skin, or too rapid paste development. Some French goat cheeses, like crottin, picodon, pelardon, rocamandour, etc seemed like a decent fit, but which one?

As I thought about the possibilities some trends emerged that eliminated most cheese families, such as rind issues, time to maturity, make time, etc. Hard cheeses were out because they require rind maintenance or treatment, and that is too much work. Most soft cheeses were also out because although the rind maintenance can be easy, most did not fit all criteria. Specialty cheeses, like suluguni preserved in brine, or bocconcini in a pickle didn’t exactly fit because pasta filata cheeses are notorious for not stretching correctly, or take too long to make. In short, we had to overcome the following challenges:

• Natural mold control on the cheese rind without resorting to natamycin, PVA cheese paint, vacuum sealing, or waxing

• Flexible make process that accommodates variable times in the steps of the process

• Aged taste in a short period of time

• Some shelf stability for a ~90 day shelf life

There were many ways to overcome the challenges. The table below covers some common approaches for commercial producers and artisan producers.

Challenge Commercial Plant Approach* Artisan Approach*
Natural mold control • Stainless and plastic that’s thoroughly cleaned to minimize contamination• Plastic, wax, or natamycin/sorbate

• Basically, prevent mold, and then kill it if it occurs, or maintain it through labor-intensive work such as brushing and washing

• Leave in brine (like for feta)• Inoculate cheese with penicillin mold like p candidum or p roqueforti that kills other molds.
Flexible make process • Standardize milk to create flexibility up front• Pasteurize milk and inoculate with specific amount and culture with defined acidification curve • Use lactic coagulation or semi-lactic whose time to set varies with starter amount and temperature.
Aged taste • Use flavor distillates• Use flavor adjuncts

• Specific mold and culture blend targeted to mature in defined timeframe

• Use molds and bacteria that produce enzymes leading to flavor development
Shelf stability • Use preservatives• Reformulate recipes to use stabilized mix (meso+thermo cultures)

• Age and store cold

• Age at a cooler temperature to prolong natural cycle of maturation, and store cold.

*Not all plants are the same, and some artisan practices are common in commercial practice, and vice versa.

Of course, I knew Annette wanted to be as organic, old world, and natural as possible, making artisan approaches the obvious choice. So taking from the list of possibilities, the following cheese type emerged: one that had a lactic or semi-lactic set, like chevre, one that uses either a bloomy white rind or blue marbling, like blues or French goat cheeses, and one that was aged on the cooler side for slower flavor development. From there, I crafted a make process that would try to address all the goals we originally set, to create the following bloomy rind, chevre-based aged cheese I call “Annette”.

Left curd set wheeping whey, right molds over a mesh dehydrator screen used as plastic drain mesh placed over a jelly roll pan

Annette – The Cheese

This recipe makes approximately 2, 8-ounce wheels that are 4” in diameter and 1.25-1.5” high. It features the following deliberate make choices:

• DVI culture for repeatable results

• Ash coating to help with rind moisture control and prevent slip-skin

• Direct molding with no predraining for ease of cleanup and smoother more delicate paste

• Direct inoculation of mold culture into milk

• Mold combination is Geo candidum and P Candidum for a more traditional taste and additional mushroomy notes. This is not traditionally French because lactic styles often use just Geo, or will use a P. Candidum along with Kluyveromyces yeasts, or Micrococci like S. xylosus or even strains of B linens. Those are all valid options to produce a different type of cheese or to add nuances and layers to Annette.

• Whole milk that is approximately 3.4-3.6% fat. The proper PF ratio is about .9


  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1/8 tsp Flora Danica DVI. Commercial rate is 1 DCU per 50 lbs of milk.
  • 1 drop (.05 ml) single strength liquid rennet, or 1 drop double strength rennet
  • 1/32 tsp P. candidum DVI, such as VS. Commercial rate is 1 unit per 450 lbs milk.
  • 1/160 tsp Geo candidum DVI, the mild form of Geo, like Geo 13/15. This is a miniscule pinch, 1/5 the amount of p. candidum. Use very sparingly, it is just for additional flavor nuances. If using liquid Geo, it’s less than a drop per gallon of milk.
  • 1/160 tsp (optional) Kl71. If you want to bring out some earthy and hay notes, add Kluyveromyces. Same rate as Geo.
  • 1/160 tsp (optional) B linens with milky oligopeptide sensory characteristics, like Chr Hansen’s BC
  • 2 tsp Salt, noniodized
  • 1-2 TBsp Ash.

Equipment and Supplies

  • Pot big enough to contain milk: ~5-6 quarts
  • Thermometer, 0-212 F.
  • LadleAging chamber (plastic container)
  • Small spoons to measure out culture, or gram scale that goes to thousands place.
  • Plastic drain mesh, base for the mesh that lets liquid through, and catch basin, like a baking pan, for the liquid.
  • White mold paper or crumpled aluminum foil pieces (10x10”) with pin holes poked in them


Step Step time Time from Step 1 pH Target
  1. Gather all your ingredients and equipment in one place.
0:05 0:00 N/A
  1. Sanitize all the tools by filling the pot with a few inches of water, and putting everything that fits in it, closing the lid and letting it steam for 30 seconds. You can also dip everything in a solution of 1 gal water with 1 tablespoon of chlorine in it. If using chlorine, rinse with water after. Or sanitize using whichever method you commonly use (iodine, no-rinse acid sanitizer, etc)
0:05 0:05 N/A
  1. Pour the milk in the pot and heat on the stove to 85⁰ F. Turn off stove. The high temp is to favor acid development and avoid too much diacetyl. For more diacetyl (buttery flavor), use 75F.
0:30 0:35 6.5-6.6
  1. Add the FD mesophilic culture, as well as the P. candidum and the Geo candidum to the milk. Stir.
0:01 0:36 6.5-6.6
  1. Take 1/4 cup distilled water and one drop of rennet to it. Stir to mix it in. If using double strength rennet, take one half of the liquid and add to the milk. If using single strength, add it all to the milk. Stir the milk up and down 10-15 strokes to mix in the rennet and DVI cultures.
0:05 0:41 6.5-6.6
  1. Wait 6-12 hours, which is when the milk should coagulate. When it has coagulated, take a ladle and ladle the curd into the molds. The curd pieces should be about 2-3” long by 1” high. Meaning don’t scoop curd chunks that are huge. Thinner, longer curds work better because you want them to drain. The size of the curds influences the final moisture content. If there’s too much moisture, the cheese may be very gooey and liquefy. 1 gallon of curds should fill 2 molds. After you scoop everything in, the whey will start to drain. Do not wait longer than 14 hours to scoop curds from the time you added culture, or the cheese will not be as creamy.
9:00 9:41 4.7-4.8
  1. Let the whey drain for 30-60 minutes and flip the molds to invert them. You’ll see a nice pattern on the bottom from the draining mesh.
1:00 10:41 4.7-4.8
  1. Let the whey drain again for 60 minutes and flip again.
1:00 11:41 4.7-4.8
  1. Flip 4-6 more times over the next 10 hours for a total of 6-8 flips over 12 hours. Check the cheese to see if it has drained. It should be somewhat firm, like chevre (which is basically what you just made).
10:00 24:00 4.5-4.7
  1. After it has drained, take the wheels out of the molds. They’re still fragile at this point, so be careful. Salt with 1 tsp of salt per wheel, evenly on all sides. Some more moisture will come through from the cheese because of the salt. Leave on a mat for several hours where there’s circulation all around the wheels at about 65F, room temperature.
2:00 26:00 N/A
  1. It is important that the cheese surface dry up as quickly as possible because the white molds are active at this point and if the surface is moist when the spores grow, there is a great chance of slip skin. So let the salt work in for a few hours, and then come back. The surface should be mostly dry. If it is not, use a fan and dry it off. If you do not get the acidity right (pH ~4.8) when ladling curds and wait too long, the cheese will not drain quickly and will weep whey. Start ladling shortly after coagulation to ensure a strong curd.
2:00 28:00 N/A
  1. In addition to fan drying, the other precaution this recipe uses against slip skin is ash. This is optional, but helps to avoid issues when making this cheese at home. If you want, coat the cheeses evenly on all sides with ash. It’s messy; use an old salt shaker or similar device to shake it on. Apply ash after the surface has dried.
  1. After making sure that the surface is dry, put the cheeses in the curing chamber on a mat so there’s circulation all around and put into a 50F fridge or your basement or other cool spot. If the surface is still not dry to the touch, take a small fan and let it blow on the top of the cheese, invert cheese, and on the bottom. If a thin rind that’s a different color has formed, you’ve dried too much. If it starts cracking, you’ve dried too much. It doesn’t take long to dry out the surface.
  1. Keep in the fridge for 10-14 days, flipping daily. Once there’s a bloom of mold all around the cheese and it seems like the rind is stable (takes 7-14 days), wrap in mold paper or roughly crumpled aluminum foil that has many pinholes in it, and place in the fridge at the warmest part where the temperature is 40F-45F. You can also continue to age at 50F, but the cheese will mature faster that way and you need to eat it sooner.
  1. Wait for 4-8 weeks, unwrap, and enjoy. The cheese will start to become gooey from the outside in and the mold enzymes do their work. You can eat as young as two weeks, where you’ll get a little gooey cheese around the rind, but it’s best when fully ripe.
N/A N/A ~6.5


Slip skin. Most likely, surface not dry enough, or humidity too high in curing chamber too early. Humidity should be about 90% to start, and then increase after day 4-5 to ensure a thick bloom of P Candidum. Check on it once a day to air it out, or take out to let it breathe.

More Cheese Flop – and A Beacon of Cheesy Hope

My family eats a lot of pressed cheeses – cheddar being their favorite, a washed rind tomme is mine. And while we can get Beecher’s cheddar (local but still somewhat dairy pool, not organic but they don’t use growth hormones, etc) I’ve tried several times to make tomme, monterey jack and cheddar.

In order to age cheese at a precise temperature you need a cheese cave and I’ve hijacked our mini wine fridge, bumping the temperature up or down as needed. At one point it was accidentally unplugged and the cheeses inside molded – now the wine bottles are also covered with mold.

Despite that, my first attempt at tomme came out fine but each successive batch has gotten more and more molded and I’ve ended up having to throw them out or split them open to feed to the chickens (minus the glass of pinot noir.)

It can take several gallons of milk to make just over a pound of pressed cheese depending on butterfat percentage, which can make it infinitely more expensive to make at home than to buy anything but the priciest artisan cheese (unless you have goats or cows.) I’ve been compromising by making soft cheese that doesn’t require aging. But while un-aged cheese is simple, inexpensive and nearly foolproof, it just lacks that character and ethereal eating experience that I crave.

I was bemoaning my cheese woes one day to a friend. Pav recently turned his closet cheese geek into The Washington Cheese Guild, a sorely needed online resource for fledgling home cheesemakers. Pav has used cheese as a means to embrace local dairy, cool science and amazing flavor.

To solve my dilemma, he set about creating a cheese that is simple to make but has a lot of flavor in a short amount of time. Pav’s post to follow…

In the meantime if you are looking for local cheese resources you can find some supplies both at Cellar Homebrew in Greenwood and Bob’s Homebrew Supply in the University District. If you are just starting out, I recommend making chevre or fromage blanc (chevre’s cow milk cousin), or feta. It’s definitely worth doing!

Local Cheesemaking Classes

I have another amazing opportunity for you! Live in Seattle? Like cheese? The first class is tomorrow so pull out your calendars!

Washington Cheese Guild is offering cheesemaking classes to Seattle Farm Co-op members at a special discounted rate of $35 each.

There are two classes, one for beginners, and the other for intermediate cheesemakers.

Beginner Cheese Making Class – 6/9, 6:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M
Aged Cheese Making Class – 6/12, 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.

Place: Ravenna Ridge SPOT Farm in NE Seattle, exact address sent with registration.

Cost: $35 each

Size: 15 spots available at each class

To Register: Email: pav @ (remove spaces around `@’) to reserve your spot

The classes will be conducted by Pav, a local cheesemaker and science geek from Washington Cheese Guild. As a dairy goat owner and cheesemaker, Pav helps home cheesemakers and commercial dairies to produce better cheese by offering technical help, classes, personal consulting, and training.

The classes emphasize the artisan and scientific components of cheesemaking to help you understand the possibilities and become a better cheesemaker. If you’ve ever wanted to have the “why” questions answered, bring them to the class and be ready to learn.

The first class on 6/9 is geared for complete beginners. But it will also cover information helpful to more advanced cheesemakers. Some topics to be covered include:

• Overview of milk industry in WA state, including raw milk regulations.
• Fundamentals of dairy science
• Milk composition and quality
• Cheese styles and families
• Recipes and make steps for fresh cheeses you can make at home
• Technology of cultured milk products such as yogurt and buttermilk, lactic curd cheeses such as chevre, and basic fresh cheeses such as halloumi and ricotta.
• Chemistry and physics behind key cheesemaking dynamics for lactic and heat-lactic cheeses.

The second class on 6/12 is geared toward those with a little experience, but beginners are welcome. We will do a deep-dive session on making Tomme, which is a versatile, delicious cheese that’s tasty when young or aged. This class also covers mozzarella and other pasta filata cheese. Topics covered include the following:

• Milk composition
• Cheese ingredients and styles
• Cheesemaking steps and process for Tomme
• Troubleshooting issues
• Affinage options and requirements
• Chemistry and physics behind key cheesemaking dynamics
• History and tradition of Tomme and other Basque and Pyrenees cheeses
• Advanced dairy and cheese science concepts useful for more practiced cheesemakers

The classes consist of a combination of lessons, demonstrations, and hands-on experience. For the duration of the class, short lessons and Q&A sessions help to provide guidance and the framework for you to understand the various factors involved in cheesemaking, as well as the decisions you can make and how those decisions affect the final cheese.