Category Archives for "Practiced Cheese Maker"

Oct 14

Safe and Sanitary Cheese Making at Home

By HomeCheeseAdam | Beginner , Practiced Cheese Maker

safe and sanitary cheese making at home

How to Make Sure You Grow Only Desired Bacteria in Your Cheese

I’ve talked about a lot in the articles on the website about the importance of making cheese in sanitary conditions.

It’s probably something we’re all aware of, but when was the last time you thought about why it is so vital?

Sanitisation is beyond simple cleaning. We should clean all of our cheese making equipment every time we use it (including our hands), but, to my mind, this means warm soapy water used to remove cheese or curd residues and the fats left clinging to the mould when it’s been used. However, once your equipment has been dried after cleaning, it will not be sanitised.

We don’t like to think about it, but every surface in our homes is teeming with bacteria, especially the cloth you use for cleaning the work surfaces; they like the moistness of it and breed like wild fire on the supply of nutrients they can find in there!

Unfortunately, those bacteria are so hardy that whilst a simple warm and soapy wash might get your equipment clean enough to put back in the cupboard after use, it is not enough to ensure safety when making your next batch of homemade cheese.

This article will examine the best ways of getting your working environment and equipment sanitary and safe for making cheese at home.​

The Irony of Sanitisation

There is a certain irony about sanitisation in cheese making, we focus a lot of effort in killing bacteria on and in our equipment before making cheese, but then add bacteria to our milk right at the start of our cheese making process.

Of course, the distinction is that one (and only one) of those bacteria are desirable, whilst the others are most definitely not (one study found over 7,000 different kinds in one home).

In the article all about milk, I talk about what a fantastic environment milk is for breeding bacteria. It is full of nutrients they can feed off and, when we’re using it to make cheese at home, we raise it to just the right temperature for the them to breed rapidly.

The truth is that some of those bacteria (and other micro organisms, such as yeasts and moulds) are really, really bad boys. There can be quite a heady selection in your kitchen, including:

  • Campylobacter (diarrhoea, cramping, fever, life-threatening infection)
  • Clostridium botulinum (double vision, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, untreated can cause paralysis and death), Cryptosporidium (stomach cramps, fever, vomiting)
  • E. Coli (severe diarrhoea, vomiting)
  • Listeria (fever, headache, convulsions, can cause death)
  • Salmonella (diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps, can cause death).

If you would like more information and the full, scary illness details of the damage these bugs can reap, they can be found in this chart.

These bacteria cause millions of infections every year in the developed world, and I would love it if none of us were to join that statistic by having impeccable hygiene standards in our kitchens.


Join the community to get the free eBook 'Making Cheese at Home, A Beginner's Guide" and, coming soon, many free add-ons that will only be available to subscribers.

Control of your Environment

The first step to keeping equipment sanitary is to avoid equipment ‘mix & match’, i.e. use the same tool for the same task each time.

Identify a spoon that you always and only use for stirring milk and curds and don’t use it in tonight's soup or stew. Use the same tub for collecting curds and the same pan for warming your milk and creating your cheese. Avoid using the one you made spaghetti Bolognese last week.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold.

  1. You remove the risk of cross contamination, i.e. taking the micro-organisms that exist in one environment and introducing them to your cheese making world.
  2. It helps keep your cheese making equipment distinct from generic kitchen equipment, which makes it much easier to keep on top of the thorough cleansing regimen you should be following.

How to Sanitise Cheese Making Equipment

There are some very simple routines to make sure your cleaned equipment has been sanitised and rendered germ-free before cheese making with it.

The two best ways of killing bacteria are through the application of certain bleach-like chemicals (do NOT use household bleach to sanitise your equipment), or through high heat, usually delivered by boiling equipment.

Chemically Sanitising your Cheese Making Equipment

Stainless steel equipment, such as pans and colanders as well as any food grade plastic material, like cheese presses and moulds, can and should be treated chemically.

I use a dedicated sterilising agent, more commonly associated with home brew activity. I have faith in it because it is formulated specifically to sterilise materials used for making food products. It’s very easy and safe to use and there are no unpleasant bleach smells.

To use it, follow the instructions on the pack. I have a little paranoia on the sanitising front and so always rinse out four times afterwards, just to make sure that any risk of flavour transfer is eliminated.

Cheese Making Equipment Which Should be Boiled

Any cheesecloth I use, I sanitise using boiling water. This is because it is very hard to rinse a chemical cleaner out of the fibres, and the risk is that this will leave an unpleasant taste in the material that transfers to your cheese.

It is also possible to sterilise equipment through the heat generated in an oven or dishwasher (on a hot setting). Although these seem sensible enough routes, I have never used them as my personal preference for using sterilising powder is too strong to ignore.

Always sterilise your cheese making equipment immediately before using it, so that micro-organisms have no time to repopulate after cleaning. And make sure to remember that both your skin and kitchen worktop are overwhelmed with bacteria, so handle sterilised equipment only with very clean hands (I use Mrs. Meyer's Hand Soap Lemon Verbena, 12.5 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 3)) and use paper kitchen towel or fresh, clean tea towels to stand your equipment on once it is cleaned.With clean equipment, you stand a lot better chance of only cultivating the bacteria you need to make great cheese.

The Right Equipment for Cleaning and Sanitising

These are the products I use for sterilising - hover your mouse over for the latest Amazon price in your location.

A sturdy scrubbing brush that's easy to hold is essential. This will get the curd residues off your equipment.

These mini brushes are perfect for getting the holes in your cheese moulds nice and clean.

This sanitising powder is the final stage after scrubbing your equipment. It will leave all of your cheese making tools sanitised for the next batch.

Oct 14

How to smoke cheese

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

Cold smoking cheese at home

How to Smoke Cheese at Home

Introduction to Smoking Cheese

Smoked cheese has a wonderful flavour, but most bought from the supermarket has had that taste added chemically. Believe it or not, ‘liquid smoke’ is brushed onto the cheese to give it the great flavour!

Your standard supermarket smoked cheese has never so much as seen a smouldering wood chip in its life. Of course, the upsides to this for mass producers are a uniform taste and ease of application, which both make it cheaper to produce.

Cold smoking cheese at home

For the home cheese maker though, there is one massive upside in the real method: it tastes phenomenal! And there are other benefits to smoking your own cheese:

  1. You control the strength of the smokiness you give the cheese by monitoring how much you allow it to absorb
  2. The flavour you give the cheese is completely in your control through the wood and herbs you use for smoking
  3. It's really good fun (much more so than brushing a brown liquid over your cheese) and is something just a bit different in your art
  4. The best part is that, just like your homemade cheese, it’s an authentic smokey taste.

In this article, I'm going to look at how simple it is to set up your own cheese smoker to impart the natural, delicate flavour of smoke to your own cheese.

Cheese Smoking Equipment

There are two ways to tackle smoking your own cheese. The first is that you can buy a kit to do it in a more controlled way (see the table below), the second is to set up your own cold smoker using household equipment.

Cold smoking, as the name implies, means smoking the cheese without getting it hot... mixing heat with cheese is a requirement for cheese on toast, but you'll find it a bit disastrous for smoking!

To achieve cold smoking at home, you'll need:

  1. Wood chips to create smoke, more on these later
  2. A wok/barbecue with a lid to hold the smouldering chips and create a thick, flavoursome fog!
  3. A wood chip burner to set wood chips smouldering
  4. A smaller pan/bowl/pie tin that fits inside the wok over the wood chips but leaves room for the smoke to flow around it. 
  5. A rack that lets smoke through from the smouldering chips but will support your cheese

Cheese Smoking Equipment to Buy

Cold Smoking Starter Set

Smoker Oven with Accessory Set

Variety Pack Smoking Wood Dust

Perfect for the beginner. This smoking set comes supplied with enough dust (think ground wood chips) for 50 hours of smoking fun - beech, oak, maple and cherry. It is used inside your bbq or other smoke container (check dimensions) and makes smoking incredibly simple and safe. It also comes with a free book on getting the most out of smoking food.

If you decide to take smoking of cheese (or any other food stuff, for that matter) really seriously, then this smoke oven will take it to the next level for you. It comes complete with over a dozen accessories, including thermometer, hooks and fish baskets. It also has a viewing panel to see how well your smoking is progressing - the only question is: where will you put it?

This is a variety pack of top-up smoke dust for use in the beginner's cold smoker on the left (or equivalent product). The set contains: alder, apple, beech, cherry, hickory, maple, oak and whisky oak. You can reasonably expect to achieve 16 smokings from this pack.

What to Smoke Cheese With

​Traditionally cheese is smoked with hardwood chips and there is a huge range available, either loose or made for specific smokers.

The kind of chip used should be suited to the cheese you are smoking. Milder flavours, such as alder and cherry work best with cheeses like mild cheddar and mozzarella.

Stronger smokes, like that produced by the infamous hickory chips or mesquite are more suited to a sharper cheese like strong cheddar or stilton.

Thinking a bit wider, wood is not the only source of smoke for flavouring cheese. In the brilliant Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin (buy a copy), there is a recipe for tea-smoked Gruyére.

The recipe calls for the smoking agent to be a mixture of brown sugar, white rice, oolong tea leaves and star anise pods showing that experimentation and our imaginations are the only limit on the smoked tastes that we can try and impart to our cheese.

How to Smoke your Cheese

Now that you have everything needed to smoke your cheese, it’s time to actually get on and do it!

Firstly, make sure that your cheese is ready to be smoked. It needs to be air dried in the fridge overnight and then brought up to room temperature before smoking it.

Your cheese also needs to be given a fighting chance of having the smoke impregnate all the way through, so cutting it into blocks an inch wide will have better results that dropping a whole 1kg truckle of cheese in the smoker.​

Line your wok with foil, making sure to overlap the foil around the lip. In the base, put the recommended amount of smoking chips, plus any other flavourings. Directly on top of the chips, rest your tray of ice cold water.

Place the rack for your cheese above the water and, finally, your cheese on the rack.

With the cheese in place, you can now apply heat to your smoke source, following the instructions supplied with your chips. This piece of kit is ideal for the job and, if I'm honest, great fun to use as well!

Once you have smoke being generated, put the lid on the wok (or cover the bbq, etc) to make sure the cheese is enclosed in a dense fog of fragrant smoke.

Leave for between one and two hours before removing the cheese from the smoking chamber. If your taste requires it, and you're looking for a darker finish, then up to five hours will do no harm to the cheese - provided that you keep an eye on the temperature. If you let it get above 70degrees, you risk starting to melt!

However long you leave the cheese in the smoker, it will have warmed up, so let it cool back to room temperature and dry it off again before wrapping or vacuum packing. If the cheese is still quite moist, it can be returned to the fridge or cheese cave to dry for a further night before packing.

Time helps bring out the flavour of smoking. So, once packed, try and resist the temptation to eat the cheese less than a week after smoking, as this will give time for the taste to impregnate the whole cheese, and the more time you give it, the mellower the taste becomes.

Further Reading

If you want more detail about smoking cheese, take a look at these articles:

  • ​Read more on general smoking equipment in this great article.
  • This article on the smoking meat website has good Q&A around cheese smoking
  • On the Cheese Forum, this thread goes into some detail about cold smoking
  • My Recommended BOOKS ON SMOKING CHEESE (and other foods)

One of my favourite books of all time! There is nothing in this book about smoking cheese particularly, but it has a few wonderful pages on how to smoke for preserving and flavour.

My cheese making bible! If you buy no other book on making cheese, then make sure this is the one you get. There are a few pages on smoking in here, including the team smoking recipe referenced above.

I haven't read this book, but it is smoking-specific and has only four- and five-star reviews on Amazon at the time of writing. So, if your interest is piqued, or you've already had a play with smoking and want to take it further, then this looks like a great buy.

Oct 14

Secondary cultures

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

Secondary cultures on cheese making

Using Secondary Cultures in your Homemade Cheese

In a previous article, we looked at the role of starter cultures in cheese making. They are bacteria that cause the acidification of milk as we make and ripen cheese. Secondary cultures come, as the name suggests, after that, but are no less important to the cheese they are found in for the flavour, texture, aroma and general character they impart.
Oct 14

Temperature Control

By HomeCheeseAdam | Beginner , Practiced Cheese Maker

temperature control in cheese making

Methods for Perfecting Temperature Control in Cheese Making

If you’ve read many of the articles on this website, you have already learned that there are many facets of cheese making that require good control mechanisms to ensure better results, and temperature is no different.Controlling temperature is most important during the cooking and aging stages of a cheese’s life, but this article focuses on the former. Temperature control during aging is considered in the article on storing cheese.

Oct 14

Flocculation Method

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

flocculation method

How to Set Curds Perfectly, Everytime

One of the themes that comes out a lot in these articles is consistency. We will make our best cheese when we can do so in a consistent way, by taking lots of notes and keeping all of our parameters the same as when we made our ‘best cheese ever’ so that it can be replicated.Whilst this is certainly true and a mantra from which I’m not going to retreat, there is a bigger question as to what is consistent. Take, for example, adding a starter culture to milk of a certain temperature and then leaving it for a specified amount of time to become curds and whey –what are the consistencies?Continue reading

Oct 14

Healing scalding and washing curds

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

Healing and washing cheese curds

Healing, Scalding and Washing Curds

This article follows on from Cutting Cheese Curds Properly and in it we’ll look at all the curd treatments that can happen between cutting and draining, so: healing, scalding, and washing.Healing
Perhaps the strangest of the post-cutting curd treatments is healing, and it’s strange because it doesn’t feel like a treatment at all as it’s the point in the recipe where we’re told to leave the curds alone for a period of time, or let them ‘rest’. What’s actually happening here is that we’re controlling two very important aspects of the cheese making process by allowing the curds to form a skin, which is actually the edge of the milk-gel becoming smooth and firm.Continue reading
Oct 14

Cutting cheese curds properly

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

cutting cheese curds

Cutting Cheese Curds Properly

There are many parts of the cheese making process that determine the type of cheese we create, such as the starter we add and the milk we begin with, but one of the most crucial is the way in which we cut the curds.In this extended article I’m going to look at why it is that cutting curds correctly is such a crucial part of determining the character of a cheese, how we can ensure that we do it uniformly and the method I use to deliver a consistent cheese texture.Continue reading

Oct 14

Cheese Brine – How to make and use it

By HomeCheeseAdam | Intermediate , Practiced Cheese Maker

Making and using brine for cheese

How Brine is Made, Measured and Used

In this article, we’re going to look at how to make brine, including how we keep control of its salinity (salt concentration) and how it is used. Before that, it is worth considering why we brine cheese, and there are three really important benefits of the brining process: to add flavour; to remove lactose that could carry on being converted to lactic acid by bacteria, which would prevent proper ripening, and; to form a rind which inhibits surface mould growth.Continue reading