When you first start home cheese making, it is easy to end up spending a lot of money on all the equipment you feel like you have to have to make great cheese. There are cultures and Rennet to buy, stockpots and thermometers, pH meters and curd knifes, cheese cloth and molds and a press for hard cheeses.
Plus the price of good milk alone can be quite frightening!
And what if for some reason you end up deciding not to make cheese any more? Then you’ve spent good money that will go to waste.
Well there is no need to break the bank when you first start making cheese. You can easily save yourself a bit of money when you are first testing the waters of cheese making as a hobby, by altering or re-purposing common household items into cheese making equipment.
Homemade Cheese Molds
Molds are used to shape the cheese and there are some fantastic custom made molds available, but they can come with some pretty high price tags. And the more types of cheese you make, the more molds you need. It soon adds up.
Learn how to make a mold out of household items to save that extra penny. Making your own molds isn’t difficult and doing so means you can get started on your home cheese making straight away, without spending too much money.
How to make cheese molds at home well the only real criteria is that the container you make or use is food safe, non corrosive and able to be sanitised. If using it for pressing cheese, that it is able to withstand the pressure and keep it’s shape during the press.
Tin cans with the tops and bottoms cleanly removed work well for shaping Feta and Camembert, and the larger fruit or coffee tins are ideal for bigger cheese rounds. Just rest them on sushi mats, on top of a cutting board, so that the curds can drain and they certainly do the job.
Food grade containers normally used for storing food in the fridge or freezer can also be altered to become excellent cheese molds.
I have purchased a number of containers, making sure to pick those with straight sides and no tapering, then drilled holes in them for the whey to drain and made followers cut from plastic chopping boards. The whole lot costs me no more than $10 NZD per mold and they work perfectly!
You can also use wood to make your followers if you prefer but I don’t recommend using chopping boards unless they are solid wood and the wood is untreated. A lot of the cheap wooden chopping boards are glued together and will fall apart with a few applications of too hot water when you sanitise. Plus, the glue may leech into your cheese while it is being pressed. This is also a concern with the oils and varnishes often used to finish these boards off.
It’s also important to note that some woods are unsuitable for use such as maple, which molds quickly and cherry, which releases tanins.
Remember to cut your followers slightly smaller than the diameter of the container you are using. It’s an easy thing to forget. This is particularly important with wood as it swells and expands with moisture and it could be quite an adventure trying to extract a follower that is jammed tightly, trapping your cheese inside of the mold.
Many people have also used PVC plastic spouting and piping to make cheese molds but there is some debate as to whether this is a good idea or not.
The concerns raised are in regards to the chemicals present in pipes and spouting, which can become toxic with heat or when in contact with acids from the cheese, and that these may permeate your cheese.
These products were obviously not intended for use with food so their food safety status is in some views questionable. But then it is also argued that much of our water is transported using pipes such as these so should be safe.
I don’t have a final conclusion on the subject so I personally have chosen to avoid these products and err on the side of caution, but other cheese makers are not so bothered and happily use them.
Homemade Cheese Cloth
In addition to using a mold to shape your cheese, most cheese recipes will also require you to use cheese cloth for draining and lining the inside of your molds.
This is another area you can easily save some money in.
Again, you can buy proper cheese cloth but if you really want to keep costs down you can also use items you may already have around home such as net curtains, muslin, cotton pillow cases or bridal veils (because we all have plenty of those lying around, right? ; )
As long as you can boil and sanitise the material, and it has an open (but not too open) weave for the whey to drain through, you will be just fine.
I have to be honest though. This is one area I personally don’t scrimp on but I also know of great home cheese makers who have always used re-purposed materials for their cheese cloth and never had any issues. It all comes down to personal choice really.
Homemade Cheese Press
Once you decide to make hard cheeses you will need something to apply the right amount of pressure to your curds, so as to extract the whey, knit the curds and create your final cheese shape.
There are plenty of amazing, custom made presses for sale but a quality press will easily set you back hundreds of dollars.
And yet, it is impossible to make any hard cheeses without something to press your cheese in the mold.
If you have a handy man in the family, there are plenty of comprehensive DIY plans on the internet for making your own custom made cheese press but if you don’t have the tools or the skills at your disposal you can get away with some very basic house hold items to press your cheese.
Your stockpot or clean buckets filled with water will give you approximately 1kg of weight per 1 litre of liquid. Heavy books or bricks will provide ample weight if stacked evenly and safely and if you have a set of plate weights, these make excellent pressing devices.
Just make sure that if you can’t sanitise the items you are using, that you have created a good barrier between your cheese and your pressing system.
It can be a little hit and miss getting exactly the right weight and pressure across your cheese with make shift pressing systems but you’ll find you get a pretty good result and you can upgrade to a proper press once you become more serious about your home cheese making.
So really, there is no need to spend a fortune when you are first starting out with cheese making.
Sure, there will likely come a day when you want to invest in a few good quality molds and a proper press, but you can also enjoy just making cheese and discovering what cheeses you love to make first so that when you do spend your money, you spend it on equipment you know you will get plenty of use from.
What interesting items have you re-purposed for cheese making? Do you have a unique way of pressing your cheese? Join the discussion over at the Curd Nerd Forum. We would love to hear from you!