Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet the Jack Cheese's....Monterey and Pepper

I am sorry to all of you for not posting more regularly the past month or so.  We have entered the season of stock shows and 4-H competitions.  This has been taxing on my soul.  You see, I am the person who can stay at my farm for a minimum of 14 days without a single regret.  In fact, I CRAVE it.  So, I have been struggling to find balance.  In the midst of all the going's on here, I embarked on the art of hard cheese-making.  I must confess to you, it was long over due.  You see, my husband, the most awesomest gift giver out there (I told him he should provide a service to other gift-giving-challenged men....I might have seen a slight grin), he blessed me with a hard cheese press 2 1/2 years ago for our anniversary.  I was so excited.  It sat on the counter for a week.  I turned it from time to time.  Then, I moved it to the kitchen table....still in awe.  Then, later it went on the dairy shelf where I could still lay my eyes on it's beauty (okay that may be a little's PVC, plastic and stainless steel).  Eventually it ended up inside my cheese-making pot.  I think at this point, it was out of sheer guilt for not ever having used it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I have had 2 1/2 years to reflect upon, trying to figure out why I never used it.  The best I could come up with is fear.  Fear of change and fear of failure.  One might say to themself, it's just cheese, but to me I talked myself out of hard cheeses one thousand and thirteen times.....I counted.  Not really, I can't count that high.  I mean it's not that I can't count that high, but it would have to be all at once.  When I sleep at night, my brain resets itelf in preparation for the next day....kinda like a battery or something.  That's why lists have become so necesary in my life.  I will only begin to worry when I actually have to write mine or my children's names down at night before I go to bed.  Ok, back to the regularly scheduled program.  The fear thing....I mean you have to make the starter culter (a process similar to yogurt making), then you make the curds (keeping them at a certain temperature for periods of an hour or so), then you press and certain pounds of pressure (that sounds like a man thing).  Then, when you survive that, you pull out a hunk of cheese and have to wax it.  After you get your confidence up at that point, you get to stash it away in a refrigerator which, oh yeah, has to be at 50 degrees and 85% humidity (you need another technical gadget a hygrometer).  It must stay in the refrigerator anywhere from a month to a year before you actually know if you have been sucessful.  Can you see now why I was so intimidated?  All that aside, I have been told that I embrace challenges and will rise to the occassion.  I wasn't convinced but last week I finally but my big girl pants on and dove in, starting with Montery Jack.  Since the first batch I have now made:  Monterey Jack, White Cheddar, Derby and Pepper Jack.  Before sharing the recipe with you, I want to give you a little something to smile about.  Do you remember I told you the press had sat there for over 2 years?  Well, it came with one page of instructions for using the said press.  I vaguely remember something about the number of times you have to turn the crank to achieve different pressures.  When I went to pull the press out of the cheese pot to make it's debut.....yep, you guessed it, no instructions.  Oh, well, easy enough.  You can find ANYTHING on the internet these days.  Anything but the instructions for my CheeseyPress, that is.  Rising to the challenge again, I thought no the company.  Turns out the owner was on an international sabbatical until March.  The nice man at the wine and cheese shop that was manning his phones was so kind ot inform me that Mr. Shapson had redesigned his cheese press several times in the past 2 years. @&*$%!  What does that mean?  I briefly hesistated.  You know that fear factor rose up in me.  He proceeds to attempt in guiding me as to how many turns to make to achieve the pressures(isn't there an old saying about the blind leading the blind).  In the end I come up with this method, mostly my own.  Turn it a couple of times and you're somewhere around 10-15 pounds.  Turn it till you think you are going to break the press, you must be around 50 pounds.  If there are any seasoned cheesemakers out there reading this, and I doubt there are, please forgive me for I know not what I do.   Whatever I did, I managed to turn out something that looked like a block of cheese.  When I pulled my first round out of my press, I immediately placed it on a large wooden cutting board and toted it to my husband, who naively thought I was bringing him breakfast in bed.  I said, 'Look, honey!  I did this!'.  His slightly dillusional response was, 'Can I eat it?'.  I humphed, turned away and whispered, 'In 2 months!'.  Later after he was actually up, I asked him again, to look at what I made and the whole conversation was repeated.  We're funny like that.  So, I am going to share with you the recipe I used for Monterey Jack.  The disclaimer here is that while I have "made" the cheese, know that I am not sure it is edible yet (you gotta love that kind of disclaimer).

  Meet "The" cheese press....                             
NOTE:  I tinkered with the photo to camoflouage the blurriness. You'll thank me for that. I don't know what was going on with the camera.  Maybe there was a fight between the camera and the press that I didn't know about.  The camera probably called the press 'old', 'fat' or 'ugly' or something else that cannot be spoken on this blog.

First, I chopped the bless-ed peppers.  No, I didn't use red AND green...I didn't have 'em and I refuse to pay extra for color.  It's all about the flavor people.

Next, I began the process for Monterey Jack (see recipe below).  It was fairly uneventful, so I didn't include many pictures.  I probably should have included one to demonstrate "clean break"...please forgive me.  I will do better next time around.

These are the curds that you are looking for as you are heating and stirring to expel the whey.  **PK's NOTE: It is important to raise it's something to do with the pH. The first batch of cheese, I attempted to do this on the largest burner on LOW. It still raised it too fast. So, the next round I put it on my simmer burner on LOW and it worked perfectly. Keep this in mind when you are attempting this slow rise in temperature. Also, for you ladies who have an electric stove....please leave a message in the comments section. I will put you on my prayer list. I have said more than once that if I had to cook on an electric stove my family would starve. It's just the facts, baby.

After maintaining the curds at 100 degrees for an hour, you drain them into a cheesecloth-lined colander.  NOTE HERE:  To sterilize your cheeselcoth, boil it for a minimum of 10 minutes.  Take out and use.

When you get the curds into the colander, add the salt and peppers and mix in with your hands.  NOTE AGAIN:  The salt will make you cry for your mommy if you have the slightest blemish on your hands.  However, I am quite sure it is a very healing moment. 

Pack the curds into your cheesecloth-lined mold.


Tuck the cheese cloth on top of the curds and place the circle thingy on top (this is formally known as your not the stalker type...).

Then, you put the press together.  This is where men often step in.  They may even call it an intervention.  Anytime you use terms like fly wing nuts, bolts, and heavy duty springs, you are dangerously close to speaking "man language".  That is a dangerous "gray area".  Because, if you are actually being dictated to while assisting in an actual project of significance, it is important to know the differences between a regular washer and a lock washer and all common tools.  I should have probably included that in the list on The Grooming of A Ranch Wife.

This is also the point where you have to determine the turns you need to achieve different pounds of pressure.  Remember from above, I made it up.  I'm kinda handy that way.  I cranked a little for 10 pounds of pressure and cranked alot ('til it squeaked in pain) for 50 pounds.  After the cranking and flipping and repacking, the moment of the "Great Reveal" came....

And, after all this....lookey what I did!

Next, it has to sit on my Pampered Chef cooling racks on the kitchen table for 2-4 days.  Turning it twice a day.  Then, I will wax it and off it goes to the cheese cave (doesn't that sounds fancy).  It actually is one of my milk refrigerators that lives in the barn.  I so carefully cleaned it out, anxiously waiting to put cheeses in there.  I will share a little advice to you.  If your cheese cave refrigerator lives outside in the elements and the weather reaches arctic temperatures.  It it VERY difficult to get the temperature inside to 50 degrees.  I mean how do you get the inside of a refrigerator to 50 when the outside is 30?  Let me tell you one can be done.  If you take a 3 gallon pot, fill it with water and boil it.  Then trample through the snow and stick it in the refrigerator.  The Lord was rooting for me yesterday because two hours later, I checked the temp and it was exactly 50 degrees! 

Here is the recipe without pictures.  I did that just for you, Friend.  So, you can highlight, hit print, change to 'Selection' under Page Range and print for your own attempts at hard cheese-making.  I included that little tidbit about printing the selection after years of printing pages from the internet filled with ads.  I later graduated to copying and pasting into a word processor program.  I'm a dork that way.  My life would have been much more efficient if I had figured that out years ago.  Oh, well....moving on.  If only I can help one person then it was all worth it...  Seriously, ladies (assuming that only girlies are reading this), if you have any questions, shoot me an email or post a comment.  I'll help you out any way I can!

Monterey and Pepper Jack

4 gallons whole milk
8 cubes or 1 c. mesophilic starter culture
1 t. liquid rennet or 1/2 tablet rennet, dissolved in 1/2 c. COOL water
1/4 c. salt

1.  Warm the milk to 88 degrees.  Turn heat off.  Stir in cheese starter culture.  Cover with a lid and let sit 30 minutes. 
2.  Check that the temperature is still 88 degrees.  If it has cooled down, bring temperature back up before adding rennet.  Add dissolved rennet to milk and stir gently for 1 minute.  Cover and let sit 1 hour or until you get a clean break.
3.  Cut the curd into 1/2" cubes and let sit for 40 minutes with lid on.
4.  Heat the curds over low heat to 100 degrees, increasing the temperature by 2 degrees every 5 minutes.  Stir often to help expel whey from the curds.
5.  Hold the curds at 100 degrees for 1 hour, stirring often.
6.  Drain curds through a cheesecloth-lined colander.  Sprinkle the salt over curds and mix well with hands.  Scoop the curds into cheescloth-lined mold and place follower on top, then fold over the excess cheesecloth.  Press at 10 lbs. pressure for 15 minutes.
7.  Remove cheese from the press and unwrap it.  Flip cheese over and repack by rewrapping in the same cheesecloth.  Repacking and flipping cheese prevents it from sticking to the cheesecloth and allows even pressing.  Apply 50 lbs. pressure for 1 hour.  Repack a second time and press with 50 lbs. pressure for 11 hours.
8.  Let cheese air dry on a cheese mat for 1-2 days until a rind forms.  Always cover cheese with butter muslin to keep flies from laying eggs on it. If you cover it with a towel your cheese won't dry sufficiently and will grow mold. If weather is humid, mold may grow anyway.  To prevent this, place a fan blowing on the cheese.  Wipe mold off with a cloth dampened in vinegar.  Turn the cheese twice a day so that all sides are exposed to the air.
9.  When cheese is dry to the touch, chill for a couple of hours, then wax it.
10.  Age the cheese at 50-55 degrees for 2-4 months, turning it twice a week.  Turning it keeps moisture from settling to the bottom of the cheese, causing mold growth.

Pepper Jack:
     Follow the previous recipe for Monterey Jack, adding the following steps:  Boil 1/2 cup chopped red and green jalapenos in 1 c. water for 5 minutes.  Strain the water into the cold milk before adding the starter culture.  Mix the peppers into the drained curds before putting them in the cheese press.  You can substitute cut up pickled jalapenos, but don't add the brine to the milk as the vinegar will cause it to curdle.

**This recipe was taken from the book "Cheese Making At Home" published by the Center for Essential Education.  You can and should purchase it here.  (There is a soft cheese book on that page, too.  The soft cheeses are included in Cheese Making at Home.  Soft cheeses are a GREAT place to start if you are interested in cheese making).

Prairie Kerri


  1. You are a very creative writer. I love the play by play and skip-around!!!
    I'm dying for my invitation to arrive for a weekend of cheesemaking. I suppose we should bring our own presses and accouterments.
    I LOVE the egg basket in the background of the picture. Very prairie-like.

  2. Martina - my sweet friend, your kind words touch my heart. But, I must confess that the skip around isn't a literary technique for me but rather a symptom of a disease I am forced to live with....AOADD (Adult Onset Attention Deficit Disorder). The only known prescription for it, or so I've heard, is massive amounts of chocolate. As for cheesemaking, let's plan a day of it!

  3. Congratulations on your first wheel of hard cheese! It looks great!

    Mrs. P

  4. Love it, Love it! You write like you talk- and it always makes me smile! Cannot wait to hear how it tastes- and all the other flavors I know you will try!
    May try to brave it one day myself. For now- I'm at least making 'homemade' pimento spiced cheese!