I have started making my own hard cheeses this year. Finally! After 7 years I am moving beyond chevre. It has been full of learning curves, some failed attempts that still turned out edible and probably more fails in my future, but it is fun. One of the basic things you need for making hard cheeses at home is a cheese press. These run well over $100 retail, and you still have to buy molds and followers and cultures, and…. well, you get the picture. Around here we just don’t have that kind of money, so insert creative initiative.
*Note: Here is the blog of our first use of the press.
First, I looked around online at what others had done. I had an old piece of 6-inch PVC laying around (I pulled it out of the ground while working on putting water in the garden, so no telling how old it is) that I cut into a 10-inch segment for making my first cheese. Ummm… 4-6 inches is much better, I will leave it at that.
I cut a follower out of a pine board (note to self, plain pine board warps with the moisture of the cheese, need poly material or plywood) by tracing the inside of the pipe onto the wood and using a scroll saw to cut it out. It is mostly round 🙂 Then, when I made cheese I used hand weights, canned goods, anything I could think of to weight it, but the weights were not, ummm…. accurate? Oh, and they had a tendency to tip over and land on the tile counter-top or once fall to the floor. I did get cheese, but it looked a little warped and funky, and the pressing weight is actually pretty important to getting the right moisture content and density to the cheese you are making. I did get better at balancing the weights, but yesterday I decided to spend a little money and get the materials to make an actual press.
First I got my supplies together. I wanted wood cutting boards, but found the cost was way out of my budget. Maybe someday I will find some used and cheap that I can make a new one with. I settled on $10 poly cutting boards from good old Wally-world, and they are decent, but I think I need to support the center of the bottom one with a pencil or a slim piece of wood as it does tend to warp a little under weight. If you want to copy my press I am including the how-to below, just keep in mind this is what I did for me and I take no responsibility if yours doesn’t turn out right or if anyone gets hurt using it, etc, etc.
~ 2 cutting boards of the same size, mine had to be at least 12″x8″ to accommodate 2 molds
~ 4 12-inch long bolts with flat heads, 1/2″ diameter
~ 4 each of 1/2- inch nuts and wide washers
~ 6-inch PVC pipe (all I could get was drain line, but it is potable water safe)
~ Wood or extra cutting board for round followers
~ 4-inch PVC for the press pipe
Drill with 1/-inch bit
Hand saw to cut PVC
2 clamps to hod cutting boards together
Total Cost: Approx. $45-50 if you already have tools available.
Step 1: Put everything in one spot so you don’t spend all your time searching. Mark where your molds will be so you don’t drill holes in the wrong spot. Clamp your cutting boards together, matching edges, and drill 4 holes, one in each corner, for the bolts using your half-inch bit.
Step 2: Take clamps off and insert bolts through both cutting boards. Put washer and nut on until the nut makes a “foot” at the end of the bolt.
Step 3: Mark your 6-inch PVC into 4.5 or 5-inch segments and then cut with the handsaw. I tried a reciprocating saw and it left really jagged edges, it was worth the extra work to use the hand saw.
Step 4: Mark the 4-inch PVC into 5-6 inch segments and cut with the handsaw, these will be used to pres down on the follower.
Step 5: Sand all edges of the PVC with the sand paper so they are smooth.
Step 6: Trace the inside of your PVC mold onto the material you chose to make followers out of. Cut them out and sand edges, check for fit. You want these to be slightly smaller that the inner PVC diameter.
Now you have a cheese press! To use, line your mold with cheesecloth, add your curds, fold the cheesecloth over the curds and insert the follower. Set your press pipe in the center of the mold over the follower and set into the press between the cutting boards. Add the required weight to the top of the press using water jugs or bricks to the required weight for your cheese and press according to directions in your recipe.
*Thoughts to improve the press; I need to add a nut and washer to the other side of the bottom cutting board to secure the bolts so they don’t wobble as much. I need a center support in the middle of the bottom cutting board to prevent warp. I am also considering drilling some small drainage holes in the cutting board to help the whey drain better. If I do these things I will update with more pictures.