As I begin to stretch my cheese making wings and attempt other more complicated cheese recipes, I came across a rather simple looking recipe for Muenster cheese. I was already experienced with nearly all of the steps involved and the added bonus was the fact that the cheese would be ready for consumption in as little as 5-7 days once out of the cheese press. That’s about as close to instant gratification as you’ll get with most of the hard cheeses I have come across. And as my “cheese cave” is nearly bare, housing only a Farmhouse Cheddar and Poblano Pepper Jack each requiring several more weeks of aging before they will be ready for consumption, this seemed like the perfect recipe to try next!
Disclaimer: Now as I share with you how I made the cheese please keep in mind that I am a novice when it comes to cheese making. If you’re new to cheese making like I am, please don’t take anything I share as the gospel when it comes to making cheese. You’ll want to invest in a cheese making class or do it the way I am: check out some books from the library, watch lots ofvideos, and read all about it on the Internet. Cheese making is an art form and, as with any craft, practice (and in the case of cheese making in particular) and precision are key. I don’t expect all of my cheeses to be raging successes, but I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge and new adventure I have just embarked upon!
The Muenster recipe I used came from a book I checked out of the library called Making Great Cheese At Home by Barbara Cilette. It looked a bit easier than the recipe in my 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes book so I thought I would try the easier version first. Also, the more complicated recipe called for an ingredient I don’t have so it was really a no-brainer.
For this recipe I used 2 gallons of whole milk from the grocery store, though I would gladly have gone with 3 or 4 gallons had I a larger pot. Since cheese making can be rather a long process start to finish, it makes sense to make the largest cheese wheel possible for the time invested, depending on the cheese of course.
I began warming the milk over a low flame on my gas stove. I should mention many of the recipes call for warming the milk in a double boiler while a few do not. At this point I am attempting to make my cheese without the use of a double boiler for simplicity sake. I am blessed to have a gas stove with a simmer burner, which allows me to gently and slowly warm my milk. If I had an electric stove I think a double boiler would be essential. So far I have made a few successful batches of cheese using my simmer burner taking care not to heat the milk too quickly. But ultimately I may find that the quality of the cheese will be improved with the use of a double boiler and perhaps I will decide to make a change.
While the milk was warming I prepared the rennet tablet by dissolving it in 1/4 cup of cool bottled water. Tap water is a no-no as it often contains contains chlorine and that can interfere with the coagulation of the curds.
After frequently stirring and slowly warming the milk I finally reached the target temperature of 88 degrees.
At this point I turned off the heat, covered the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes. After the 5 minute rest period I gently stirred in the rennet solution using an up and down motion. I covered the pot again and let it sit, undisturbed for one hour.
When the hour was up, I made sure I had a clean break before cutting the curds into 1 inch cubes.
Here’s what the curds look like as I began stirring them.
The directions called for the addition of four teaspoons of salt (I used cheese salt) at this point and, although the other recipes I have tried called for adding the salt after all of the whey was strained and just before pressing, I went ahead and added it at this point anyway. Next time however, I will wait and add the salt to the strained curds for a couple of reasons. First, I like to make ricotta with the whey and I prefer the ricotta to be unsalted in case I want to use it to make something sweet. Also, I think I lost much of the salt to the whey in this batch of cheese because the curds tasted very bland when I sampled them after straining the whey. I ended up adding more salt to the strained curds before adding them to the cheese mold.
At this point I had a some trouble with the recipe directions so I had to wing it a bit. The directions said to turn the heat back on and begin gently heating and stirring the curds. Unlike the other recipes I have tried, I wasn’t given a temperature I was shooting for so I just warmed them slightly as the whey began to release from the curds. The directions also said to mat the curds together with the spoon or my hands, but they never came together for me in the pot, perhaps because they weren’t heated enough. I don’t know. I was more afraid of overheating the curds so I decided to err on the side of caution and proceed with straining the curds. Here’s what they looked like just before I decided to drain them in my cheesecloth lined colander.
Using a large slotted spoon I scooped most of the curds into the cheesecloth and then carefully dumped the rest.
This is what the curds looked like after about half and hour of draining. I mixed in a bit of salt before transferring them to the cheese mold.
So then I gathered up the ends of the cheesecloth and plunked the lot into my cheese mold. It was time for the first 12 hour pressing at 40 pounds of pressure. Since I don’t yet own a cheese press I had to rig up my own press. What do you think?
Actually, this is my second rigged press for the Muenster cheese. My first one toppled over at about 3:30 a.m. jarring me awake. Not good. I lost about half a canister of bread flour and had a bit of a mess to clean up. This is my first homemade cheese that required a significant amount of weight and it was a bit more difficult coming up with the required 40 pounds of pressure than I anticipated. There are probably about a zillion better ways to do this than how I have it rigged, but fortunately this one worked for the remainder of the pressing time.
I considered making my own press or even trying to use barbell weights as many home cheese makers do. But as I don’t own any barbell weights and the cost to purchase them is nearly the equivalent of purchasing a new cheese press off Ebay I figure I’ll opt for the latter option eventually. In the meantime I’ll work to create a better mouse trap so to speak. 😉
So after the requisite 24 hours of pressing, here is my beautiful work of culinary art hanging out of the drying mat!
The final step of this particular recipe is to lightly salt the cheese on all sides and allow it to dry on the cheese mat for a few days, flipping it a couple times a day. Although I decided to stick with the original recipe to finish my first Muenster cheese with a salt rub, I have seen other recipes that call for brining the cheese with a saltwater solution and even one with a wine solution! I have a terrific homemade Chardonnay that I think would make the perfect brine for this cheese! Hopefully I will get a chance to try that in the coming weeks.
So now I wait. And even if I missed the Muenster mark due to the hiccups along the way I have no doubt the cheese will be edible, perhaps even delightful!