A DIY Homemade Cheese Press Plan
Are You Ready to Make Cheese Curds and Pressed Cheeses?
This homemade cheese press plan will get you off to a great start when you’re ready to tackle pressed cheeses with your milk.
Like most dairy goat owners, when I first began making goat cheese, I started with chèvre — the classic soft goat cheese. I made a lot of chèvre. I’d flavor it different ways, from adding chopped Kalamata olives into the cheese, to rolling the chèvre into a log and coating it with fresh herbs, to adding honey for a sweet and tangy treat. And at the end of each milking season, I’d make a bunch of chèvre and freeze it so that my family could enjoy delicious goat cheese all winter long. Eventually, I got sick of it!
So then I learned to make mozzarella. And ricotta. And fromage blanc and cottage cheese and several other soft, fresh cheeses. These were delicious but I yearned for more. I was ready to make pressed and aged cheeses. I’d always heard that soft cheeses were easy and hard cheeses were hard, so I was a little intimidated to get started. Of course, hard cheeses aren’t really all that hard to make, but they are a bit more involved and require more planning, preparation, and time. I had to decide what cheese to make and where to get the cheesemaking supplies, most notably, a decent, affordable cheese press. I was also unsure about how to make a DIY cheese cave. I found good supplies online but it seemed that many of the presses available were quite expensive, up to $275! Boy, I’d have to make a lot of cheese to justify that expense. I found a number of homemade cheese press plans online so I started with one of them.
The first press I built required purchasing two heavy, quality wooden cutting boards (not exactly cheap) and then drilling big holes in each corner for a set of four wooden rods that connected the two boards. The idea was to put the cheese curds in their form on the first cutting board, and then top that with the second board with a bunch of free weights on top for pressure. This sounded doable; my husband had an old set of metal weights in our home exercise room. I bought supplies, made the press, made my cheese curds, loaded them into the form, put the weights on top, and waited. Within just a few minutes, the curds shifted as they released whey, and the weights shifted to one side and promptly slid onto the kitchen floor. It made a huge racket and left two giant, black skid marks on my linoleum floor that remained until the day we put in new kitchen flooring. At least no one’s foot was down there!
Feeling that was a major failure, I decided that following a homemade cheese press plan might not be for me and that maybe I needed to just buy a press. I settled for one that I found on eBay for about $50. It had springs and a screw that you’d tighten to create the pressure for the cheese. It was anyone’s guess exactly how much to tighten the screw to get the desired pressure, but at least it all stayed in one piece and didn’t damage my house!
Eventually my husband felt sorry for me (or grew impatient waiting for the perfect pressed cheese) and he bought me that expensive press I had seen online. I loved it and it worked well. But I learned a few years later, when taking a 3-day cheesemaking course from Linda & Larry Faillace from Vermont, that I could have made a press that would work just as well, if not better, without spending a dime. So that’s what I did and I’m here to show you how.
Introducing, the Bucket Press!
This is the best homemade cheese press plan I’ve seen and the concept is so simple I almost felt silly when I first learned it (like how I felt when I made my first batch of chèvre — see my “Life Lessons from the Barnyard” story at the end of this journal). Here’s how it works:
1. Go to a local bakery or deli and ask if they have any three-to-five-gallon food grade buckets that they’re getting ready to throw away. They’re usually happy to have you recycle them. You’ll need either two or three buckets of the same size. (Note: if you can’t find free buckets, they are inexpensive from a restaurant supply store.)
2. Drill holes in the bottom of one bucket with a power drill. The more holes the better, but not so many that you compromise the strength of the bucket base.
3. Fill a gallon jug water. Pour that into the other bucket, and then mark the water line with a permanent marker. Label that line “eight pounds.” Do that again, and label the next water line with a “16.” If your buckets are big enough, do it one more time and mark that line with a “24”. Now you can go back and fill in a few lines at the half way points to represent 4, 12, and 20 pounds (or you can estimate where 5, 10, and 15 would be as shown in the picture).
4. That’s it! You have a homemade cheese press plan that will accommodate at least 15-20 pounds of pressure. (You can always use additional weights to make it heavier or skip the water and just place weights inside the bucket.)
How to Use:
- If you only have two buckets, place the one with the holes directly into your kitchen sink. (Be sure it’s a very clean, disinfected sink) If you have three buckets, place the one with holes into one without holes and the bottom bucket will serve as your sink.
- Put your cheese form into the bucket with the holes, put a piece of cheesecloth into it, and then scoop your curds into the form and put the follower on top. If needed, put a can on top of the follower to give you something to rest weight on.
- Put the remaining bucket, with the appropriate amount of water or weight, right into that bucket and on top of the follower. You may need to put a kitchen towel or pot holder in between the buckets to keep the top bucket from wobbling, especially at first when the curds are still full of whey.
- Now all you do is wait! Your cheese is being pressed and the weight will follow the curds as they release the whey. Expelled whey will drip through the holes into the lower bucket or sink.
Pretty nifty, huh? Best homemade cheese press plan ever! Now figure out what recipe to start. I provided recipes for queso fresco and Guido’s Italian Cheese earlier in this issue. More good pressed cheeses to start with are Colby, Monterey Jack, and some farmhouse Cheddars. (I’ve had varying successes with the latter; not all recipes yield the same results.) Don’t forget to follow this link to learn more about making a DIY cheese cave.
Kate Johnson runs a cheesemaking school in Longmont, Colorado where she and her family also raise Nubian and Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. Visit www.theartofcheese.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn how to make cheese in the comfort of your own home, check out her Cheesemaking Made Easy DVD!