Ooooo cheese. I may be lactose intolerant but that does not stop me from eating cheese. I can cut out so many other forms of dairy but there’s something about cheese that I don’t think I will ever be able to give it up. What’s even better than cheese? Homemade cheese. Never made it before? Oh boy are you missing out.
A couple weeks ago was spring break for my nephews. As young ones they love their milk so we have to be well stocked for that. Well, at the end sometimes there’s leftover milk, and sometimes there’s a lot. This time around was one of those times where there was a lot and it was about to expire. Of course there’s other things that can use up a lot of extra milk and I did go those routes first. Made some ice creams, made some pastry cream and did banana cups with it, but there was still almost a full gallon of milk and I had just a couple days to figure out what to do. So I went for my trusty cheese option.
I’ve made cheese a few times now. It’s really simple depending on the type and can be difficult if you make a harder recipe. In my plated desserts class in college, I was the one in a group project to do the cheese plate. Being an over achiever of course I had to make my own so I did ricotta, the easiest in my opinion. I have made mozzarella as well a few times and it also is pretty easy, just a bit more time consuming. Last year at the start of the pandemic I had an urge to make cheese and invested in a couple cultures from New England Cheese Company. They have so many great tutorials and the various tools and ingredients to make pretty much any cheese at home. With a couple of their packets I should use up, figured it was time to find a cheese to do.
The biggest issue I have found with cheese making is the aging process for more intense cheeses. You need a cheese cellar or a place that is cool and a specific humidity to age cheese well. Wanting to try something new though, I figured I should take the time to DIY something and try my hand at an aged cheese.
Using the data base online of all the recipes, I popped in the two cultures I had in the freezer and took a look of the recipes that I had what I needed to make and how hard it could be. I ended up deciding on a Belper Knolle cheese recipe. This type of cheese is a lactofermented cheese (of course I’m head over heels once I read that) and is aged for up to 1-3 months when in proper conditions. This cheese is traditionally from Switzerland, and it’s known for using very little rennet (the ingredient that typically causes the curds to form and make cheese). The milk is left to ferment overnight to acidify, curdle, and thicken, then drained for a day before being shaped, coated with ground pepper, and aging.
The whole process actually didn’t seem to be that difficult, just a lot of waiting and that was completely true. At this point it is in the fridge aging (I’ll talk more on that later), but let’s talk about how I got to that point of the process, how it went, and what I changed to make it better for me specifically.
How I Made Belper Knolle Cheese at Home
Recipes from New England Cheese Company with slight variations.
What you need:
- Milk, 1 gallon but I used less and adjusted the rest of the ingredients.
- 1 Packet C20G Chevre Culture
- 1 ½ tsp Salt
- 2 tbsp Black Peppercorn (definitely more, I used a lot)
First step is to heat the milk. I ended up using a mixture of whole and 2% then added a little cream to even out the weight. The important thing here is to not use ultrapasturized since that won’t curdle like you need. Ideally use raw but that can be hard to come by. I like to heat the milk in a large pot with a lid. The trick here is low heat and stir often. I placed the pot on the lowest heat setting and stirred ever few minutes. You aren’t heating the milk much, just bringing it to a little less than body temp (around 86°F). Once at the temp, turn off heat.
Once the milk is heated, it’s time to add the culture. Online they note that the culture can clump so it’s best to sprinkle and let dissolve for two minutes before stirring in.
Once the culture is added, it’s time for the first rest. Cover the pot, let it sit on the counter and rest 12-14 hours. I made it at night so that it rested while I slept and then I started it back up in the morning. During this time the culture will start to multiply and as it eats the lactose sugar (stuff I can’t eat) it will acidify the milk and cause it to curdle. The culture packet also contains a little rennet powder that helps firm up the curds for ease later on. This step actually took me about 15-16 hours since the curds weren’t that firm and I wanted to make sure the separation was clear and easy to do.
After the first rest it’s time to separate the curds and drain. Using a few layers of cheese cloths in a strainer over a bowl, ladle the curds into the cloth and allow whey to drain off. At first the mixture had a thinner, more yogurt like consistency but this is why it will drain for a while. Once all in a strainer (I used two for this step) allow to sit on the counter and drain as much whey as it can for the day. You can also do this step overnight depending on your time schedule for this cheese making process. I ended up letting it drain for about 10 hours and would have liked to let it go a few more but didn’t want to be shaping it at midnight.
Now that it is drained, it is time to add some salt and shape. At this point the cheese should be firmer. Mine was a bit sticky but held its shape when made into a ball. I mixed in the salt (traditionally you add garlic too but I like to share cheese with my dog) and then let it sit in the strainer some more while you prep the peppercorns. The salt will take the last bit of whey off the cheese.
With cheese salted, grind the peppercorns until fine. I also added some thyme and parsley to add a little more flavor to this cheese and make it a littler herby. Spread pepper and herbs on a plate for coating. Take a handful of the cheese curds and shape into a ball. Coat with the pepper and press into a slight disk shape. Then place onto a rack set in a pan. I used a bamboo sushi mat to allow air to circulate underneath. Repeat with remaining cheese until all is shaped and coated.
With cheese shaped, it’s time to dry before aging. This allows the cheese to firm up slightly and even out in moisture before aging. Ideally this is done at 50-60°F with about 65-75% Humidity. Since I have a spare fridge that doesn’t hold normal temps I used it instead. The internal temp is about 45-50°F. I placed the cheese on a pan with a plastic storage tub on top for some air circulation on the top shelf. The door and top shelf are the warmest places in the fridge and the tub will hold some humidity during this process. Let it dry until it is firmer and can be picked up easily. I went for about 3 days like this before moving to aging.
Now aging is where it gets a bit harder. Ideally you should age in a cheese cellar at a temp of 52-56°F and humidity around 75-80%. I can’t easily do that. I looked around at a lot of DIYs and what I could do. In the end I could age in the fridge but would have to age for longer (fine by me). I placed the cheese into a couple air tight tubs along with a damp paper towel, this will make more humidity. I leave them closed in the door of the fridge, top level where it should be warmer and leave for 1 week. Then I open them and let them sit without a lid on at all for 1-2 days. Then close the lid and wait another week. At this point I will repeat this until I feel like the cheese is done. Under normal conditions aging takes 4-6 weeks. Since I am doing it at colder temps I’m going to aim for 2-3 months of aging. At the end of the day, longer aging just means more developed flavor so I’m not worried about “over aging”.
Once aged, you cheese is ready to eat and enjoy!
Okay, that was a lot. And it takes a lot of time both to start and then waiting to age. The process of making the cheese and getting it to the aging step wasn’t that bad. Although, definitely start it at night. Time table for that works so much better in my opinion.
The heating of the milk can be tricky. You don’t want to overheat it. Online, many suggest placing the milk in a pot then placing the pot into a hot water bath and slowly increasing the temp. I’m too impatient for that. You can heat on the stove to go faster, you just need to be more careful. Stir often and do it on the lowest heat. Just a slow, consistent heat to bring it to temp. In total it took my pot of just under a gallon about 25-30 minutes to reach temp.
In the morning when I checked on the cheese curdling I didn’t see any noticeable separation of the whey so I gave it a little more time to do its thing. I added about 2 hours, for a total of about 16, to this step to make sure the cheese was clearly forming. It was still a little soft when I started draining it but wasn’t that bad.
I did have to divide the cheese in two strainers lined with cheese cloth to start. Once they had lost most of the whey and had reduced in size I added them back together to finish off. I do like to save the whey for bread making. Not a huge change in flavor and that way I don’t waste the whey. Since this batch did have live cultures in it I brought it to a boil to kill them off so they wouldn’t interfere with my yeast cultures. I also tested the pH (I have stripes on hand) and the whey wasn’t as acidic as I thought it would be. I didn’t adjust and used the same as water in some pita bread and some pain de mie the next day.
Once the cheese was drained it was time to mix in salt and form into pucks. Traditionally this cheese has garlic added as well but since I like to share cheese with my dog (please don’t get mad at me) I didn’t want the garlic since dogs can’t have garlic. The salt was mixed in then I ground up a bunch of pepper for the crust. (On the note of my dog, small amounts of peppercorns are safe but get worst in larger quantity so he will only be getting middle of the cheese from me.)
Now big tip here, GRIND MORE PEPPER THAN YOU THINK. The original recipe said like 2 tablespoons. I used probably close to 6-8 tablespoons to get everything coated well. Make a bunch and save yourself from stopping mid process to grind more. I used only black peppercorns since that is what I had but use whatever you’d like or a blend. I made the cheese portions about the size of a lemon. Rolled in pepper then pressed to make a puck shape. Once they are all coated they need to dry.
Drying is when “let’s figure this out” methods come into play. The drying should be done at a relatively high humidity and refrigerators are designed to reduce humidity. I left them on a bamboo sushi mat in a half sheet tray. The mat honestly looks like the same kind they use in cheese tutorials so I figured they may be the same thing just used for multiple foods. The tub I balanced on top was to help retain more moisture and create humidity but they also need to dry so the tub was not sealing the tray. I placed it at an angle so that the air moved around but as a whole more moisture should stay around the cheese. There was no defined amount of time to dry, just that it should get a firm edge to it. I went about 3 days and by then the cheese had some give but was a lot firmer and drier than when it first went into the fridge.
After the drying was done I moved the cheese into storage containers that sealed better and it was time to age. Again I did not have the proper way to do this but I’m going to experiment and see what I can do. I want to one day make brie so might as well start learning how to make my own cheese aging area without investing in a big professional contraption.
I used these black rectangular storage containers with clear lids from Costco already. They work great to stack stuff in my freezer for later and they can be washed and reused so it’s perfect. I used two of them for all the cheese, with a paper towel to help with humidity. The aging requires quite a bit of humidity so I placed a damp paper towel to help create that humidity. To prevent too much moisture and allow better aging I remove the paper towel and leave the containers open in the fridge for 1-2 days ever 7-10 days and then close and replace the paper towel after. I’m hoping this works well and creates the right environment to get a good age to this cheese. At the end of the day it’s said it can be eaten fresh so if the aging doesn’t go as well as I want it to, I can still enjoy soft cheese at the end of this process.
With the cheese in its third week of aging it’s now just a waiting game. Proper aging takes 4-6 weeks like I mentioned above but with the colder temps I’m just going to let it go for a while, probably close to 3 months. We’ll see how it all turns out though!
For now I will work on other recipes, other experiments, and keep playing with food. The garden is ready for the year and I can’t wait to get some fresh veggies and fruits to use in the kitchen. Hopefully get a nice cheese plate made with homemade cheese and home grown veggies this summer!