Brian Boucheron

Cooking & brewing & growing & nerding &ct.

First Cheddar Tasting

First Cheddar Tasting

I’ve been sitting on these photos for about a month now, but somehow word still got out: the cheddar is open! I’ve already tasted or given away half the wheel, and the initial reviews are quite positive. I’m pretty happy with it myself. It tastes good, but maybe not perfect. Given that I was worried about it being a soaking moldy rancid mess when I finally cracked it open, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. It’s a bit moist—creamy even—and somewhat mild at this point in time (it’s about eight months old). It doesn’t seem to be oversalted. The curd is really well knit, with no gaps or crevices. It tastes a bit like a colby to me, so I have to figure out what the similarity is there.

First Cheddar Tasting

I cut the wheel up into eights and vacuum packed them all. Hopefully I’ll be able to wait out the full year before tasting the rest, and we’ll see if it changes much in that time. In the meantime, the weather is getting nice and cool, and I’m finding myself in the kitchen more often on the weekends, cooking and baking and brewing. Hopefully the cheesemaking will resume in October, and I’ll be able to put up enough cheese over winter to satisfy the snacking appetite of family and friends for the next year.

First Cheddar Tasting

Three Cheese Update

3 Week Provolone, Slicing

My first batch of provolone, having completed three weeks of hard labor in the cheese fridge, was ready for slicing and tasting last weekend. Hooray! After many requests for “some cheeses we can actually taste within the next year”, we now have some cream cheese and provolone in an edible state in the fridge.

Cheese is quite a pain to cut with a knife, and I don’t have any piano wire handy to make a wire-based cheese slicer, so I was quite happy to finally have a use for one of my hand cranked deli slicers, as you can see above. Don’t tell the hoarding police, but I have three of these things kicking around in the basement. The first one I dug up didn’t work so hot, but the one pictured above sliced the provolone beautifully. It has some squeaks and needs some cleaning and tuning, but in general it’s a lovely hunk of cast iron and it chewed through my two provolone lumps with ease.

3 Week Provolone, Slicing

3 Week Provolone, Slicing

My parents scrounged me a vacuum sealer for Christmas last year, and this was its first use. I do hate the proliferation of plastic bags it encourages, but I suppose I hate freezer burn and wasted food moreso. The bags seem to be reusable though, so I’ll just be “that guy” who washes and dries items that are normally thought of as disposable. No matter… I hang laundry and prefer bikes to cars, so I’ve already been cast out of polite American society.


The vacuum sealer worked quite well, and by the end of this process I felt like a proper supermarketeer, with nicely sliced and plasticized cheeses, ready to be hung in the deli case next to the bologna and prosciutto (dangerously close to the liverwurst too, usually!). Update: since writing this, we’ve broken into the provolone stash, and found all the slices had been vacuumed back into a single mass. Perhaps I will age provolone unsliced in the future.

I now realize I’ve failed to mention something important: how did it taste?! I am relieved to report that it does indeed taste like provolone. Fairly mild at this point, but with a hint of sharp cheesiness. The rind is a bit drier and more pronounced than I’m used to. The humidity was a tad low in the cheese cave, so that may account for that. The texture inside seems about right, despite my problems stretching and forming the curd. Not sure what else to say… no doubt cheese mongers have a bounty of words used to describe cheese taste characteristics. Perhaps they’re even as varied and silly as those of wine aficionados… but for now, all I’ve got is: tastes cheesy, not spoiled, not too salty, A++ would ingest again.

Parmesan, 3 Months

Since I was already breaking out the vacuum-sealer-bot for long term provolone storage, I decided to quarter and pack my first parmesan and romano cheeses as well. One disadvantage of making wee little two pound cheeses is that the rind to insides ratio is all off compared to an 80 pound wheel. Unless you rub the rind with olive oil every once in a while, or wax your cheese, or vacuum pack it, you’ll end up with an overly dry, cracked up, 100% rindy cheese. No good.

I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to cut the parmesan, due to my aforementioned lack of wire (not to mention the specialized knives usually used to split apart big wheels of parmesan), but my normal chef’s knife did the trick just fine. The romano was even easier, as it’s a bit more moist (probably too moist, actually). Both were quartered, and—after I snuck a taste—vacuum packed.

Again, I have no good tasting notes… the parmesan seemed to have the right texture, a little crumbly and grainy. The taste was “getting there”. Not sharp, more salty than anything at this point. The romano was about the same, except not so dry, with no grainy texture. I almost want to compare the texture to muenster. I think it’s grate-able though, so it’ll probably work out. It certainly wont be drying out any more in the bag, so that’s possibly a mistake, but since you can eat it young as a table cheese anyways, I’m not too worried. Worst case we’ll eat the insides and grate the outsides.

Romano, 3 Months


Now that everything is all bagged up, my cheese cave is a bit boring. Besides the bags, I only have one wheel of waxed cheddar. Humidity in the cave isn’t so important now, but the temperature needs to remain at 50–55 degrees in order for everything age properly. So until I get a new cheese fridge up and running, the kegerator will remain a cheeserator. Sorry future party guests.

Now that summer is upon us, I doubt I’ll want to spend hours in the kitchen with the stove on, so I might have to concentrate on quicker and easier cheese recipes. I’m thinking summer salads might need some crumbly blue cheeses involved, so perhaps I’ll make it my goal to get more acquainted with that particular mold in the very near future…

Cream Cheesy Bagels

Cream Cheesemaking

There is something perversely satisfying about spending an excessive amount of time recreating commodity food items at home. I know I’m not alone in this affliction, as one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, seems to excel at making her own oreos, graham crackers, pop tarts, marshmallows, and so on. Thus, having confirmed that I’m in good company, I decided to fritter away yet another Sunday in the kitchen, this time making cream cheese and bagels (sorry, no lox (yet)).

I’ll have to give bagel details at a later date, lest your eyeballs glaze before you make it to the glamor shots at the end of this post. If you simply cannot wait, I’ve got some photos of the bagel process in my bread products Flickr set.

Cream Cheesemaking Fixins

First step! Lay all your utensils and goodies on the counter in a neat and fussy arrangement. Get up on a stool and take pictures. Express thanks for a kitchen with a nice wood countertop right next to the lovely light of a large, north facing window.

You may notice the counter is pretty bare. Compared to the last time I made cheese, this is going to be relatively simple. Hooray!

Cream Heater

Step two: warm up the milky bits. I used half and half. You can probably use straight-up light cream, or even heavy cream if you’re a crazy cheese daredevil. Seventy-five degrees is your target. Precision isn’t terribly important here, we’re just trying to make the bacteria cozy, and they do tolerate a range of temperatures.

One slight complication: there’s a twelve hour long step coming up, so you’ll probably want to start this the night before and let your microbe friends work while you slumber. Plan ahead!


Now that we’re up to temperature, it’s time to add our bacterial culture. This comes as a packet of powder, which you keep in your freezer in order to prevent its inhabitants from waking up and hulking out in your pantry or other such inconvenient location. Snip the packet with the scissors you’ve previously sanitized (you sanitized all your equipment, right?), sprinkle it on top of the milk, and mix it in thoroughly.

Now, here’s where my various cheese books disagree. Some of them tell you to add rennet as well. So, I did. I’m starting to think that’s unnecessary/cheating. The lactic acid produced by our bacteria should be able to curdle the milk on its own, given enough time. It sounds like the result would be lumpy curds floating in whey, instead of the uniform gel that I got, and I suspect that would be more authentic. I’ll try it the other way next time, if I’m feeling lucky and adventurous.

Cozy Bath

Cozy Bath

Either way, we now need to keep our pot o’ milkstuff warm for twelve hours. In my yogurt making days I learned that a cooler and some warm water will keep things toasty for quite some time. So put your pot in a “cooler”, pour in some warm water, close the lid, call it a “warmer”, and go to bed. How much water to add—and at what temperature—is an experiment I’ll leave to you. I try to err towards more water at a not-too-hot temperature, so there’s enough thermal mass to last through the night.

All of this assumes that you’re not making cheese in a balmy climate. If you do happen to roost where “room temperature” is between seventy and eighty, just leave the pot out, taking appropriate precautions re: marauding cats and curious primates.

14 Hours Later

I did these first steps at about five in the evening, so needless to say, twelve hours came and went before I rolled out of bed the next morning. No worries. I got to it at eight or so. Poking around in the pot with a washed finger revealed that our experiment had indeed firmed up overnight.

Straining Tools

Scoop and Strain

Step one million. Make yourself some tea, line a strainer with muslin, and grab an old-timey slotted spoon with a handle that’s quite likely covered in lead paint. Scoop and plop. Gather up the cloth to make a nice hobo sack (optional: contemplate “hobo cheese” for a bit), then hang it over a whey receptacle for about six hours while it drains.

Hanging Cheese

Hanging Cheese

Hanging Cheese

Six Hours Later

And there you have it. It should be firmed up and dried out a bit. Add some salt and you’re done. It’s never going to have the same texture as the cream cheese you get from the store, as it’s not full of odd gelling agents and fillers, but once you cool it down it’ll be nice and creamy and spreadable. It should last at least two weeks in the fridge.

Or rather, it shouldn’t spoil for at least two weeks. Whether it lasts that long depends on how many bagels you have on hand. Out of a half gallon of half and half I ended up with about 1.8 pounds of cheese, or—at current rates of consumption—about two dozen bagels worth.



Cream Cheesemaking

Unlike all the other cheeses I’ve made so far, I’ve actually tasted this one! I think it came out really well. Pretty tangy and creamy. Maybe a little drier on the mouth than store-bought cream cheese, but at the same time a bit fresher and less gummy feeling. It’s probably not something I’d make terribly often (too many other cheeses to try!), but I’ll call it a success. It has certainly gotten good reviews in my limited test market of one.

The whole process of making cream cheese reminded me of making a strained yogurt cheese, and indeed I’m feeling like the final result is quite similar (though a bit richer). Soon I’ll document the idiotically easy process of making said yogurt cheese, for those of you unwilling or unable to sacrifice so much time in pursuit of cultured dairy products.

Fail Cheese

The Fixins

Making cheese seemed like a pretty simple process when I laid out all the tools above. A pot, some spoons, milk, cultures, a thermometer, a knife to cut the curd. Of course, throughout the day I kept having to root around the kitchen for all the things I forgot to include: measuring spoons, a big stirring spoon (lots of spoons involved here, I’m noticing), a pH meter, all sorts of bowls, ice, twine, gloves, a whisk. Yeargh!

Last Sunday really turned into an annoying day in the kitchen. I started at around noon, and didn’t have cheeses in the brine pot until nine or ten that evening (much of this time is just spent waiting around for microbes or enzymes to do their thing, admittedly). On top of that, I messed it all up during the very last step, so I cleaned up and went to bed with a mild case of the grumps.

Oh well. I’ll now step you through the process of making provolone, with too many pictures and too little explanation. It will look complicated (sortof) and time consuming (yup!), but if you’re interested in making cheese, there are many easier recipes you can start with (parmesean was really easy, if you don’t mind waiting six months to eat it), so don’t let the following mess dissuade you.

Electronic Ignition

Glug Glug Glug

First step, sanitation! Every homebrewer’s favorite task, and just as important in cheesemaking. I gather all my utensils, and anything else that will touch the milk, and boil them for a bit. While that’s happening, I try to clean and scrub the entire kitchen as much as is practical, and then I kick everybody and everydog out of the room for the day. That always goes over well.

After the boil, I arrange my “clean zone” next to the stove, and fill the emptied pot with milk. I’ve been trying to get milk from the public market here in Rochester. Some folks from Ithaca show up every week with yummy cream-top milk, so I get two gallons for whatever silly cheese I’m making that weekend.

I don’t have pictures of adding the cultures and the rennet. There’s not much to look at, as the milk just stubbornly continues to look like a pot of boring ol’ milk. But, after bringing the milk up to ninety-seven degrees or so, you sprinkle in a powdered bacterial culture. This one was a buttermilk-ish type of culture. Others are more like yogurt. Their basic function at this point is to produce lactic acid… pH is really important throughout the cheesemaking process. This is intimidating to hobbyist cheesemakers, so most of the intro books completely ignore pH except when absolutely necessary, instead relying mostly on timing and crossed fingers to get things right. It seems to work out, usually, so no worries there (for now).

After the bacteria drops the pH a bit, we add in the rennet. This is the enzyme that actually curdles the milk. Stir it in, and then go relax for a bit. Forty minutes maybe?

Clean Break

Cutting Curd

Wash your hands and give the curd a bit of a pokey-scoop with your index finger. If it looks like the picture above, you’ve got a “clean break” and you’re ready to cut your curd. I use a knife that I believe is designed for cutting roasts. It works well enough. Of course there are specialized curd knives… but you could probably even just use a long thin metal frosting spreader.

The goal here was to cut three-eighth inch cubes of curd. Getting your curd sizes even is pretty important (it’s mainly a moisture thing), and I fail at it every time. Things still work out well, but it’s something I definitely have to improve.

After cutting, the curds rest a bit. They are delicate little things at this point, and giving them a break lets them start to firm up before we jiggle them around with our stirring. Failing to do so could result in us bashing precious milkfat out of the curd structure and into the whey. Your whey should be a clear yellowish-green color, and if it’s clouded up, that means you’re guilty of curd abuse. Sinner.

Stirring Curd

Now we can stir! We raise the temperature up vewwwy vewwwy slowly (half a degree per minute in this case) while stirring with some regularity. Our goal is to expel more and more moisture from inside the curds. Going too fast can result in a “rind” of sorts forming on the curds, which would trap moisture in the interior. No good.

Draining Curd

Water Bath


Having heated, stirred, rested, et cetera, we now drain the curd, seperating it from the whey (which we reserve for use as a brine later, though normally I would feed it to my imaginary pigs). It is then put back in the pot and held at 104 degrees or so for hours. The main goal at this stage is acidification, although we’re also expelling more and more water from the curd. In the case of provolone, mozzerella, and other stretched curd cheeses, pH is extra critical, as it is a big factor regarding whether the curd will stretch or not (it also heavily affects meltability).

I failed to document myself fumbling around with the pH meter. It probably took four hours for the curd to drop down to pH 5.2 and thus be ready for the next step.

Draining Again

Cutting Curd

Drain your curd. Again. Then cut it up into cubes. We’re now ready to heat these cubes up and mush and stretch and pull them. Unfortunely, in this case, we’re also at the step where I totally failed. Well, not totally. Mostly.

Mushing Curd

Stretching Curd

The curd cubes go in a bowl, and hot whey or water is poured over them. We need to get the curd up to 170 or 180 degrees. This was my problem, I think. My whey was hot enough, but I don’t think the curd ever got up to the right temperature. I had bits that were stretching well, interspersed with unstretchy bits. At the time I thought my pH was off and I just soldiered on. In hindsight, I should’ve put the whole gloppy mess back on the stove until the curd came up to temperature.

Oh well. I stretched as best I could. You’re supposed to pull it out two or three times like you’re making saltwater taffy (because, you know, everybody has done that, right?). Meanwhile, you’re wrist-deep in 180 degree whey, and your stupid Good Housekeeping approved neoprene gloves are not quite as insulative as you had hoped. And you didn’t take off your stupid thermal before starting, so you’re frustrated and hot and you spent nine hours making two pounds of this stupid fail cheese you’re such an idiot…

Shaping Curd

aaaand deep breath. And relax. That doesn’t look so bad now. After streching a few times, you shape it into a ball or two, or a sausage shape, or a “jug” shape, or a gourd shape. Apparently provolone can be whatever the heck shape you want it to be, so that’s exciting. Next time I’ll be sure to make a mobius strip or a klein bottle. This time around I made a ball, and a “jug”.

A Nice Curdball

Preserved Specimen

Because of my aformentioned problems, not only didn’t the curd stretch well, but it also didn’t knit back together so hot. You can see on one side it seems like a smooth and shiny ball, but on the other side—let’s call it “the butt”—it simply wouldn’t gather back up into a smooth surface. I’ve got tons of cracks and crevices in both cheeses because of this. Surely these will cause me mold and cracking issues during aging. I think we’ll eat these as fresh as possible in about three weeks.

The cheese above that looks like a lab specimen is actually floating in an icewater bath. You need to cool down your hot cheese in order to firm it up in whatever dysfunctional shape you’ve massaged it into. After doing so, we make a brine out of the reserved whey and some kosher salt, cool it to cheese cave temperatures (fifty-five degrees), and let the cheeses sit in it for a day.

Brine Dunktank

24 Hour Nap

Hanging Cheeses

And finally, twine it somehow, and hang it in a fifty to fifty-five degree fridgecave for three weeks. After that, you can eat it right away or age it for up to a year under more typical fridge temperatures. You can also smoke provolone pretty successfully, but I’ve decided to cut my losses and put no further effort into these particular cheeses. Maybe next time. Just remember you’ll need to cold smoke them, otherwise you’d end up with a delicious provolone puddle.

So that’s that. Believe it or not, there are more pictures in my cheesemaking set on Flickr, if you’ve not had enough already. And stay tuned for more cheesemaking adventures, because nothing says “summer” like spending the weekend inside, standing over a hot stove. Yay!

Making Cheese

Cheese Updates

I’ve been making cheese a bit lately, and that’s somewhat interesting I think, so I decided to dust off the ol’ blog and camera for proper documentation and dissemination. You can find more photos of the actual making of these cheeses at my cheesemaking photoset on Flickr, and I promise to be more proactive next time I spend a Sunday in the kitchen, stirring curds.

First off, why the heck did I start making cheese at home? Who knows. I like to make things that have to age for years before I can eat or drink them, and I enjoy making foods that involve bacteria, fungi, or yeasts. I’m sure some of my interest was also stimulated by the summer I spent milking goats (check the scrollback for more on that). Any way you slice it, for some reason I bought a book called Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll, and I flipped through it really quick, and then it sat in the book pile next to my bed for about a year, slowly creeping its way towards the floor as other books became a higher priority.

I finally dusted it off this January and decided to make cheddar, and thus began three straight weekends of kitchen toil. I bought some rennet and cultures from Ricki Carroll’s site (this reminds me, I did try making cheese a few years ago, using grocery store rennet, but it turned out pretty terrible, so I guess I purged it from memory). I then made a special trip to the public market, hoping to get some good milk from the Ithaca dairy guy that usually attends, but alas, he was not there. I was more successful at the hippy food co-op, where I believe they carry the very same milk.

That was a Saturday morning. I then spent the rest of the day mentally preparing by reading and rereading the recipe (no, really (I do this a lot)), and gathering the equipment I’d need to perform this feat. The next day was a long day of cleaning the kitchen, cleaning it more, cleaning utensils and pots and pans, and then the precise heating of milk, along with additions of cultures and rennet and lots of waiting for said items to do their magic. I probably spent six or eight hours creating the cheddar. The other cheeses were easier and quicker. Again, next time I’ll document better and give you a bit more of a step by step.

The Cheese Cave

So that’s the thousand foot overview. The next weekend I made parmesan. And after that, romano. I needed a place to age these. Above, you’ll see my kegerator, which was a free find on craigslist (woohoo!). Since I don’t make beer often enough anymore, the kegerator has turned into a trusty cheeserator (ahem: “cheese cave”), providing roughly the right environment for turning new cheese into old cheese.

The Cheese Cave, Interior

The Cheese Cave, Interior

With any luck, I’ll need more shelves in there soon, but for a quick retrofit it works pretty well. That’s a cutting board resting on top of some canning jars to keep it out of any moisture that might collect on the floor of the fridge. The thermostat on the fridge didn’t mind going up to fifty-five degrees, so I thankfully didn’t need to go get an external temperature controller ($$$). The humidity seems to want to be at 75% or so (that’d make a good humidor, I hear), so a pan of water or two does a good job of bringing it up to the 80–85% that I’m looking for. I’ve been running it a little dry lately to keep the mold at bay, but in doing so I’m risking some cracking of the cheeses.

Some day I’ll wire up a hygrometer and humidifier with some overengineered elctronics for more precise control over this particular variable. In the meantime, I’ll reflect upon some frequent advice from the homebrewing world: “relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew”. I’m sure it’ll all work out.

Cheese Updates

This is the parmesan, cheese #2. It’s about one and a half pounds, and two months old. In a few weeks, I’ll probably rub it with olive oil to keep the rind from cracking, or I might bag it up and vacuum seal it. I haven’t decided yet. I do like the idea of natural rinds, full of texture and mold and “character”.

Cheese Updates

Cheese Updates

Romano! It had a bit more yield than the parmesan, probably two pounds. Of course it’s also softer/wetter, so I’m sure most of that is water weight. It’s drying and aging nicely. I could probably slice it up and eat it soft in a few months, but I’m planning to dry it right out for a nice grating cheese.

Cheese Updates

And here’s the first cheese I made… good ol’ cheddar (obviously this one has been waxed, next time I may try a natural rind of some sort). There are many ways to take shortcuts making cheddar. They all involve trying to avoid the two or three hour process of cheddaring, which basically consists of holding slabs of curd at a specific temperature while they expel whey and acidify. The curds require some tending during the process, so it definitely made for a long day in the kitchen. But, I wanted to try the “real” way at least once.

So now I continue to wait for these cheeses to age. They’ll all be tasty around a year from now, but I might slip up and sample them a bit earlier. I guess that depends on if I get down to making some fresher, less aged cheeses to tide me over in the meantime. For obvious reasons, I’ve been searching around for a good bucheron cheese recipe for a while now. Bucheron is a ripened goat cheese. Basically a chevre with a bloomy (white mold) rind that you age for four weeks or so. It’s really really tasty (I’m so glad my namesake cheese is so yummy!). I finally found a recipe for it in the second cheese book I bought, Artisan Cheesemaking at Home. There’s actually lots of neat and creative recipes in there… cheeses you’ll not be finding in the grocery store any time soon, so stay tuned for updates on those (and if you’re in Rochester, or on my Christmas list, maybe you’ll even get to taste some)!