Legend tells of a merchant traveling across the desert sometime after the first civilization took root. At his side was a skin full of liquid–a canteen more or less. The more appropriate word would have been stomach because…well it was basically a calf’s stomach–yum! And it was full to the brim with that trusty desert thirst quencher–MILK. Anyone queasy yet?
I only mention all these details because they turned out to be kind of important. So our dusty traveler stops to take a drink only to find his milk went chunky. His first instinct was probably to stick his head in the first water hole around but since it was the desert I guess he just toughed it out. But it turned out that the chunks weren’t bad–not like when milk goes bad normally.
The calf’s stomach was full of an enzyme called rennet which helps calves digest mother’s milk. The “breaking” of milk divides it into two things–one of them being the basis of cheese.
That’s kind of where the legend jumps to more modern times. I wonder how long mankind had to eat chunky milk/cheese before the first deliciously smooth smoky cheddar goodness.
Well thankfully we no longer have to worry about that…or do we?
My first forays into cheesemaking went great until the time came to make curds into cheese. My missing tool was a cheese press. I searched online and found a sleek stainless steel model-the Rolls Royce of cheese presses–with a Rolls Royce price. There was no way I was going to pay hundreds of dollars for a cheese press.
Lucky I found a few articles online and in print regarding building homemade cheese presses. Here’s my version of that design.
Materials you will need:
1. (2) stainless or galv 6″ shoulder bolts
2. (2) matching nuts (not the aircraft type with the locking plastic!)
3. A handful of matching washers
4. A small chunk of PVC (4″ diameter is a good place to start)
5. One 4″ knockout cap for the PVC
6. A wooden cutting board (about a foot long)–normally this will make the pusher board and the base surface.
7. A few smaller pieces of PVC, or wooden dowels of about 1″ in diameter
You should be able to pick up all of that for less than 10 bucks. You may find ways to substitute things so read the directions first and then modify (like I did).
1. Draw the inside circle of your large PVC onto what will be the unused surface of the cutting board or other suitable chunk of wood and cut it out with a jigsaw or other appropriate power tool. Cut your large and small PVC to length. Further ahead you will find out that I cut the smaller ones way too long and had to cut them down again. I am really bad about measuring things and usually I just cut to fit. The PVC pieces must be completely flat on one side. That is the side that will be against the base or the follower. And the larger piece should be about 4-5″ tall. You can also cut your cutting board down to a more compact size. Since you probably have cut your round out of it, you may want to cut of the sharp corners. If there is enough left, cut out your pusher board or find a suitable replacement.
2. Note the rasp, next step is to clean up the edges.
3. Check the fit–doesn’t have to be exact.
4. Take the knockout cap (because in plumbing jobs it’s temporary) and remove the flange. It wasn’t in the original picture because it was an afterthought. If your wood block fits perfect you don’t really need it, but its so hard to get the wood follower just right. Check the fit on the cap after you are done.
5. Drill 1/16″ holes about an inch apart up/down and around the circumference of the big PVC. I also like to file in weep notches on the bottom surface. Resist the urge to cleanup the holes on the inside with sandpaper. You want to protect the inside surface from scratches which harbor nasties. Use your thumbnail instead.
6. Drill holes with matching spacing through your pusher board and your base cutting board.
7. Begin assembly. From the bottom up. Two bolts–>two washers for each bolt—>into the cutting board base—>large PVC on top.
8. Add the followers.
You may have to recut the small PVC pieces. You can see here that this is about the exact distance you want. The PVC pushers must be just shorter than bolts when the followers are in place and at TDC (top dead center).
8. Add pusher board, washers then nuts.
Want more options? You can build mold and follower sets for various sizes. Here’s my mack daddy-sized set. After the build, put all of your stuff here that touches food into a dishwasher and blast the heck out of it.
The great thing about this design is that it allows you to utilize one of two methods of pressing. You can either use mechanical force by tightening the nuts and bolts or you can place a weighted object on top. Some recipes call for a certain weight to be added so it helps to be able to adjust to the learning curve. Hopefully in a future post I can take you though the cheesemaking process.
Until next time…