Troubleshooting Your Journey Through Home Cheese Making…
There are many common problems that you will experience when making cheese at home. Keep in mind that it is likely that you will experience some or all of these issues at some time or another. Always remember that cheese making is something we have been doing for thousands of years so don't worry if your first few attempts don't come out exactly as expected; drain, salt, flavor and enjoy your homemade cheese as is!
Milk Won’t Coagulate (Thicken/turn from Milk to Curd)
This is usually caused by the temperature being too cool during the ripening stage (the stage just after the culture and rennet have been added). If you have let your cheese ripen for 12 hours and there is no firming up or change in the texture of your milk. Your milk may be old or perhaps it is pasteurized beyond usefulness. Your rennet may also be compromised, storing your rennet in the refrigerator when you are not using it will extend the rennet’s lifetime of viability. Try changing milks and if the problem continues, replace your rennet.
Coagulation Does Not Result in a Clean Break (only an issue when making semi-hard and hard cheeses)
Your milk may simply need more time to set. Allow it to set another 15 minutes and recheck, do this for a maximum of one additional hour. If it is still not right, you can add more rennet in; generally 25% of the amount you originally added. However, this problem may also be due to compromised rennet. Storing your rennet in the refrigerator when you are not using it will extend the rennet’s lifetime of viability.
Curds That Won't Knit Together while making Mozzarella (curds separate in the whey like rice)
When making mozzarella and you ended up with rice-like curds that won't knit together, this is often caused by improper temperatures during the milk heating process, heating the milk to quickly (from refrigerator temperature to 88°F should take at least 12 minutes), the use of ultra pasteurized milk, or your curds simply got too hot before moving to the draining and cooking of the curd stage. Or, when you were preparing for the stretching stage after draining, they didn't get hot enough. The temperature of the curds before stretching should be 165° to 175°F. When this happens, it won’t ever be smooth, creamy mozzarella, but it is edible. Drain, salt, and use like cottage or ricotta cheese.
Low Curd Yield ~ Why so little cheese?
This problem may be due to compromised rennet. Storing your rennet in the refrigerator when you are not using it will lengthen the rennet’s lifetime of viability. Remember different types of milk provide different yield amounts however, a rule of thumb is to expect one pound of cheese from one gallon of milk.
Cheese Tastes Sour
The cheese has too much moisture–next time reduce the moisture by making sure all of the whey has drained out for soft cheeses or by cooking the curds slower to expel more whey from them, for harder cheeses. Remember, there is No Whey in our Cheese!
This is normally caused by one of two things: Either the cheese was not salted enough, or the cheese was not drained enough. Add a little extra salt, stir, and try to get some more whey out. Wrap your cheese in a cheesecloth and press at 5 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. Then taste again.
Too much rennet was used or too much butterfat, left your cheese during the process. Rubbery cheese can happen when an excess amount of rennet is used, too much rennet equals a rubber ball, too little, soup! It can also happen if cheese is overworked or overcooked, and all the butterfat runs down the drain, Remember, The only milky whey in your kitchen while making cheese should be covered in chocolate! Rubbery cheese are perfect when melted and will taste delicious. Use it for pizza, pasta dishes, or grilled cheese.
Usually a semi-hard or hard cheese issue and can be caused by several reasons. Cheese that is bland or tasteless may have not expelled enough whey during the cooking process, causing the flavor to be diluted. You can try cutting the curds into smaller pieces next time, or stirring them a bit more to help them release more whey. The curds may have been heated too rapidly, and this problem can be corrected by never raising the temperature of the curds and whey by more than 2°F every 5 minutes during cheese making. Or, you may just need to simply age it longer. The more your cheese ages, the sharper and more pungent it will become.
If you are finding that your hard cheese is consistently bland, you may want to start adding lipase powder to your recipes. Generally a ¼ tsp. per gallon of milk is sufficient to add flavor. Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down the fatty acids and gives cheese a distinct tang. However, it tends to soften your curds, so add in ¼ tsp. of diluted calcium chloride in a ¼ cup of cold water, to help firm up your curds. Some sites recommend more rennet but I find that it will cause your cheese to be too rubbery.
If your mozzarella or ricotta is too bland, they are perfect cheeses to add lipase and I add a ½ tsp. per gallon to those. Adding a good finishing salt, such as Maldon sea salt or Fleur de Sel (always added just before serving) will make wonderful flavor enhancements to these cheeses and really pop the flavor. Remember, add just a pinch and taste until the flavor is perfect for you.
Finished Cheese Is Too Dry or Crumbly (Hard cheeses only)
This is a common problem in home cheese making where we are making cheese in our homes and are unable to provide a static environment during the entire process. Several factors may cause the issue however, I find it is usually the handling of the curds or a humidity issue during the aging process. The problem may be contributed to;
Not enough rennet being used or the rennet was compromised,
Not treating the curds gently throughout the process.
Curds being cut too small.
Not enough humidity during aging, 55 degrees and 80% humidity is ideal for most cheeses.
Curds Are Difficult to Press
This is caused by too much stirring of curds during the curds-and-whey stages or by overcooking the curds. The curds have expelled too much moisture to be pliable and we need them pliable in order to properly press them. Always follow directions closely and avoid overworking or overcooking the curds with excessive stirring or too-high temperatures.
Cracks Form in Pressed Cheese
This usually means that not enough pressure was applied during the pressing process. The result are curds that were unable to mold together completely, causing undesirable cracks on and within your cheese. You can try increasing pressure and pressing time.
Cheese Surface Is Oily During the Air-Drying Period (Hard Cheeses only)
The temperature is too high in the room in which you are air-drying your cheese. The warm temperatures are causing the fat in the cheese to rise to the surface. Move your cheese to a cooler location. Air-drying time before aging to obtain a good dry rind is 1-3 days at average house temperatures of 72°F and 70-75% humidity, assuming minimal air movement, never place your cheese in front of an open window or fan.
Another note from Paula
Every home cheese maker has failures and I have made many “Paula cheeses”. It may not have been the cheese I had planned on making but in the end, it was cheese!! Again, keep in mind that we have been making cheese for thousands of years and on almost every table throughout the years we have found Cheese, Bread, Ale and Wine. If it was so terribly hard or impossible, this would not be the case. On the rare occasion that your cheese doesn't turn out and is truly not edible, chalk it up to a learning experience and try again. However, most all failures can be saved with a little hot sauce and diced peppers or any number of flavor options you desire. Even if you discover that personally, you just like to make a few everyday basic, easy cheeses at home, you’ll not only be eating and serving healthier, preservative free cheese but at a fraction of the cost of store bought. Add in the bonus of being able to infuse your favorite spices, herbs and vegetables into your cheese, makes home cheese making a journey worth traveling.
Enjoy your journey through home cheese making and please always feel free to reach out to me directly.