On the hidden costs of cheesemaking

Last week’s (top) and this week’s yogurt made from our milk share

Over the years my husband and I have had a bit of a tussle over finances.  This of course is the typical marital story.  Defining our particular story is my yen to DIY, and almost every little project I undertake, financially, has a big start-up cost.  It has a start-up cost (mainly in materials) that almost always requires no huge outlay of later cash…no bubble, as it were; only maintenance money.  So I have been able to persuade him that my *needs* are, well, inexpensive if you amortize!  At this point he trusts me.

The things I am thinking of are the chicken coop, the chicken tractor, the greenhouses, the goat(s), the (so far unfinished) masonry oven.  Smaller things likewise can be considered:  the pressure canner, the grain mill, the chest freezers, the tiller.  The orchard.  Raised beds for the gardens.  All of them have paid for themselves or will do so within the first year or so of owning them.  And any of my kookier ideas also have an out, financially:  2010, to name one example, will be the first year I don’t have to order chicks because we have roosters and a tom turkey, thus, self-sufficiency in egg and meat birds.

But cheesemaking.  I mentioned a while back how I found life as a single vegetarian to be much less expensive than omnivory…mainly because I almost never bought cheese!  I adore cheese, but it was rare that I would shell out for it, despite my love of the stuff…good butter being the one exception.  NOW there’s a goat in the shed, and she’s bagging up quite nicely, and within about a month I will don the bonnet of Resident Milkmaid.  And fresh milk means cheese.  And homemade cheese means…damn, another start-up cost!

A few years back when the homemade cheese bug bit me, I purchased a starter kit from Hoegger Goat Supply.  It’s served me nicely and I haven’t gone back to that well, but then again, I didn’t try to make hard cheeses or aged cheeses.  Now, though, now I have printed out little plans for my husband to build me a cheese press (he likes to feel handy) and now I have finally purchased and read Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making.  And I am discovering that that woman is a pusher.  Seriously:  is she any different than the guy on the corner who’s giving you a little taste for free so you can keep coming back to feed your habit?  I read the recipes and I think:  hmmm, thermophilic culture, I need that; how about a bag of penicillium candidum, and might as well get a bag of p. roquefortii while I am at it.  And then, well, use it up and keep coming back for more.  Yogurt sure doesn’t have this problem:  make it once, always have it (like sourdough).

Man!  What would Ma Ingalls do?  She’d culture her own.  Something else to figure out, I guess…stay tuned.

25 responses to “On the hidden costs of cheesemaking

  1. Ricki Carroll did give me that feeling as well–enabler and salesperson extraordinaire. Let me also recommend: ttp://www.dairyconnection.com

    I just visited there (aren’t I lucky, no shipping) and got my very first cheesemaking supplies, but I am ashamed to admit I’m too scared to try my first batch yet! What’s easiest, mozz?

    I’m also pretty lucky with a guy who fully supports my DIY insanity, thankfully he mostly shares it as well. The most trouble we have is prioritizing projects, ha.

  2. I’m tuned and look forward to your adventures on this one. Culturing your own…. – how exciting!!!

  3. I’m trying very hard to look the other way on cheese making. I think Hubby would lose his mind if I started something else. I really wanna though!

  4. Sara – Mozzarella is definitely easy – I made some (using Ricki Carroll’s stuff) in about a half an hour last Sunday and it is SOOO tasty. It is like a starter drug, though. Mozzarella is great, but just think what ELSE is out there that might be just as easy and tasty! Must try more…

  5. mmmm, cheese. It should be its own food group.

  6. Oh, yum. I suppose you could kill your own cow and get the rennet. . .
    Beyond that I’m a cheesemaking noob. Life has slapped me around lately and I’m in hunker down and survive mode. For me this means frozen pizza and scrambled eggs. I’ll get back to the all-myself person some day.

  7. I’m pretty sure you can save and grow cultures for cheese just like you can with yogurt. Just freeze a little piece of your cheese before it ages much and mix it, crumbled up finely, into your next batch as a starter.

  8. Hi, Kelli at Sugar Creek Farm pointed you out to me. I just started cheese making myself, but I’m not lucky enought to have a goat. Someday maybe! And I would have to say that I found queso blanco to be much easier than mozzarella. It gave me the idea that even if I couldn’t get mozzarella right I could at least make some cheese.

    I started blogging about it just last week.


  9. I am not an expert on a lot of cheeses, but you can definitely keep a batch of thermofilic (sp?) going in the fridge. I have used Dairy connections MA culture for chevre, but I actually now prefer their buttermilk culture for chevre. I periodically culture buttermilk from dry culture in a quart of milk. Then I use a couple of tablespoons of live buttermilk to a quart of milk for chevre. When the buttermilk gets low, reculture some fresh milk from the buttermilk. I have gone three or four generations without a problem. Freezing the original generation buttermilk is a good idea, but I haven’t tried that. I think when I bought my original cheese supplies from dairy connection, I spent about $35 for a pint of rennet, a couple cultures and cheese cloth. I haven’t had to go back yet, three years later. But I keep things simple, making chevre, mozzerella, yogurt, quaso blanco and yogurt, so I don’t need a lot of different cultures. I am planning to try Gouda this season, an aged MA/buttermilk cheese so I won’t need to get into a new culture.

  10. I’ve been making cheese for three years now, and I still haven’t spent more than thirty-five or forty dollars a year. This is the cost of 1 ounce of liquid rennet/year, ditto calcium chloride, and a whole bunch of cheesecloth. And if you want to save money on cheesecloth, go to Goodwill and buy a bunch of 100% cotton pillowcases and cut them up. You do NOT need a cheesepress. A kettle of water works just as well. You don’t need anything more than boiling water (to sterilize equipment) and a very good fine mesh strainer, culture, rennet, and one decent book on the subject.

    I overspent. I bought three books.

  11. I would really love to hear if you manage to do without purchased starters! Laughed very hard at the idea of Ricki as pusher, but boy do I get it!

  12. Ma Ingalls? Or Our Antonia? Why, I think they’d just find their own cave and make do with the available bacteria.

    (haven’t read the rest of the comments, so i may be redundant here)

  13. So true, I’ve read in a few books on how to make your own starter from raw milk. Basically all you do is let the milk sit out at room temp for 24 hours and when it’s thickened up, it’s officially cheese starter. I’m still using up some instant culture so I haven’t tried this method, but I will soon. I often make quick mozarella, which is so easy and so delicious and much cheaper than buying organic pastured cheese at the store.

    Can’t wait to read more on your endeavors.

    I want Mr Chiots to build me a cheese press like Ma’s, how cool.

  14. I took one of Ricki’s workshops and the “warehouse” of supplies is in the basement. Oh the armloads of stuff people walked out with! I decided to get a few basics (rennet, citric acid, a few cultures) with plans to reassess once I determined if I would actually make enough cheese to be worth it.

    Now I’ve been doing enough motz, ricotta, and paneer, etc. that I feel I want to move on to some hard cheeses. I want to give my husband the DIY cheese press instructions, too, but right now he is concentrating on our chicken coop, so I don’t want to push too much, too soon. Then again, he has been asking for some additional cheeses, so maybe I should strike while the iron is hot.

    By the way, I read that nettles can be used as a vegetable rennet. Haven’t tried it, but it might be an option.

    Also, is there a trick to getting yogurt culture to remain good indefinitely? It seems that my yogurt gets more and more sour over time and eventually needs to be freshened with a new start. I’d like to avoid having to do that, if possible.

    • Andrea, lucky you on the classes! Quick answer: one, I am having Tom build an “off the wall” press because it’s in an easy location in the kitchen for overnight pressing, but two, on the sourness of your yogurt. I have noticed that too and I basically ignore it. Then someone else will eat my yogurt and just pucker up! so what I have tended to do is add a lot less starter to the next batch…oh, and I just pass the honey to anyone visiting…the first couple batches afterward might be more runny but then it gets thicker and will be less tart on the 3rd. I haven’t really restarted it in a while, maybe 6 months or so, and only then it was because I inadvertently used it all up!

  15. I’ve always wondered about cheese making, and never knew about the whole thing getting cultures. Soft cheeses (like cottage cheese, ricotta, etc) don’t need the cultures, right? Can cheese cultures come from the air, like sourdough starters and yogurt starters? Or is it more intricate?

  16. Hah. This sounds like home brewing beer ;). The startup cost isn’t too bad but then you get a Charlie Papazian book and start seeing all of the receipes and how you now need this or that…. But the end results are so tasty…

  17. Pingback: cheesemaking « Aquilegia formosa

  18. I’ve made lots of cheeses and never bought cultures. I have used yogurt (thermophilic) and buttermilk (mesophilic)as the cultures. I’m sure that there are diffirent varieties of cultures that would impart a slightly different flavor to your cheeses, but I have had good results without shelling out the cash.
    I’ve had particularly good results with feta. (Cow’s milk, I’m not lucky enough to own a goat.) And, my crafty hubby built me a cheese press too.
    Can’t believe I forgot to put a picture of it in this post: http://hippieingeeksclothing.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/dairy-queen/

  19. If you haven’t already, you should check out Dr. Fankhouser’s home made cheese website: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/cheese.html It’s been around forever I think. In his blue cheese recipe he uses a small amount or the cheese that he is duplicating as the inoculum. Probably work with other styles as well.

  20. Thank you David, great site!

  21. Sara, hi. I think ricotta is the easiest, followed by queso blanco and then mozzarella. They’re all good. Just follow directions confidently; I do swear the milk knows you’re scared and acts accordingly. And lucky you! Thanks for that link; I had known about them and am doing my comparison shopping accordingly.

    Angie, yeah, well, we’ll see. Mostly it will be wild experimentation following tightly controlled recipe-following sessions, as that seems to be my m.o. upon “mastering” something. Then I wonder why something doesn’t turn out. Hah!

    Mom, here’s a tip: put it on your 3 year plan, and start it next year 🙂

    Natalie, exactly. It’s a drug. My girlfriend sent me a picture from her phone of a wheel of blue she made and I nearly cried.

    Paula, it just might be: this girl has been known to put out a gallon of milk a day. Goodness knows we can’t drink it all, or even the half the kids won’t drink.

    Oh Stef I know what you mean. I have no problem ordering a pint of rennet and not going through the effort of finding a not-weaned calf. But there is nothing at all wrong with scrambled eggs for almost every meal, is there? And frozen pizzas, well. Take care of yourself.

    Hi Everett. It might be a tetch more complicated than that, but some cheeses indeed are fairly simple. My goal of course is the complicated, long-aged ones because, well, I like a challenge.

    Becky, you’re cheese-obsessed! How hilarious. Have fun with all your mad-scientist pot-banging. And yes, I wholly agree about queso blanco. And, isn’t David’s link great? It’s how I taught our middle school class how to make yogurt, and yogurt cheese.

    MMP, you’re keeping it simple but you’re experimenting too. I’m sure to be emailing you for some instruction this spring. Me, I am still obsessed with seeing my friend’s wheel of blue cheese…and her cheddar…so I have some lofty goals that are sure to knock me on my ass. BUT it’s really the chevre, isn’t it. I had some last year from a local dairy that had fennel pollen and crushed lavender on it, omygoh.

    Thanks, Aimee, as you’re a girl after my own (cheap DIY) heart. As much as I think I need gadgetry, it’s best I feel my way around first with what I have. I do, however, need a decent milk bucket and all that. That comes way before cheesemaking but it’s fun to think about life as a dairy-crazed soul.

    Carlie, oh I am sure to outlay some ching up front (actually I am going in with a friend on some of the bigger purchases) but yeah, I will have my eye on the “how did Ma do it” thing!

    Sharon, there’ll be a bit of that as our root cellar will make a fantabulous cave (cahv), to my husband’s dismay. Oh yes I do know: the girl and I are reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, life in the dugout, and sometimes in mid-winter when in MN I swore I felt like I was the husband slowly going crazy in the sod hut. Slowly. Anyway, if not for human habitation, underground dwellings are more than fine for our friends the unseen microorganisms.

    Susy, how fun. Yeah, I have often wondered what wonders happen in those glasses of half-drunk milk that our daughter leaves around: I glop it into the chicken-scrap bowl and think, is this on the way to being cheese? And yes, good that Mr Chiots is game to build you a press!

    Andrea, I would strike while the iron is hot and get on making some new cheeses to keep the husband interested in helping and/or doing the making himself. But indeed chicken coops are pretty darned important…help him out on that score and remind yourself that chickens aren’t overly picky (bless their little hearts). We’re doing the off-the-wall one as it’s a math puzzle, which I simply adore after all.

    MC, it’s all the same process, it’s just that there’s a bit of a different mix and a different finishing process to make it all happen. Curdling with acid is the first step, and you’re right, you can use plain old vinegar just to make cottage cheese or ricotta. The fun comes in when you actually age something: so much more depth of flavor!

    I know, Jason, I do know. And it’s one of the reasons I have never become a brewmaster myself, but made darned sure I was friends with some! But indeed the process is the same 🙂

    Hey aa, I appreciate best your idea that each little step of all of this DIY life is actually helping you out mentally, that is, even if it takes a crazy-amount of time, making feta is terribly tasty. I tend to soak my chickens’ scratch in the whey; it’s a great way to use it up, frankly. And yes, feta is one fabulously tasty cheese. My daughter can eat a pound of it without blinking, salt-fiend that she is.

    Thanks, David. His is the site I send people to to learn their stuff. It is so great, honestly, seeing how different people attack something so mystical as cheesemaking: it tells me there’s no one way, except what works best for me…always a bit of a boost if I am feeling insecure about a new project. And yeah, he’s full of common sense, so, thanks for sharing it.

  22. There seems to be an impression that rennet is hard to come by or has to be procured from a specialty supplier, but they actually sell it off the shelf at Wal-Mart – “Junket” brand rennet tablets for rennet custard and ice cream – less than $2.00 – works fine for cheese. Look on the shelf near pudding and custard mixes. That is the only thing that isn’t already in most kitchens that you need to give cheese making a whirl.

    I don’t think that anyone has mentioned this yet – please forgive me if I’m wrong.

  23. By the way, thanks to the encouragement I did pull off my first batch of mozz and then ricotta (with the whey) last week. 🙂

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