Pressing Hard Cheeses
Pressing cheese is a process that expels remaining moisture and improves the final texture, creating a firm rind on the outside of the cheese and a smooth, uniform consistency within. It gives the cheese the traditional wheel shape, and readies it for aging.
There are many different types of cheese presses available online and through cheesemaking supply shops, and there are countless plans for building your own press, using many different methods and tactics. But the fundamental steps of cheese pressing generally stay the same.
The mold or press is lined, usually with cheesecloth or butter muslin. The press is then filled with curds, sometimes warm curds, as with cheddaring, and the tails of the lining are then folded over the top of the curds. A follower, which is a piece of wood or plastic that fits down inside of the press, is then placed atop the curds to distribute the force of the press evenly over the cheese curds. Then pressure is applied, either with a viselike device that is cranked down until the desired poundage of pressure is reached, or by placing heavy things on top of the follower, until the cheese is pressed sufficiently. A draining tray or something similar is usually present to catch expelled whey.
Filling the press with curds must be done carefully to ensure the cheese is as even and uniform as possible. Sometimes it helps to dampen the cloth that lines the press so it will be easier to handle and will stay put. Begin ladling the curds into the press, making sure to get them in evenly. Pull on the cheesecloth to get rid of unnecessary bunches and folds. You can press the cheese a bit with your hands, to get rid of empty spaces and uneven places. Fold the tails of the cloth down over the top of the curds, trying not to make any folds that will indent the surface of your cheese. Getting it perfectly smooth is probably not achievable, but you can cut some of the cloth to help make it more workable if you want. Place the follower on top of the covered curds and you are ready to begin applying pressure.
The amount of pressure applied to pressing cheese is measured in psi, or pounds per square inch. The amount of pressure applied to a particular cheese depends on the type of cheese, the moisture content desired, and the size of the cheese. A purchased cheese press will usually have a scale that tells you how much pressure is being applied to the cheese. In absence of this, you can use a scale and measure things like jars or jugs of sand or water, cans of tomato sauce, etc. When you have found an object the right weight and size to press your cheese, make sure the outside of it (like a can or jar) is sanitized before you use it. Just place whatever it is you have found to be the right weight on top of the follower for the duration of the specified time period. (Remember you will be calculating pounds per square inch, not just direct weight.)
Your cheese recipe will tell you how much pressure for how long; for example: “Press at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.” It will also probably tell you to pull the cheese out of the press partway through the pressing process so that you can flip it, ensuring that the moisture within the cheese does not settle and that the pressure is applied evenly to both sides of the cheese. Sometimes you will flip the cheese many times during the pressing process. To flip the cheese, release the pressure of the press and pull out the follower. Using the tails of the cheesecloth or butter muslin that is surrounding the cheese, carefully pull the cheese out of the press. Your cheese may still be very delicate, depending on the amount of pressure that has been applied to it at this point, so handle it with care so as not to break its shape. Peel away the cloth, invert the cheese, and re-wrap it. Slide it back into the press and fold the tails of the cloth over it as before. Replace the follower and reapply the pressure as directed.
Once you have finished pressing the cheese, pull it out, peel away the cloth, and place it somewhere dark and away from drafts to air-dry for as long as your recipe specifies.
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