Our wood chip supplier is delayed and, as a result, so is our soil building project. In the meantime, I’ve gotten busy indoors instead — with cheese-making. After many years of making ricotta, feta and mozzarella at home, I have finally moved on to hard cheeses. These days, it’s cheddar, parmesan, and gorgonzola in progress at various stages around the kitchen: culturing, waiting, draining, being pressed, ripening.
Moving on to hard cheeses involves a bit of a commitment in terms of more specialized equipment that’s not necessary for soft cheeses. Two, in particular, may turn out to be big investments: a ripening refrigerator (unless you’re lucky enough to have a cellar with just the right temperature and humidity) and a cheese press. I wanted to see if I could manage to keep things low-cost; I want to be able to assure participants in my cheese-making classes that this does not have to be an expensive endeavor. For the refrigerator, I scored a small wine refrigerator off of Craigslist (yay! it’s beautiful) and keep a small bowl filled with water at the bottom for humidity. For the press, I researched all kinds of fancy pricey cheese presses available online, but when I realized that the basic idea is really very simple, I ended up making it myself — for a fraction of the cost.
For all of you aspiring cheese-makers out there, today I share with you my super-simple design for a cheese press. I sought inspiration from Home Dairy with Ashley English, as well as from here and here, but ended up doing something different from all of them. Above all, I would not suggest using PVC pipes as cheese molds or hoops! They, like anything else that comes into contact with your food, should be food-grade plastic (or metal).
Once you’ve assembled all the materials, you can put this press together in half an hour. Especially if you make sure that the holes you drill in the boards are well aligned (ahem).
DIY Cheese Press
- 2 wooden boards, about 1 inch thick (mine are about 11 x 15 inches)
- 2 18-inch galvanized pipes, 1/2 inch inside diameter
- 2 galvanized floor flanges to fit the pipes
- 1 aluminum pie pan (or a stainless steel drip pan from a cheese supply store)
- Mason jar with lid (this will function as the pusher)
- weight-lifting plates (a total of 50 lbs)
- cheese molds or “hoops” and followers (from a cheese supply store)
Using a 7/8 inch drill bit, drill a hole for the pipe at each end of your first board, one inch from the edge and equidistant from the two other edges. Next, place the undrilled board underneath the drilled one and make a guide mark with your drill bit through the holes to make holes at the exact same spot. Attach the pipes to the flanges and slide them through the holes in the bottom board. Cut out a pouring spout in the aluminum pie pan.
When ready to press cheese curds, place the aluminum drip pan at the center of the bottom board. Place cheese mold holding the curds, with the follower on top of the curds, at the center of the drip pan. Place the mason jar on top of the follower. Then slowly slide the top board over the pipes to rest on top of the jar. Add the amount of weights specified in the recipe on top of the top board.
- wooden boards, mason jar: free
- galvanized pipes and flanges, from the hardwood store: $ 28
- weight plates (used on Craigslist): $ 22
- pie pan: $ 2 for 3
Total: $ 52
(If you have some of these, such as weight-lifting plates, lying around the house, the cost will be even lower. You will also need cheese molds or hoops and followers, but I have not included them since I would have had to get them anyway.)