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Cheesemaking with Homebrew

Hello, brewer. Any chance you noticed the rise in popularity of home cheesemaking and support at your local and online homebrew stores? Cheesemaking supplies have rapidly become available from many homebrewing suppliers over the course of the last decade. Try doing a Google search for “homebrew supplies” and “cheese” and you’ll find the results are jam packed with cheese making homebrewers and their stores. I found ten on the first results page. What is going on here?

My store, The Beverage People in Santa Rosa, California, was one of the first shops to support home cheesemaking in the US. We opened our cheesemaking department in 2006 and started one of the first-ever cheesemaking clubs in 2010 called Wheyward Bound Cheesemaking Club. Since then, we’ve seen tremendous interest and activity in home cheesemaking. And now we have a way to bring brewing and cheesemaking together. Fundamentally, we believe there is something we can all agree on: Beer makes everything better. And since it really would be ill-advised to add cheese to our beer, this article will show you how to bring the two hobbies together by adding beer to our cheese.

We have identified and experimented with different methods for using beer to make cheese: Beer soaked, beer infused, and beer battered. Over the summer and fall of 2016, we made the cheeses, cared for them, and tasted them with our fellow staff to draw conclusions.

Brew Curds Cheddar

This is a wonderful cheese that actually uses your favorite beer in the cheese. We used a spiced dark ale for our experiment, which gave the cheese fabulous color as well as flavor. A red, brown, or Scotch ale would also be great. It is generally best to avoid excessively bitter or roasty beers, however. If you prefer a lighter color and flavor, something like a Belgian ale can easily be substituted.

Making this cheese requires a little time and patience but it is worth it. It takes about five hours to make, and then requires overnight pressing. However, an actual cheese press is not needed. We pressed ours by placing the draining mold with follower in a large bucket (slightly elevate the mold to allow for draining). To press with 8 pounds (3.6 kg), fill a 1-gallon (3.8-L) plastic milk jug with water and place it on top of the follower (a separating disk) in the mold. To press with 10 pounds (4.5 kg), use a 10-pound (4.5-kg) bag of flour, sugar, etc. The cheese needs to age for 4 to 6 weeks and should age in a cheese “cave” at 50–55 °F (10–13 °C). If you don’t have one, a wine refrigerator is exactly the right temperature. The other choice is to put the cheese in the lowest drawer in your refrigerator, which is usually the warmest. This is still colder than ideal so aging the cheese longer will be necessary.

Brew Curds Cheddar Recipe

(makes ~ 1 pound/0.45 kg)

Recipe adapted with permission from Artisan Cheese Making At Home by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

Equipment

Sanitizer
10-quart (9.5-L) stainless steel pot
Quick-read thermometer
Perforated ladle or slotted spoon
Curd cutting knife (a serrated bread knife works well)
Measuring spoons
2 small custard cups or ramekins
Nonreactive strainer and bowl  or bucket large enough to drain whey into
Plastic cutting board
Bowl large enough to hold beer and cheese
Cheesecloth
8-inch (~20 cm) cheese draining mold with follower
Cheese mat for drying
Vacuum sealer (optional)
Cheese wax (optional)

Ingredients

2 gallons (7.6 L) pasteurized whole cow’s milk
1⁄2 tsp. Meso II powdered mesophilic starter culture
1⁄2 tsp. Calcium chloride diluted in
1⁄4 cup cool unchlorinated water
1⁄2 tsp. liquid rennet, diluted in 1⁄4 cup
cool unchlorinated water
(2) 12-ounce bottles dark ale or stout at room temperature (at least 72 °F/22 °C)
1 tbsp. Kosher salt or cheese salt

Step by Step

Sanitize all the equipment first.
1. Heat the milk to 88 °F (31 °C) over low heat. This should take at least 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

2. Sprinkle the Meso II over the milk and let it rehydrate for 5 minutes. Mix well using an up and down motion. Cover and maintain 88 °F (31 °C), letting the milk ripen for 45 minutes. If you think the temperature may drop, put the pot in a sink of hot water. Add the calcium chloride solution and gently whisk in for 1 minute, and then incorporate the rennet solution in the same way. Cover and let sit, maintaining 88 °F (31 °C) for about 45 minutes, or until the curds give a clean break — which is when the milk solids separate from the whey. If a knife is put in the curd sideways at an angle and gently lifted, the curds will break cleanly along a straight line for a clean break. If there is not a clean break, wait another 15 minutes and check again.

3. Still maintaining 88 °F (31 °C), cut the curds into 1⁄2-inch (~1-cm) pieces and let sit for 5 minutes. Over low heat, slowly bring the curds to 102 °F (39 °C) over 40 minutes. Stir continuously to keep the curds from matting together; they will release whey, firm up slightly, and shrink.

4. Once the curds are at 102 °F (39 °C), turn off the heat, cover and maintain the temperature. Let the curds rest undisturbed for 30 minutes; they will sink to the bottom.

5. Place a strainer over a bowl or bucket that is large enough to capture the whey. Line the bowl or bucket with damp cheesecloth and ladle the curds into it. Let drain for 10 minutes, or until the whey stops dripping. Reserve one-third of the whey and return it to the pot.

6. Return the whey in the pot to 102 °F (39 °C). Place the curds in your colander, set the colander over the pot, and cover. Carefully maintaining the 102 °F (39 °C) temperature of the whey, wait 10 minutes for the curds to melt into a slab. Flip the slab of curds, and repeat every 15 minutes for 1 hour. The curds should maintain a 95 to 100 °F (35 to 38 °C) temperature from the heated whey below and continue to expel whey into the pot. After 1 hour, the curds will look shiny and white, like poached chicken. If you plan to make Beer Battered Fried Cheese Curds (see the next recipe), stop at this point and move to Step 7 under Step by Step in that recipe.

7. Heat the beer to 80 to 85 °F 27 to 29 °C). Transfer the warm slab of curds to a cutting board and cut into 2 x 1⁄2-inch (5 x 1-cm) strips. Place the warm strips in a bowl and cover completely with the heated brew. Soak for 45 minutes. Drain and discard the brew. Sprinkle the salt over the curds and gently toss to mix.

8. Line the draining mold with damp cheesecloth. Pack the drained curds into the mold, cover with the cloth tails, set the follower on top, and press at 8 pounds (3.6 kg) for 1 hour. Remove the cheese from the mold, unwrap, flip, and redress, then press at 10 pounds (4.5-kg) for 12 hours.

9. Remove the cheese from the mold and cloth and pat dry. Air dry on a cheese mat at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, turning often, until the surface is dry to the touch.

10. Vacuum seal or wax the cheese and ripen at 50 to 55 °F 10 to 13 °C) for 4 to 6 weeks, flipping the cheese daily for the first week, then every other day for even ripening.

Beer Battered Fried Cheese Curds

(Makes ~1 pound/0.45 kg)

Looking for a fun crowd-pleasing appetizer? You’ve found it. You can make either a plain or spicy version of this recipe. The beer used can be almost anything. The flavor contribution of the beer in the batter is relatively subtle, particularly with pale beers. Our first reaction to trying this recipe was that it was delicious and enticing, yet lacking something. In our opinion it needed . . . even more beer and more cheese! So we concocted a simple cheese dipping sauce with beer to accompany the fried curds, which we included here. For this recipe you will produce curds using steps 1 – 6 of the Brew Curds Cheddar recipe (see recipe above). Once you have the curds, a process that will take about three hours, you can proceed with the recipe here. You might like to do as we did and make an extra large or double batch of Brew Curds Cheddar to produce a cheddar for aging, and at the same time proceed with this recipe using the extra curds.

Equipment

See Brew Curds Cheddar recipe. Additionally, you will need the following:
Deep, heavy bottom pot for frying
Mixing bowls

Thermometer capable of reading 350–375 °F (177–179 °C)
Toothpick or wooden skewer
Slotted spoon or ladle
Wire rack
Paper towels

Ingredients

One batch of Brew Curds Cheddar recipe (above, before aging).
1 egg
1 tbsp. additional salt
1 tsp. pepper
1⁄8 tsp. garlic powder
1⁄8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups flour

12 oz. bottle of your favorite homebrew
Optional for spicy version:
4-oz. can of diced jalapeños, drained
1⁄2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
Optional for beer-cheese dipping sauce:
2 cups grated cheddar or other mild cheese
2 Tbsp. cream cheese
1⁄4 cup beer of choice
1⁄8 tsp. garlic powder, or to taste

Step by Step

Follow steps 1 through 6 of Brew Curds Cheddar recipe (see above).
Transfer the warm slab of curds to a cutting board and cut into 2 by 1⁄3-inch (5 x 1-cm) strips, like French fries. Place the warm strips in a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of salt, and mix with your hands. Put the salted curds in a strainer over a bowl to dry, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours.

JALAPEñO SPICED OPTION:
At this point, if you would like to add some heat, do as follows: Place the curds in a large bowl. Gently mix in 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt, a 4-oz. can of diced jalapeños (drained), and 1⁄2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes. You may choose to eat the curds at this point or you can move on to the beer battering steps below. If you skip the battering, store the curds in a resealable bag or vacuum-seal and refrigerate. They’ll keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

PREPARE THE BATTER
1. Begin heating vegetable oil on medium high heat in a deep, heavy bottomed pot. Only fill the pot up to 4 inches (10 cm) from the top of the rim. Keep an eye on the oil, and don’t let it smoke. You want it to be at about 350–375 °F (177–190 °C).

2. Mix egg, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and 1 cup of flour in a mixing bowl. Add about a bottle of beer to the mixture slowly, stirring until the batter is thinner than pancake batter but thicker than gravy.

TO BATTER THE CURD
1. Prepare a separate bowl with about a cup of flour with a teaspoon of both salt and pepper. Roll the curds in the flour bowl until they are coated in a layer of the mixture. Dust off gently.

2. Dip the flour-coated curds in the batter bowl until they are completely covered in batter and then place them directly into hot oil. Using a toothpick for this step is great because as you lay the piece in the oil and pull the toothpick out, you will not leave any fingerprints or utensil marks. Be sure to place the curds into the fry oil individually as they tend to clump together otherwise.

3. Fry the curds until golden brown, then ladle out with a slotted spoon onto a wire rack or paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt to taste while still hot.

BEER-CHEESE SAUCE
1. In a microwave-safe bowl, mix together the 2 cups grated cheese, 2 oz. cream cheese, and about 1⁄4 cup of beer. Heat for 45 seconds in the microwave. Whisk well and microwave for another 1 minute. Whisk again and check the consistency. Additional beer or cream cheese may need to be added to bring the consistency to thick nacho cheese-like paste.

2. When the consistency is achieved you may stir in the garlic powder and warm gently in the microwave a final time just before serving.

It is ideal to serve your beer battered cheese curds dish warm. That being the case, we found that any curds you don’t want to eat immediately can be saved, un-fried, for a week or more in a vaccuum seal bag or zipper-seal bag. When you want them, you can remove them from the fridge and fry on demand.

 

Queijo de Cerveja

(Makes ~1 lb./0.45 kg)

This is a medium-firm pressed cow’s milk cheese that is soaked in beer and ready to eat in just a few weeks. The flavor is tangy, creamy, and just a little hoppy from the soaking.

Equipment

Sanitizer
Stainless steel pot
Thermometer
Perforated ladle or slotted spoon
Curd cutting knife
Measuring spoons
3 small custard cups or ramekins
Small pot for hot water
Solid ladle for hot water
Stainless steel strainer or sieve
1 lb. (0.45 kg) capacity cheese draining mold (Reblochon mold) with follower
A cheese press or other way to press cheese
Cheesecloth
Ripening box with drain rack and lid
Plastic cutting board
Stainless steel, plastic, or glass bowl or bucket larger than the cheese, for the beer soaking

Ingredients

1 gallon (3.8-L) whole cow’s milk (not ultra pasteurized)
1⁄8 tsp. Lipase powder, dissolved in
2 tbsp. unchlorinated water (and allowed to stand for 20 minutes before adding)
1⁄4 tsp. MA4001 Mesophilic direct set culture
1⁄4 tsp. Calcium Chloride solution, in
2 tbsp. unchlorinated water (plus one tsp. later for beer soak solution)
1⁄4 tsp. liquid Rennet, in 2 tbsp. unchlorinated water
4 cups (1 L) unchlorinated water, heated to 175 °F (79 °C)
1 tbsp. Kosher salt (plus 2 tbsp. later for beer soak solution)
(2) 12-oz. bottles of IPA

Step by Step

1. Sanitize all your equipment.

2. Pour the milk into the pot and slowly bring to 90 °F (32 °C).

3. Sprinkle MA4001 over the milk and rehydrate for 5 minutes. Stir using gentle up and down strokes 20 times. Wait 10 minutes. Add the lipase and calcium chloride solutions and stir again. Add the rennet solution. Stir, cover, and let stand maintaining 90 °F (32 °C) for one hour. If you think the temperature might fall, it can be maintained by using a warm water bath either in the sink or in a larger pot.

4. Check for a clean break, which is when the curd separates from the whey. If a knife is put in the curd sideways at an angle and gently lifted, the curds will break cleanly along a straight line for a clean break. If there is not a clean break, wait another 15 minutes and check again. When ready, cut the curds into 1⁄2-inch (1-cm) cubes. Stir very gently and let the curds settle for 5 minutes.

5. In a small pan, heat the 4 cups of water to 175 °F (79 °C).

6. Using a ladle, remove and discard about 1⁄3 of the whey from the cheese pot.

7. Ladle about 2 cups (~0.5 L) of hot water over the curds and stir until the temperature is 92 °F (33 °C). Rest for 10 minutes.

8. Repeat removing whey down to the resting curds and add more hot water to reach 100 °F (38 °C). Stir gently to the curds from matting. Then rest for 30 minutes.

9. Gently pour the curds and whey through a nonreactive sieve. Put the curds back into the cheese pot and allow them to mat together into a slab for about 5 minutes.

10. Transfer the slab of curd to a sanitized cutting board. Use your curd-cutting knife to cut the slab into 1⁄4-inch (0.5-cm) dice. Fold in 1 tbsp. salt.

11. Transfer the curd into a 1-lb. (0.45-kg) mold lined with cheesecloth.

12. Press with 10 lbs. (0.45 kg) for 20 minutes.

13. Unwrap the cheese, turn, rewrap and press with 10 lbs. (0.45 kg) for 10-12 hours.

14. Repeat and press for another 12 hours.

15. Pour the room temperature beer into the soaking bowl or bucket. Add 1 tsp. calcium chloride and 2 tbsp. salt.

16. Unwrap the cheese and place it in the beer. Cover and let stand 24 hours, turning occasionally.

17. Remove the cheese from the soak, and place it on a drain tray in the ripening box. Allow it to air dry for 24 hours at room temperature, turning occasionally and wiping excess moisture out of the box with paper towels or cheesecloth.

18. Age the cheese in the refrigerator in the ripening box, turning it every 2 or 3 days. If mold begins to grow on the rind at any point, it may be scrubbed off with a strong saltwater solution using a clean rag or brush. After 2 to 4 weeks of aging, you may cut and serve the cheese or wrap it in cheese paper and keep refrigerated.

Final Cheesemaking Thoughts

Getting started in your cheesemaking hobby is simple. There is less equipment needed to start out than in homebrewing and some of your existing equipment will likely be able to do double duty for both beer and cheese production, such as your kettles, thermometers, sanitizer, and food-grade buckets. The few extra items you need to get started generally include some rennet, starter culture, calcium chloride, and perhaps a few draining molds and cheesecloth, depending on what cheeses you decide to make. Find a basic, universal cheesemaking starter kit, combine it with your existing homebrew supplies, and you’ll have two great hobbies.