A trip to your local homebrew shop will show you how these stores have progressed to adapt to the insatiability of the homebrewer. Gone are the days of simply carrying the basic needs for brewing a beer. With the growing desire to create more than just beer, shop owners are transforming their stores to accommodate and offer new opportunities for self-expression through creatively making one’s own consumable products.
Today, the shelves of homebrew shops are still filled with bins of grains and fridges overflowing with hop varietals to go along with the necessities of making your own wine, but if you look a little deeper, you’ll also come across everything you need to roast your own coffee and make your own sodas (which unlike Coca-Cola, actually can push creative boundaries), as well as pickling components, charcuterie needs, and most commonly and probably fastest growing, cheesemaking kits.
Cheese is a natural pairing for beer. There is really little that goes better with beer than cheese, and if you’re going to make your own beer, then why not make your own cheese to pair with it? As they go together ideally in flavor, they also go together in how you make them. If you already enjoy the creative process behind making your own beer, then odds are in your favor that you’ll enjoy making your own cheese as well.
The process of making cheese, like beer,
can be as simple or complicated as you make it out to be. You can start with a beginners level kit, following the step-by-step directions, getting a feel for the process (similar to a pre-made homebrew kit), and you can then work your way up to tinkering with different types of milks and cultures, while testing out different aging methods and locations as you create your own cheese recipe. For now, here are the basics of what you need to know about making cheese.
Milk is probably the most essential of ingredients and one which provides you with boundless room for experimentation. Your milk options are endless, varying from the gallon of milk you’d buy at the supermarket to raising your own goat. You can even use dry milks and non-dairy milks such as soy and almond milk. These options lead you to exciting opportunities of tweaking recipes and coming up with new cheeses.
Ideally, you will want to use unpasteurized milk. Most likely, you will not find this milk at your local supermarket, but your local farm stand or specialty store may carry some. The decision, however, is not as simple as pasteurized or unpasteurized. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk all act differently with cheese as they each have different fat, protein, and sugar contents and flavors. To make it even more complex, different breeds of these animals will have slight differences as well. And, if that wasn’t enough options, you also have to take the diet of the animals into consideration, as a grass-fed cow will produce different milk than a corn-fed cow.
As you can see, the milk is important and is no simple decision. If you are making a certain type of cheese, there are suggested types of milks to use, which will narrow down your choices. As with brewing, experimentation is key and most likely you’ll eventually find certain farms you like for different kinds of cheeses.
Similar to how beer needs yeast to ferment, cheese needs cultures to coagulate the milk and form cheese. These cultures are made up of varying strains of bacteria. Essentially, what you are doing with the culture is ripening your milk and converting the natural sugars found in the milk into a lactic acid.
Each type of cheese requires different cultures and even slight nuances in quantity and strands can make a vast difference in your end result. These cultures will also all work differently with different types of milk. Think of it how you would in making a beer. There are lager yeasts for making lagers, hefeweizen yeasts for making hefeweizens and ale yeasts for making ales. It is very similar with cheese cultures, but there is always room for experimentation and to create new types of cheeses.
After you have added your cultures to the milk and it forms curds, rennet is needed. Rennet is what allows the excess liquid to separate from the curds and run off as whey.
Rennet is an enzyme that can be a derivative of either animals or vegetables. Animal-based rennet is pulled from the stomachs of calves, lambs or goats and is 90% chymosin. It must, however, be derived from young animals while they are still solely surviving off their mother’s milk.
For those who would prefer a vegetable derived rennet, this option is found in a certain type of mold called Mucor miehei, which is an equal product to chymosin. Choosing between the animal or vegetable rennet will make little to no difference in your final product and is solely a personal preference.
Milk, cultures, and rennet make up the three essential ingredients to making cheese, however, there are a number of additives and ingredients you can add and some types of cheeses require much more. For instance, hard, aged cheeses will require waxing, while basic soft cheeses can be made solely from these three ingredients. Mastering these ingredients will bring you a long way towards mastering cheesemaking in general.
To make things even more interesting, once you get the basics down, you can start playing with adding beer to your curds and/or washing your cheeses in it. Different types of beers will have different effects, leading to even more options of types of cheeses, not to mention, making your own cheese and washing it in your own beer is sure to impress anyone and make for a great homemade gift.
As for equipment, most of the necessary equipment is already in the home of any homebrewer. One really only needs a large pot to cook in, a thermometer, cheese-cloth and a long knife to cut the curds, making it an inexpensive hobby to dabble in. Items such as presses will be needed for certain hard cheeses and different climate controlled areas and refrigeration may be needed as well.
For any homebrewer who enjoys cheese, cheesemaking is a natural step of progression. There are a fair number of basic concepts that carry over from one world to the other and the mindset is similar. Plus, you can always use something else to do besides drink during the down times of a brew day.