It’s been ages since I made cheese.
And, despite some missteps along the way, I’ve missed it.
So, finally, I carved out some time last week, gathered my milk and starters, rennet and cheesecloth, and jumped back into the game.
I’ve wanted to make Manchego for a while. I buy it sometimes in the store, and I love the slightly crunchy texture of aged Manchego. I probably won’t age mine long enough to get that texture, at least not this time around.
Manchego originally comes from Spain and was made using sheep’s milk. Nowadays, it’s made with either sheep’s milk or cow’s milk, depending on what part of the world you’re in. You can age it for anywhere from a few days to over a year. I’m probably going to try mine in about a month, and maybe I’ll let part of it age longer.
When you’re starting out a batch of cheese (at least, when starting the few kinds I’ve made so far), a lot of the process is the same.
Bring milk to a certain temperature, add the starter (or, in this case, two starters – both mesophilic and thermophilic), let the milk ripen, add rennet, let it set, cut the curd, heat the curds, pour off the whey, scoop the curds into a mold, press them, age them, and, sometimes, wax them.
The differences come in all the little variations in each of the different steps.
So the basic process becomes familiar, even as you are doing parts of it differently with each different type of cheese you make.
Manchego is actually a pretty user-friendly hard cheese. It takes less time from warming the milk to pressing the curds than the cheddars I’ve done, and best of all, I don’t have to wax this one.
I just let the cheese age au natural, and brush it with olive oil to keep it from drying out.
Another difference is that salt isn’t added to the curds before pressing. Instead, after the cheese has been pressed and turned for about 7 hours, total, at different weights, it goes into a brine for another 6 hours or so before aging.
(That’s a little container of water that I put on my cheese to hold it below the surface of the brine.)
After the brining process, I took the cheese out, patted it dry, set it on a sushi mat on top of a wooden board, and put it in my slightly chilly pantry.
The Manchego is supposed to age at 55 degrees F. My pantry isn’t a whole lot warmer than that, and at the moment it’s the only place I can put it.
If mold appears, all I have to do is wipe it off with cheesecloth dipped in salt water.
And that’s where I am at the moment!
I’m looking forward to making cheese again soon.
Maybe something simple like a ricotta or a mozzarella.
Or maybe I’ll revisit the cheddars.
Or…maybe I’ll try something completely new and different.
I’ll let you know.