Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Triers and Presses

Cheese trier
There are all kinds of specialty kitchen tools designed for cheese making, and luckily only a few of them are expensive. The most expensive instruments I have come across so far are the trier (pictured above) and the cheese press. The trier is used to take a core sample of cheese that has been aging to determine if it is ready, and varies in price from about $70 to $150. The reason why this tool is especially helpful is that the sample you take can be reinserted moments later, plugging the hole that was just made. This way, the fact that you checked the cheese doesn't actually affect the further development of the cheese. I do not own a trier yet, and may make due without one for a while since they are so expensive and aren't absolutely necessary.

Cheese presses are used to press the cheese (duh!), but not in the way you might think. Rather than wringing out the liquid with brute force, like an apple press for example, the cheese press applies a steady pressure that starts out light and is incrementally increased over about 36 hours time (depending on the cheese). A store bought press can cost $250 or more, with the cheapest decent one that I've seen costing around $170. To the beginning cheese maker, this can seem like a lot of money for something that can be duplicated by just stacking books or dumbell weights on your cheese.
That may be an oversimplification, but just barely. Click on this "Cheese presses" link to see photos of hundreds of different cheese presses that people have fashioned in their own homes. As for stacking weights or books on your cheese, it actually does work; but I found out the hard way that you better have a strong supporting structure of some kind to prevent the whole thing from toppling over.

You may have read about the hard cheese, a Derby, that I recently made. It's recipe calls for 15 lbs. of pressure for 10 minutes, then 30 lbs. for 2 hours, and finally 50 lbs. for 24 hours. I used my Wii Fitness game to weigh several heavy stackable items around my house:
                                                 Big book............................5 lbs.
                                                 Bigger book.......................8 lbs.
                                                 Marble slab.......................21 lbs.
                                                1960's sewing machine.....38 lbs.

I used the two books for the first ten minutes, and then the marble slab with just the bigger book for the next two hours. The sewing machine, although extremely heavy, wasn't a feasible thing to use... it was just too big and oddly shaped to balance on something with a 6" diameter. I decided to use two 15 lb. dumbbells (the kind with flat edges so they won't roll) and the marble slab for the final 24 hour pressing. Everything was working fine until I fell asleep.

As cheese is pressed, it is constantly shifting and shrinking under the weight, but very slowly. Over the first eight hours or so, I would occasionally readjust the position of the weights on the slab ever so slightly, and everything was going great. It seemed like I was only adjusting the weight every couple of hours or so, and even then the weights never seemed in danger of toppling over. I fell asleep sometime around 1 am, and at 2:30 there was an enormous crashing sound as the 21 lb. slab of marble fell to the hardwood floor from on top of the cheese mold, which was on top of the dining table.

What was I thinking? Well, I figured the weights could go at least three hours without being adjusted before there was any real danger of a topple. And I tend to wake up fairly often throughout the night, so I planned to check it when I did wake up, and hope for the best. Bad decision apparently, lesson learned. I think I am going to copy the press pictured below (more or less) to use next time.

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