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Prepper's Cheesemaking

If you've read the comments to my "Chèvre" and "Cardoon for Vegetable Rennet" blog posts, then you know we've been discussing alternatives to buying rennet and cheese cultures. The following is a relevant excerpt from chapter 7 of my Prepper's Livestock Handbook. Chapter 7 contains off-grid ways to process, make, preserve, and store eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and meat. Cheese is the traditional way to preserve milk, so here are a number of alternative ideas for making and storing cheese.

Cheese

Sustainable cultures. These can be substituted for commercial thermophilic and mesophilic starters. Commonly used are kefir, yogurt, whey, cultured buttermilk, and soured raw milk. In general, use 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup per gallon of milk. If your cheese is too bland for your taste, increase the amount of culture in your next batch. If your cheese tastes too sour, decrease it.


Natural rennets. Animal rennets are made from the stomach of a calf or kid, where enzymes curdle liquid milk into soft, digestible curds. See “How to Make Calf or Kid Rennet” under Resources for how to make your own. Plant rennets are made from plants that will curdle milk: thistle, cardoon, ground ivy, sheep sorrel, butterwort leaves, mallow, yarrow, teasel, knapweed, perennial ryegrass, narrowleaf plantain, henbit, shepherd’s purse, kudzu, globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke flowers, Irish moss, and safflower are examples. To make the rennet, gather and dehydrate any of the above. Make a strong tea by boiling a handful of the plant matter in 2 cups of water. Use 1⁄2 cup of tea per 1⁄2 gallon of milk. Results may vary!


Fig sap. The white latex-like sap from figs will also curdle milk. It only takes a few drops per quart of milk, and makes a soft, spreadable cheese.


Calcium chloride. This is often recommended when using pasteurized milk for making cheese. In raw milk the calcium is correctly balanced, so calcium chloride is not necessary.


Preserving cheese. If cheese is a way to preserve milk, then how do we preserve cheese? Cheeses that aren’t eaten fresh can be waxed, bandaged, or stored in oil or brine. The idea is to keep the cheese from becoming contaminated by airborne bacteria and fungi that might change your cheese in undesirable ways.


Waxing. The most common way to preserve cheese. Cheeses are coated with melted wax and then aged. Beeswax is an alternative to commercial cheese wax. If you find beeswax too brittle and prone to cracking, coconut oil or vegetable shortening can be added to melted beeswax to increase pliability:

  • 13.5 ounces melted beeswax 
  • 2.5 ounces oil or shortening 

Waxed cheeses are typically aged 60 days or longer at 50 to 60°F (10 to 15°C) and 75 to 95 percent humidity.

Bandaging. Another option for aging and storing cheese. Several layers of cotton cloth are cut in rounds for the top and bottom of the cheese wheel, and strips cut for the sides. The bandage is coated with butter or lard and then aged the same as waxed cheeses.


Oil submersion. Used for soft cheeses. The cheeses are submerged in extra-virgin olive oil and kept in a cool root cellar or refrigerator. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, savory, oregano, peppercorns, and garlic may be added to the oil for flavoring. The herbed oil may later be used for salads and sauteing.


Cold storage. Cold storage, such as a root cellar or cheese cave, can be used to store cheese without refrigeration.

  • Cured, uncut cheeses can be stored until it’s time to consume them. 
  • Cut cheeses will keep longest if kept as cold as possible. Cut off mold as it develops and feed it to the pigs, chickens, or compost. The rest of the cheese is still good. 
  • Natural rinded cheeses will need to be examined periodically for growth of molds. 
  • Moldy spots can be scrubbed with vinegar and salt to remove the mold. 
  • Waxed cheeses need to be turned about once a week to keep the natural moisture within the cheese from settling on the bottom. 
  • Brine- or oil-kept cheeses must be checked periodically to make sure they remain submerged. 

Freezing. Generally not recommended for cheese, because freezing alters the texture and causes the cheese to be crumbly. It still has good flavor, however, and is acceptable for cooking. Some cheeses such as grated mozzarella and paneer, freeze very well.

Bibliography: 
Tate, Leigh, Prepper's Livestock Handbook, Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2018
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The last section of the chapter, "Off-Grid Storage of Eggs, Milk, and Meat," discusses non-electric alternatives for refrigeration and freezing. For a prepper, these are the best ways to not lose what we've worked so hard to preserve and store. The appendix on Resources offers links to the tools mentioned in the chapter and further detail on various topics.

I think this is an important topic, because it greatly expands the prepper pantry with alternatives to canned and dehydrated protein foods. Especially since homemade is usually much cheaper than ready-made.

More information about Prepper's Livestock Handbook, including a list of chapters and charts, can be found here.

Prepper's Cheesemaking © July 2019 by

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