Monterey Jack or Jack cheese is a soft, white cheese with a slight tang. It is ready to eat after a month of aging. A more acidic tang will develop with longer aging. Ready? Let’s make some cheese!
Following is the equipment you will need. Remember: all vessels and utensils that come in contact with milk or curds must be made of stainless steel, enamel-lined steel, high-quality food-grade plastic, or glass. Since cheese making involves the acidification of milk, the use of aluminum or cast-iron utensils is not appropriate. Also, never use wooden spoons.
The most important kitchen tool for cheese making is a high-quality thermometer with an accurate temperature range of at least 32°F to 212°F. When selecting a thermometer, the most important traits to look for are accuracy and readability. (The thermometer should be able to clearly note changes as small as 1°F.) It should also be able to attach securely to a vessel, so that your hands are free and you can continuously monitor its readings.
Look for a stainless steel (preferred) or enamel-lined pot with a capacity of at least 16 quarts for recipes using 3 gallons of milk. A 20-quart stock pot is ideal and will be required when making a 4-gallon batch of cheese. Your pot will need a fitted lid but it is not necessary for it to seal tightly.
Note: The best kitchenware for cooking may not be the best for cheese making. Stock pots with heavy-clad bottoms are designed to diffuse heat evenly and avoid burning, but the additional mass in the bottom also retains heat for a longer period of time. This increases the time it will take for milk or curds to heat and to cool. If you have this type of cookware, you can use it, but you should experiment to determine how quickly it heats and cools. You can then adjust your procedures as needed. All of the procedures in this guide assume that you are using basic kitchen kettles made of stainless or enameled steel with single-layer bottoms.
You will need to be able to cut curds into uniform smaller pieces. The curd will be much like Jell-O, so a sharp edge is not required. Your curd knife must be long enough to reach the bottom of the cheese pot without the handle touching the cheese. A long-bladed carving or bread knife can be used. A better choice is a 12-inch stainless steel icing spatula.
Coarse cheesecloth is rated as #10 with about 20 threads per square inch. Have enough of each to allow you to increase the thread count by using double or triple layers as needed.
Drying mats are simple platforms that hold resting cheeses as they dry and/or ripen. Look for ones with grooves or gaps on the surface that allow air to keep the bottom of the cheese dry. Kitchen cooling racks with wide gaps between thin metal wires are not suitable for this, because the weight of the cheese may cause the wires to cut into the bottom surface. Bamboo sushi rolling mats work perfectly well.
All you will need for home cheese making is a 7×4-inch classic tomme cheese basket with a matching follower. The tomme (pronounced tum) is a basket-style mold with small holes in the sides and bottom to allow the draining of excess whey. The follower (sometimes referred to as a top or lid) fits inside the basket with just enough clearance to prevent binding against the sides and has a flat surface on one side with a support structure on the other. The supports distribute weight evenly over the surface on the flat side. The tomme press forms cheese into the classic wheel shape.
A visit to your local used sporting goods store or flea market will net you the perfect set of operating weights for the tomme press. All you will need are a few old style barbell weight disks. Look for ones that have flat surfaces and clear heaviness markings.
Cheese wax melts at relatively low temperature so it will not “cook” the cheese as it is applied, and remains pliable at moderately cool temperatures, allowing the cheese a fair amount of flexibility to expand and contract without breaking the seal.
Congratulations, you’ve just made your first brick of cheese! Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to buy cheese from a store again. For more cheese fun, check out our Quick Guide Make Your Own Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese. Have fun!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making by James R. Leverentz