How to make your own vegetarian cheddar cheese

Once you start making your own cheese you won’t want to stop.

The big cost is the milk, so see if you can source a cheap option from a local farmer or buy in bulk when the milk is at the end of its sell-by date.

You can use this blueprint recipe to make a mild, soft cheese or a harder, more crumbly cheese. It all depends on how much time you give the cheese to set.

The initial process takes about 4 hours.

Homemade vegetarian cheese
Homemade vegetarian cheese

Equipment
Before you start you will need the right equipment. A thermometer and a cheesecloth – if this is your first time and you have no cheesecloth to hand then clean nylon, a tea towel or table cloth might work. As with the knives, mixing bowls and the pan that you use they should all be sterilised shortly before you being making the cheese. You can do this by cleaning them in boiling water and drying, where necessary, in a hot oven.

* Sterilised cheesecloth or muslin
* Sterilised mixing bowl
* Sterilised palette knife
* 2 large sterilised pans
* Sterilised colander
* Cheese press (to make your own, use a large empty baked bean can with both ends removed, place on top off a chopping board and, once the cheese has been put inside, place 30lb of weights on top)

Ingredients
* 5 litres (1 gallon) full cream milk
* 1 litre (1.7 pints) additional cream (optional)
* 120ml (4oz) crème fraiche or plain yoghurt or buttermilk
* 3ml (half teaspoon) Vegeren (vegetarian rennet)
* 10-20g salt, preferably coarse
* pepper, sugar, margarine or other flavourings are optional

1. Place the milk and cream, and the yoghurt, buttermilk or crème fraiche into the large pan and leave for half an hour. This gives the milk a richer flavour and helps it to acidify.

2. Gently heat the milk up to 28C and maintain this temperature for 45 minutes.

Cheese Curds by Jesse Dill
Cheese Curds by Jesse Dill

3. Add the rennet by dissolving it in a small cup of pre-boiled water. Then mix it in with the milk. Once thoroughly mixed, remove the milk from the heat and leave to cool for 30-45 minutes. The top of the milk will start to congeal and set and the curds will separate.

4. When the curds have set, cut them into small, roughly centimetre size cubes.

5. Over 40 minutes, slowly bring the temperature up to 39C and continue to gently stir. Keep the curds at this temperature for 30 more minutes. Stir every few minutes to keep the curds from congealing.

6. During this time line the colander with the cheesecloth or muslin.

7. Stop stirring for the last 5 minutes so the curds can settle and you can drain the whey off.

Draining the whey by Lorelei
Draining the whey by Lorelei

8. Put the curds into the colander and drain into the second pot. You should collect enough whey to fill the pot 1/3 full.

9. Place the new pot on top of the heat to keep at 39C for 1 hour. For a moister cheese, reduce the time to 45 minutes or even 30 minutes.

10. Remove the congealed curds and cut into long pencil sized strips. Stir in the salt and other flavourings to taste.

Maturing the cheese
Many people like to eat these cheese now. But to make a wheel of cheese, leave the curd in the cheesecloth and put it into the cheese press and leave for overnight. Add a light weight for the first hour and then the full 30lbs after that. In the morning turn the cheese upside down and press for another 24 hours.

The next morning, remove the cheese from the press and allow to dry for a day or two. Rub the surface with salt if you want to encourage a rind to develop.

You can take this a step further by waxing or bandaging the cheese and leaving it to ripen. Leaving the cheese in a cool, dry place at 8–11C for up to 4 weeks will give it a mild cheddar flavour. Three months will give it a medium flavour, and you can also leave the cheese for longer for a more  mature taste.

Turn the cheese daily for the first three weeks, then on alternate days after that. Smaller cheeses will ripen faster.

Good luck!

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Cheese & Crackers – just traditional and tasty

I’m sure every house has its traditions.

In my house at Christmas time, there was a Christmas breakfast, an open fire, a boiled leg of ham, erm.. my brother playing Christmas records, and the boxes of crackers and biscuits served in the evening.

Not to mention the ominous supply of brazil nuts, dates and satsumas – well, as a kid you just don’t really ‘get’ healthy foods do you?

But I’ve just seen some of Crazy Jack’s latest organic ideas, and yes, it includes a box of dates and several varieties of crackers and biscuits. The memories come flooding back. I’m sure Crazy Jack would have done my mum proud.

Actually, I have to admit it myself, the crackers do look pretty irresistable. We’re talking about Cranberry Biscuits and Ginger Biscuits. Also, Rosemary & Sea Salt Crackers or Cracked Black Pepper & Sea Salt Crackers, and others besides, all vegetarian.

Perfect to serve with a delicious cheese board (which gives me a good moment to mention Calon Wen’s amazing organic Welsh Cheddar and vegetarian Armel cheese, and Simon Weaver’s organic Bries from the Cotswolds – both companies make really outstanding cheese).

In the interests of fairness you might like to know that Nairn’s also do an appetising cracker and biscuit selection which is also suitable if you’re vegetarian.

The genius behind Crazy Jack is that they champion all foods organic, whilst Nairn’s specialise in oat based baked goods such as the tasty Oaty Bakes or Oat Biscuits with Dark Chocolate Chips.

I’ll leave you to decide which variety of cracker you prefer. Most of you will probably like either but, for just some of you, there might be a flavour which has all the appeal of someone playing White Christmas first thing in the morning.