Watch how to make delicious homemade cheddar cheese! This step-by-step cloth-bound cheddar cheese recipe has the traditional flavor you know and love. Unlike many other cheddar cheese recipes, the paste for this cheese is still smooth and moist; it’s perfect for slicing, sandwiches, grating for your favorite recipes, or even just snacking with apples and crackers!
Watch How to Make Cheddar Cheese
Supplies for Making Homemade Cheddar Cheese
If you’re new to cheesemaking, cheddar cheese may require you to add some supplies to your tool kit that you may not have yet, including a cheese fridge. For more information about other cheesemaking equipment not discussed here, see the recipe for Butter Cheese.
Because cheddar cheese is aged for a month or more, I highly recommend making it with at least 4 gallons of milk. Though most cheese recipes you’ll find online or in books are made with 2 gallons of milk, the yield on your final product will be significantly less because so much of the rind will dry out during aging and need to be removed. With 4 gallons of milk or more, your cheese will have enough mass that the paste will be creamier.
I also suggest finding a sturdy stainless steel pot with a lid from a restaurant supply company because it will be quality enough to retain heat. (Which means less work maintaining temperatures for you!) I also prefer welded handles over rivets because it is easier to clean and one less place for bacterial to lurk and ruin an otherwise good cheese.
Cheddar cheese will also require you to have a digital scale and micro digital scale to weigh your curds & salt. Salting your cheese by percentage of the curd mass will ensure uniform results from cheese to cheese. 2.6% salt is the sweet spot for my palette. You may adjust it up or down to your taste.
Your cheese fridge can a mini-fridge with a digital controller to override the preset temperature. I was able to find a dinged up, yet new, beverage cooler online that has 2 adjustable zones that I can set to the perfect temperature for aging cheese. Regardless of which cheese fridge you end up with, you will need a humidity controller with a way to add moisture to the environment. I use this humidifier fog machine outside my cheese fridge. We cut a hole into the side for the tube to pipe mist into the fridge.
You will need cotton cloth or cheese wax to seal this cheese while aging. I do not recommend vac sealing cheeses where you want flavors to develop during the aging process. Vac sealing slows or stops flavor development & affects the final taste & texture of the cheese. I’ve never had consistent results with natural waxes and do not choose to use artificial waxes with food dyes. Besides, it seems like a beautiful pairing to cloth bound a cheddar and seal it with melted butter. The flavor symbiosis between the two makes a perfect blend for sealing a cheese.
All of the other supplies should already be in your arsenal if you’ve been working through the Homesteaders of America cheesemaking series.
Ingredients for Cheddar Cheese
This cheddar cheese recipe is made with mesophilic culture. This means that the cheese will never rise above 102F so cool temperature cultures are appropriate. I’ve tried this recipe with several mesophilic cultures and MA4001 or 4002 are my favorites. You can also try making cheddar cheese with MA11 or RA22 (24/26).
If you’d like you can also give your cheddar cheese that quintessential orange color with the addition of a small bit of annatto seed extract. I find that my children are so used to the orange cheddar color from the store that they are more likely to eat orange cheddar. An eighth of a teaspoon is enough to change the color of a 4-gallon batch of cheese. It won’t seem like it did the trick, but I promise it will. Whatever you do, don’t add more annatto to change the color in the pot. You will end up with a wheel of cheese that would rival a bag of Cheetos.
There’s no need to to be concerned about adding a colorant to your cheese. Annatto is completely natural. It’s made from a seed and can even be made at home by simmering the seeds in water. I choose not to because I always miss the sweet spot and boil all the liquid away and have to start again.
How to Make Cheddar Cheese at Home
Making cheddar cheese will take up a good portion of your day, to be sure. I start a batch around 9 AM after milking & breakfast then end up getting the cheese in the press around 4 PM. Just in time to start dinner. The good news is this time is not all spent over the pot stirring the cheese. The active stirring time takes just about an hour.
Acidifying/Culturing Cheddar Cheese
You begin making cheddar cheese by warming a vat of milk to 88F. After that you thoroughly mix in the culture and annatto. Cover the pot and allow the cultures to acidify the milk for the next hour.
Once you come back, it’s time to add the rennet. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need to dilute the rennet in water. In fact, doing so could introduce bacteria into your cheese.
At this point, you could set a timer for 50 minutes and walk away but a better way to make consistent cheese is to learn about flocculation. All rennet is not created equal. And even if you use the same rennet every time, its strength may vary as it ages. How long you allow the coagulated curds to sit will, in part, determine how much moisture is locked into your cheese. Less moisture makes a drier cheese, more moisture a creamier cheese. If you don’t know when the flocculation point is, you’re simply guessing how long curds should sit.
To test flocculation, set a lightweight plastic cap upside down on the surface of the milk after you finish stirring in the rennet. (I sanitize and use the lid of a vitamin bottle.) For cheddar cheese, begin testing for flocculation after 13 minutes. To do this gently flick the cap to see if it will slide across the surface of the cheese. (For the first time, flick it occasionally during those 13 minutes so you can get to know the differences as the curds coagulate.) When you flick the cap and it meets resistance and even seems to bounce back a little, you are at the flocculation point.
Now for a little math. For cheddar cheese, I use a multiplier of 3 because I don’t want a dry cheddar. This means if the flocculation point was at 15 minutes my total time before cutting the curds is 45 minutes. Subtract the 15 minutes that have already passed from that time and set a timer for the remaining balance of time, 30 minutes.
15 minute flocculation point:
After that 30 minutes, in this case, has passed, test your curds. Slip a knife into the curd mass then dip your finger into the slit. Lift the mass up perpendicular to the slit. If the curd breaks clean around your finger, the curds are ready to be cut. You can also test by pressing down on the curd mass against the wall of the pot. You will see it slip away from the sides.
Cutting the Curds
Once the curds are ready, use a long knife to cut the curds to ¼” cubes. Cut one way, then the other perpendicularly. Imagine each curd in the pot as a tall ¼” leaf of seaweed and the bottom of the pot as the sea floor. Now cut those lengths of vertical curd by running your knife at an angle, continually slicing ¼” from the top of each strand of curd as you run the knife across. Repeat this angled curd down the length of each side, cutting on all 4 sides of the pot.
Allow the curds to rest for 5 minutes to heal then very, very slowly stir the curds searching for any larger uncut pieces and cut them.
Releasing Whey (Cooking & Stirring the Curds)
When the curds are satisfactorily cut, it’s time to stir and warm the curds to release the whey. Now is the time to remove whey from the curds, not in the cheese press. By the time the curds are in the press the whey is locked in and you’re only removing whey from between the curds as you press them into a solid mass.
Begin by slowly stirring the curds while you warm them to 95F. This should take 30 minutes. As time passes, stir with increasing speed. After 30 minutes, and once you’ve reached temp, increase the stirring speed more and raise the temperature to 102F in 15 minutes. Finally, maintain that temperature while stirring as quickly as you can for 15 minutes.
Test the curds for doneness by squeezing a handful. They should hold together but then fall apart when rubbed between your thumb and fingers.
Allow the curds to settle (pitch) for 5-10 minutes so you can easily remove the whey. After the curds are on the bottom of the pot, ladle out the whey.
Meanwhile, prepare a waterbath with hot water to maintain the temperature of the curds during the cheddaring process. My kitchen sink is nice and deep so I can even place a 6-gallon pot in it. You may need to use a cooler filled with hot water or another large vessel.
Cheddaring the Cheddar Cheese
Now on to the actual cheddaring!
Cut the solid curd mass into 4 pieces. Stack them on top of each other. Cover the pot with a lid and place it in your waterbath. I use 2- half gallon mason jars filled with hot water on top of the lid to keep the pot from floating.
Leave the curds in the waterbath for 15 minutes. Then you will peel the pieces apart and flip them, re-stacking. Be sure to maintain the temperature at 102F during the cheddaring. Repeat this 3 more times for a total of 1 hour. (At some point you may need to cut the curds to flip and stack them.) By the end, the curds will have the texture of cooked chicken breast. Do not drain your sink water.
Weigh the curds on a digital scale. Calculate 2.6 % of that amount in sea salt on the micro digital scale for the best accuracy. Transfer the curds to a cutting board and quickly cut them into 1″ cubes, returning them to the pot.
Sprinkle the cubed curds with half of the salt, mixing well. Return the pot to the waterbath system for 5 minutes. Add the remaining portion of salt, stirring well. Return the pot to the waterbath for a final time.
Pressing the Cheese
Prepare your cheese press if you haven’t already. Line your hoop with cheesecloth and quickly transfer the warm curds to the hoop. Warm curds will knit together better.
Press at 20 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. Flip and redress the cheese. Press at 60 pounds of pressure overnight. In the morning, flip and redress the wheel a final time, leaving the cheese in the press until it has been in there for a total of 24 hours.
Cloth Bandaging Cheddar Cheese
Place the cheese on a mat and allow it to air dry for 2-3 days until the surface is dry to the touch. (A little clammy is ok.)
To bandage the cheese, melt ½ cup butter. Trace the two circular ends of the cheese and the length of the sides with a pencil on a piece of cotton muslin fabric. Cut out the pieces about ¼” outside of your tracing.
Brush the top of the cheese with butter. Place one circle of cloth on top and saturate the cloth, brushing it with butter, sealing it tightly to the cheese (including the little overlap on the sides.) Repeat with the bottom of the cheese, then adhere the long strip of fabric to the side of the cheese with the butter.
Aging Cheddar Cheese
Transfer the cheese to your cheese fridge and age for 4-6 weeks for a mild cheddar, 3 months or longer for sharp cheddar. Age the cheese at 55F and at 80% humidity. I flip the cheese every day for the first week or two as the moisture inside settles.
If too much moisture accumulates in your cheese fridge or if you age the cheese for longer than 6 weeks, it is more likely to grow mold. That’s ok. It will come off with the cloth and any mold on the rind can be scraped off before eating.
If you will not be eating all of your cheese right away, vac seal it until you are ready to eat it. This will stop the flavor development where you want it to be.
Printable Cheddar Cheese Recipe
Cheddar Cheese Recipe
- 4 gallon stockpot with Lid
- Digital Instant Read Thermometer
- Cheese Ladle
- Curd Knife
- Measuring Spoons
- Digital Scale
- Micro Digital Scale
- Cutting Board & Knife
- Cheese Mat
- Cheese Refrigerator
- Cotton or Muslin Fabric
- Pastry Brush
- 4 gallons milk, preferably raw
- ¼ teaspoon mesophilic culture, MA 4000 series
- 1/8 teaspoon annatto, optional
- 1 teaspoon animal rennet
- 2.6% sea salt
- ½ cup Butter, melted, for cloth bound
- Warm milk to 88F. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Add in the mesophilic culture and annatto. Stir 2 minutes.
- Cover and maintain the temperature for 1 hour.
- Stir in the rennet 30 seconds. You do not need to dilute the rennet in water for small batch cheese. Stir slowly, but throughly. Stop the motion of the milk with your ladle.
- Coagulate the milk for about 40-50 minutes. If you are using a flocculation cap place it on the milk and begin checking for flocculation after 12 minutes. Mark the time elapsed. Multiply that number by 3 then subtract the flocculation time from the product. (Example: Flocculation time of 15 minutes; 15×3=45; 45-15=30 more minutes of coagulation.)
- Check for a clean break.
- Cut the curds to ¼”. Cut in a grid then on the diagonal the depth of the pot in all 4 directions.
- Allow the curds to rest and heal for 5 minutes to lock in moisture. Skip this step if you want a dry cheddar.
- Return the pot to the heat and warm to 95F over the course of 30 minutes. Stir continuously, beginning with slow stirring and increase speed as the curds toughen up.
- Heat the curds to 102F in 15 minutes, stirring fairly rapidly.
- Maintain the temperature and stir for a final 15 minutes. Stir as quickly as you can.
- Test the curds by squeezing them in the palm of your hand. They should hold together in a clump yet break apart when rubbing them with your thumb.
- Pitch the curds for 5 minutes and allow them to sink to the bottom.
- Meanwhile, prepare a waterbath to keep your curd warm during the cheddaring process. I use my kitchen sink filled with hot water & 2- half gallon mason jars filled with water to weigh the pot down.
- Remove the whey from the pot.
- NOTE: Try to maintain a 102F temperature for the cheddaring process.
- Cut the curd mass in the bottom of the pot into 4 blocks and stack them on top of each other.
- Place the covered pot in the water bath & weigh it down.
- Stack and flip every 15 minutes for 1 hour until the curds have the consistency of cooked chicken breast. Drain any whey in the bottom when flipping the curds. (This is a total of 4- 15 minutes with 3 flip/stacks.)
- Weigh & make a note of the curd mass.
- Quickly cut the curds into 1” cubes so you don't lose too much temperature.
- Using a micro digital scale, weigh out 2.6% of the curd mass in salt.
- Add the salt to the cubed curds in 2 phases with 5 minutes between additions. Place the pot back in the waterbath between saltings.
- Prepare your cheese press between saltings.
- Quickly transfer salted curds to a cheesecloth lined hoop.
- Press at 20 pounds pressure for 15 minutes.
- Remove the cheese from the hoop, flip, and redress in the cheesecloth.
- Return the cheese to the press and apply 60 pounds of pressure overnight.
- In the morning, remove the cheese, flip, and redress a final time. Return it to the press and apply 80 pounds of pressure until the cheese has been in the press for a total of 24 hours.
- Transfer the cheese to a cheese mat and air dry for 2-3 days, flipping twice daily.
- Was the cheese for the aging or apply a cloth bandage rind using clean cotton fabric and melted butter.
- Age the cheese in a cheese fridge at 55F and 80% humidity for 4-6 weeks for mild cheddar and 3 months or more for sharp cheddar.
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