Any homesteader who has a dairy animal or two knows the importance of finding a use for all of that milk. Making cheese at home is not only a great way to provide nourishing food for your family, it is also an excellent method of preserving milk. Robyn began her cheesemaking journey by using her dairy cow’s milk to make cheese for her family, and she quickly realized there was a need for cheesemaking education specifically for the homesteader. In this conversation, Robyn answers the most common questions about getting started making cheese from scratch. If learning how to make cheese is on your list of skills to master, give this episode a listen!
In this episode, we cover:
- From the start of Robyn’s cheesemaking endeavors to her successful online education business
- An ideal time of year to make cheese
- What to look for when choosing a homestead dairy animal for cheesemaking
- The best types of cheeses to start making if you are new
- How long does it take to make cheese and what is the process?
- Choosing and working with the bacteria and acid necessary for cheesemaking
- What is a clabber culture and how can you create one?
- Deciding what kind of rennet is right for your cheesemaking
- Do I need a lot of special equipment to get started making cheese?
- An overview of the process of making and aging hard cheeses
- Contamination concerns and how to avoid them
Thank you to our sponsor!
Premier 1 Supplies is your one-stop shop for all things homesteading! Visit Premier1Supplies.com to browse their catalog.
Robyn is a mom to three sweet and wild children, a wife, a rancher, a milkmaid, and a Homestead Cheesemaker. She teaches homesteaders how to turn their milk into cheese. Robyn’s cheesemaking journey began in 2014, when her husband brought home a milk cow. Since then, she has been passionate about experimenting with techniques that make home cheesemaking easier for a busy lifestyle. Robyn likens her cheesemaking to how cheese was made in the old days: she makes cheese with a baby on her hip, a toddler at her feet, and a loaf of bread in the oven. If there is a way she can take a shortcut without compromising safety or taste, she does it! Years of experimentation, trial, and error have brought her home cheesemaking to where it is today: cheese made from scratch, the simple way.
The Christmas Cheeseboard ebook
The Milkmaid Society
The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher
Robyn Jackson of Cheese from Scratch | Website | Instagram | YouTube | Facebook
Homesteaders of America | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest
Homestead Cheesemaking 101 Transcript
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America Podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences, and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support. And we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Welcome back to this week’s episode of the Homesteaders of America Podcast. We are so excited to have a new guest with us. A lot of you are familiar with our conference speakers and all of those things, but we have a fun new guest with us today, Robyn Jackson. You guys might know her from the Instagram @CheeseFromScratch. So welcome to the podcast, Robyn.
Robyn Jackson Thank you so much, Amy. I’m really excited to be here.
Amy Fewell Yeah, I am really excited to have you here because we are getting another cow and I don’t know anything about cheesemaking. The most I’ve done is made mozzarella. So this is going to be a really fun episode for me too.
Robyn Jackson Oh, yay! You already have one cow, too?
Amy Fewell Yeah, we do. We already have one cow, but she is not bred, so she’s not in milk. So you guys who have been following our journey— we did finally find a bull to AI her with. So I’m really excited about that. Only cow people can understand my excitement of searching.
Robyn Jackson Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, if you have two cows in milk, you need to make cheese. That’s just how it is.
Amy Fewell I know. It’s a must, right? Like, ready or not. Here you go. You’re going to have to make cheese.
Robyn Jackson Exactly.
Amy Fewell All right, Robyn. So for those who don’t know you… Let’s just act like no one knows you. Why don’t you give us a little bit of information about who you are and what you do and so people can learn more about you?
Robyn Jackson Sure. Sounds good. So I’m Robyn, and I am the owner of a business called Cheese from Scratch, where I primarily teach homesteaders how to turn their milk into cheese. So in 2014, my husband brought me home a milk cow. He was originally from Wisconsin, which is the cheese state, and I was from Canada. And he moved to Canada. We kind of met, married, bought a farm. And so in 2014, he brought me home this milk cow and he was like, “Can you make me string cheese?” And so that’s kind of how it all started. I kind of jumped right into cheesemaking as soon as he brought the cow home. Then I just made cheese for our family for a lot of years. And then in 2021, I decided that I wanted to start teaching it. And there was kind of this gap of information for homesteaders specifically. There was a lot of information out there for home cheesemaking for people that were just buying store bought milk, that kind of thing. But there wasn’t a lot of information that overlapped with having a milk cow, but also bringing that milk into the house and making it into cheese. So I kind of wanted to fill that gap with Cheese from Scratch, and I think I have a little bit, so it’s kind of cool.
Amy Fewell Yeah, you totally have filled that gap because I remember when we started Homesteaders of America, most of the recipes… I wasn’t, of course, didn’t even have a cow on my radar then, but there were just mostly recipes about using store bought milk. So you’re right, you really have bridged that gap very, very well. And of course, raw milk, using that versus store bought milk is a totally different concept there. So that’s fun, and we appreciate you. So you have a couple of products that we’re going to mention real quick, and guys, we’ll as always link these in the show notes below. But you have a really cool Christmas Cheeseboard ebook that is exciting. Like if people want cheese for the holidays, that’s something that you’ve kind of put together like they need to start that now. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that and your Milkmaid Society?
Robyn Jackson Yeah. So the Christmas Cheeseboard ebook, exactly how you said it, follows a schedule up until Christmas. And I made it because I do primarily teach to homesteaders, but there’s also people who just want to make cheese and they don’t have access to a dairy animal. So I tested the recipes in that book with both store bought milk and raw milk. So it’s kind of for everybody, which is usually something that I don’t really do with my products. So it’s kind of cool. Yeah. And it follows a six week schedule up until Christmas to get all of your cheeses made. You can start early if you want because cheese likes to be aged a little bit longer, and then hopefully by Christmastime you have all of the cheeses that you just made for your family, which is pretty cool.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s super cool. And then you have your Milkmaid Society, so tell us a little bit about that.
Robyn Jackson Yeah, so the Milkmaid Society… So when I first started Cheese from Scratch, kind of my goal behind it was to create this resource where people would not have to go and Google and search and search and search and search to find the answers that they needed. So that turned into the Milkmaid Society, which is a monthly membership club that is not just my information, but I contract other milkmaids from around the world that have other experiences than I do to also contribute. So it’s like all things milk cow, dairy processing, cheesemaking, dairy goats, like all of these things, and it’s just this growing resource. So it’s about a year old now, the Milkmaid Society. So there’s a lot of content on there. So it’s pretty exciting. And the registration only opens up once a season, so it will open up again October 1st is when registration opens.
Amy Fewell That is good for me to know because I’m so going to totally have to do that so I can learn all things cheesemaking because I don’t know anything about cheesemaking. You guys remember, if you want to remember when that open enrollment is actually the month of the conference. So that’s a really easy way to remember, especially for those of you who are coming to the event. And I’m going to hop in on that too because I really need to learn all these cheesemaking things, and I need all the help I can get. So, Robyn, why don’t you tell us what you have going on at your farmstead? And then I’m going to have a bunch of cheesemaking questions for you. And I know you’re going to have an answer to all of them, right? And I’m sure cheesemaking is like anything else— everybody has their method, but you seem to be super successful at it. So that’s why we’re here. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your homestead and then we’ll get into the cheesemaking questions.
Robyn Jackson Sure. Sounds good. So we actually have a pretty large cattle ranch. So a mid-sized cattle ranch where we have about 250 beef head. And so we originally kind of got dairy cows to be what we call nanny cows for any orphaned beef calves or twins where maybe the beef mama wouldn’t take it. So we have a few dairy cows, but we have one house cow and her name is Annabel. I’ve had her for about five months. She’s sort of new to me. My beloved Suki cow, who was a jersey that I just loved so much, she passed away this winter. So Annabel and I have been just getting used to each other. But we’re starting to, I think, really like each other, so that’s good. I’ve been making lots of cheese lately because summertime is sometimes a little bit harder for people to make cheese just because of the hot weather. But also kind of the other side of this is you get all that nice green grass milk. So I’ve been making a lot of cheese just in September because the weather’s a little bit cooler, but also getting that nice green grass milk. And I’ve been making a lot of brie cheese. That’s probably our most eaten cheese right now in the house. And a lot of colby cheese because that’s from Wisconsin. And my husband’s from Wisconsin, so you have to make colby cheese.
Amy Fewell That’s awesome. I love it. Brie’s one of my favorite, and colby is actually one of my favorites too, so I could see that going very quickly in my house. All right, so cheesemaking. Let’s talk about the cow first. So what kind of things… If somebody really wants to get into cheesemaking, obviously, there’s different types of dairy cows. There’s different types of fat in dairy milk. So what should a person look for if cheesemaking is high up on their list when they’re shopping for a cow or a goat or sheep? What should they look for in the genetics to get them started?
Robyn Jackson So if you’re buying your cow from a registered dairy or something where they have all the stats on your cow… So there’s several different protein types, so one called kappa-casein B is really good for cheesemaking. And so that’s going to give you kind of higher yields. So that’s in terms of that, but not everyone is always being able to buy their cow from a registered dairy. Maybe they’re buying it from another homesteader who doesn’t have those stats. And so what I say then is just ask them what their cream line is. Having good butterfat is nice for cheesemaking. It’s not necessary. So my first cow, she was a Holstein, and so her cream line was fine, but it wasn’t like my Jersey’s cream line where it was like this. And so now I have kind of a Guernsey mix cow. She’s Guernsey and brown Swiss and a little bit of Holstein, and so her cream line is pretty good too. But you know, having a nice cream line is nice if you want to make a lot of cheese. You can also ask before you buy if you’re buying from another homesteader, what are their yields for their cheesemaking? So that’s just a low tech way of being able to kind of know what you’re getting into before you buy your cow without having to have all that kind of data and stuff like that. Yeah, I think those would be kind of the two main things I would think. Probably also just kind of asking them if they’ve made cheese with their cows milk because there is… it’s not very frequent anymore, but there is a certain type of protein and I can’t remember it right now that really doesn’t make good cheese at all. And so the milk from those cows, it has a really hard time coagulating and it’s usually from Holstein cows that have been bred for production, like production only, not for cheese and stuff like that. So that is one thing to be cautious of, but I don’t think I’ve really heard about that in the homestead community where somebody has brought a cow home that they just can’t get the milk to coagulate. So it’s pretty rare, I think.
Amy Fewell Yeah, I would agree. I mean, I’m searching cow Facebook pages all the time. And you know how it is when you’re searching on Facebook marketplace or somewhere else. You just see a milk cow, and that milk cow just works for almost everybody. So I think we’ve got a good mix out there in the market right now for cheesemaking. Okay. So what’s a good quick cheese for someone to start with? I started with mozzarella and I burnt the bejeezus out of my hands, but everyone told me that that was a really good one to start with. So would you also agree it’s mozzarella? Or do you think you would suggest a different cheese? And then also, how do we not burn our hands when we’re making mozzarella?
Robyn Jackson So I used to say and I still sometimes kind of say that mozzarella is a good starter cheese. But the more and more I’ve taught cheesemaking, the more and more and backing off from saying that because mozzarella is a type of cheese where you’re really trying to get it into a very specific pH window, and it doesn’t compensate for diversities in the milk. So if our milk is a little bit more acidic, for whatever reason, all of a sudden our mozzarella just doesn’t stretch because we’ve gone through the pH window or maybe even our citric acid is a little bit of a different acidity. So all these different things, and you’re not actually able to get it into the stretching window. So a lot of people struggle with that. So now I say feta. That’s the new one that I say. So feta is a good beginner cheese. I do also still… Like I’m on the fence about if I should say mozzarella is a good starter one or not just because mozzarella is a good one in the sense that it teaches you that you have to follow a recipe for a cheese. And this is something that as homesteaders, we sometimes struggle with because we’re very good at just like dumping everything in, you know, like, let’s just make this concoction, which is fine. You can still make cheese that way, but if you want to achieve a desired result, you actually have to follow the recipe to get yourself there. So that’s why I still think mozzarella is a little bit of a beginner cheese. But yeah, feta is a good one to not burn your hands. And for not burning your hands for mozzarella, I use a wooden spoon, but I also feel like I have burnt the nerve endings in my hand because I just stretch it by hand. Some people use rubber gloves and stuff like that. And I also think if you have it at the exact pH… where like, I don’t test pH in my cheesemaking, but I test it in a kind of a low tech way where I boil a cup of water, like a teacup of water, and then dip your curd in and see if it will stretch super nice. So if you have it at that perfect pH, you actually don’t have to have your water so hot or your whey so hot when you’re stretching it. It’s probably about 140°F where I’m able to get a really good stretch when you have it at the ideal pH.
Amy Fewell Oh wow. That’s really good to know. They don’t tell you that in all the cheesemaking books, which is probably another reason people should take a class with an actual cheesemaker. I’m finding these things to be true. Well, okay, so what’s the cheesemaking process look like for just a basic cheese? Because I know I was really surprised by how much time it actually takes to make cheese when I was making mozzarella. And so can you kind of break that down for our listeners? Like when you’re going to make a cheese, how long can you expect to be making that cheese? Of course, there’s aging time, too, but just the general hands on portion of it. And then I want you to move into what kind of tools people might need, because a lot of people think, well, they’re just going to jump into cheesemaking, but then they realize maybe they don’t have all the tools they should need.
Robyn Jackson One thing that I say when people ask me, how long does it take to make cheese? And this is such a diverse question because there’s so many different types of cheeses. So one thing I’d say is that it does take a little bit of time. Like, for example, cheddars, they’re going to have you at the stove… well, they’re going to have you in the kitchen for probably about six hours. But that’s not all hands-on time. There’s definitely some hands-on time, but it’s not the whole time that you’re there. And then there’s other cheeses like feta where you really aren’t there for very long. So all cheeses kind of start the same way. And I liken it to how cheese is made in nature by little calves when they drink that milk from their mothers udder and it goes into their stomach and it turns into cheese. And this makes the milk more digestible for that little calf. It wouldn’t be able to survive if it couldn’t turn the milk into cheese. And so we do the exact same thing for every single cheese making recipe that we’re doing. The first thing we are doing is we’re warming our milk up to the correct temperature to be able to make cheese just like that little calf’s nice warm stomach. The second thing that we do is we’re adding in the bacteria to jumpstart that fermentation, and then we’re adding an enzyme called rennet, the exact same thing that that little calf has in its stomach. And that’s going to solidify the milk. And then from there, at that point, when we look into our pot and we have a whole curd mass—it’s no longer liquid milk, it’s just this whole curd mass—this is where the recipes all kind of go in different directions. So cheddar, you are stirring for a really long time to be able to get all of the moisture out of that curd to be able to facilitate how quickly it’s fermenting and in what way it’s fermenting. And whereas like brie, I mean, I’m only stirring it for maybe ten minutes after I look into my pot and see that curd mass, and then I’m putting it into forms and draining it. So it’s very diverse depending on what type of cheese you want to make. So you can kind of play around with a few of the recipes and find the ones that work really well for your lifestyle and start making them.
Amy Fewell Yeah, so you’re talking about bacteria and acid. So what are those bacteria and acid? And where can people find those when they start cheesemaking?
Robyn Jackson So with the world of cheesemaking, when you look on to a cheese supply website, it’s so intimidating. So you look on to your cheese supply website and you’re like, I need a bacterial starter culture to make my cheese. That can’t be that hard. And you look on the cheese supply website and there’s just like these pages and pages and pages of it, and it’s enough to just make you want to quit right there. So I tell people there is two basic kind of head categories of bacteria you need to make most of the cheese recipes. So one is called thermophilic and one is called mesophilic. So in all of those different cultures you see on the website, you’re going to see these words in every single one of them. So mesophilic means a low temperature loving bacteria and thermophilic means a high temperature loving bacteria. So if you were going to go on to the cheese supply website and buy a culture for cheesemaking, I would say buy one thermophilic and one mesophilic and don’t get caught up in having to buy one for every single cheese you’re going to make. I don’t actually use freeze dried cultures from the cheese supply website anymore. I make my own culture at home. It’s called clabber culture, so it’s sort of like the sourdough equivalent to… Like in cheesemaking, we have a sourdough equivalent, which is clabber. So I have this clabber culture which is a raw milk culture. I keep it on my counter. I feed it and discard every single day to keep this culture healthy and good. And it has so many different bacterias in it. So all of those ones that are on the cheese supply website, it’s in the clabber culture. And I use my cheesemaking technique to kind of isolate which ones I want. So if I want a warmer loving culture like that thermophilic, I’m heating my milk up to a little bit higher. If I want a cooler one, I’m keeping it down at more that mesophilic temperature. And I’ve only been doing this for about a year. I learned from David Asher, who wrote the book The Art of Natural Cheesemaking— it’s like the greatest cheese book ever. And I actually got to learn from him live last year. But anyways, I could go on a ramble, but… So I’ve been doing it for about a year, and I’m making really good cheese with this, which is cool because I had tried this about five years ago. I had first read this book and I was just so amazed. I was like, I had no idea there was this world of cheesemaking. And so I started keeping a clabber culture and making all these cheeses with it. And I made really bad cheeses. They all had to go to the chickens. And so then this last year I was like, that is bad advice. Nobody can make good cheese with clabber. So I kind of threw it aside. But then I got to learn from him live last year and really kind of figured out what it was that I was doing wrong. It was me. It was not him. It was me. And now I’m making really good cheese with that. I can’t tell the difference between using freeze dried versus using clabber culture.
Amy Fewell That’s incredible. But that goes back to what we were just saying before, like cheesemaking and a lot of other topics you almost have to learn hands-on. You can read the books, because I have that book. And it is like reading a foreign language to me. I’m just like, what? I don’t understand this. But it is a really good book because that’s where I first started learning about cheesemaking and how there is a natural process. But then I hear a lot of cheesemakers who are like, that doesn’t work. And so I’m really excited to hear you say that because I was tempted to just toss the book to the side and not read it anymore. But now you’re telling me this, so I’m not going to do that. Would you kind of tell us, how do you make the clabber culture? Because I know a lot of people are going to ask that question.
Robyn Jackson Yeah. So, yeah, this is kind of what I was doing wrong before because I wasn’t making it properly. So the general principle behind how you start a clabber culture is you go down to the barn and you milk your cow, you bring that milk, you clean it or strain it, and then you put it into a jar and you leave it on the counter until it coagulates. So lots of people make clabber for their chickens or their pigs just because it’s sort of a more digestible product than just liquid raw milk. So you let it sit on the counter until it coagulates. And once you get that coagulation, then you’re going to take about… Say you made a pint jar, you’re going to take about a tablespoon of that and you’re going to feed it to new fresh raw milk, and you’re going to see instead of maybe that first coagulation where you just put that raw milk on the counter took three days. Now you’re going to see that this new fresh stuff takes probably a day. And then after it coagulates again, you’re going to feed it to new fresh milk and you’re just going to keep doing that where that’s discard, feed, ferment, discard, feed, ferment, just like sourdough starter. It’s very, very similar. If you keep a sourdough starter, you can keep a clabber culture. They will cross contaminate, so you have to be careful of that.
Amy Fewell That’s good to know.
Robyn Jackson So I wasn’t discarding properly, and I wasn’t feeding it as much as I should have been. So it’s kind of like if you are making a sourdough starter and you don’t feed it for a day, but then you try and make a loaf of bread, it’s not going to be as good bread as if you fed it every day and kept it healthy. So what I was doing was I was maybe leaving my clabber culture for a couple of days and then using it as a culture for cheesemaking. And then I would find that my cheeses were kind of yeasty and they weren’t tasting that good. And it kind of kind of comes down to with cheesemaking, we’re basically dealing with two different stages of fermentation. So the first stage is called the bacterial fermentation stage. So this is where we add our bacteria in, which is called the lactic bacteria. So that’s a head category for a bunch of different bacterias. All those bacterias on the cheese supply website are all these lactic bacterias. And what this lactic bacteria does is it feeds on the lactose and ferments it into lactic acid. And it’s kind of like its own worst enemy though. As soon as it feeds on all the lactose, there’s no food left and it’s also created this really acidic environment. So that lactic bacteria starts to die off, and this leaves room for the second stage of fermentation, which is fungal fermentation. And we know this as a yeast. So yeast, which is present in the raw milk, it starts to be able to grow and feed and ferment. And then it’s making bubbles in our clabber culture, sort of like if you’re making bread and you have over proofed bread. You’re basically doing that in your clabber culture and that’s not going to make a good cheese.
Amy Fewell Very interesting. Isn’t the world of bacteria and ferments… I feel like this should just excite people. The fact that this is just created to work this way is kind of incredible and also very intelligent. It’s just it always blows my mind to see nature at work. It’s really cool.
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Amy Fewell Okay. So we’ve talked about cultures. What about rennet? Can we talk about rennet for a little bit? Because I know when I bought mine, there was an animal based rennet and then there was a vegetable one. I got the vegetable one because my husband has Lyme disease and he can’t have pork or anything like that. So I got the vegetable one and it seemed to work very well. But would you mind talking a little bit about that and what the difference is?
Robyn Jackson Yeah. So yeah, there’s basically three types of rennet that you’re going to see. And then again, beyond that, you’re going to see a bunch of subcategories of it. But the main three kind of types you’re going to see is vegetable, animal, and microbial. So microbial is usually made in labs. It’s kind of something that I don’t sort of agree with. So no microbial. So back to vegetable and animal. So animal rennet, usually it’s coming from either calves or goat kids. So the lining of their stomach, just like how I talked about earlier, how that little calf takes that milk into its stomach and there’s enzymes in that stomach. So that is a type of rennet called chymosin. And so I like to use calf rennet just because I’m trying to kind of mimic the natural process of what milk is meant to do as much as possible. But sometimes people don’t agree with that, which is fine, because vegetable is a good alternative to that, because a calf does have to die to be able to harvest that rennet. So something that people don’t always agree with. So vegetable gives them that option on the other side. I mean, they both work. Sometimes with aged cheeses, you run into vegetable making a bit of a bitter taste in it. But I think that’s pretty small of a chance. So they both work. And then beyond that, there’s all sorts of different forms of rennet. So you can get liquid rennet and tablet rennet. You can get different strengths of rennet just to make it more confusing. But the thing that you need to know about that is that they all work. So choose an animal rennet or a vegetable rennet and just buy one. And then when you’re making a cheesemaking recipe, go by your package directions on your rennet, not by the recipe directions. So, for example, I have a cheesemaking book at home that just says add in a half a teaspoon of rennet. Well, if I have double strength rennet, I have to go by whatever is on my package directions. And it’s just to make it even more confusing. Like double strength is not exactly double of single strength. I don’t know who decided these things, but it was to confuse the people.
Amy Fewell I think Robyn needs a book. Like we need a new book that explains all of these things.
Robyn Jackson I am writing a book, actually.
Amy Fewell What? So when is that going to be out?
Robyn Jackson Before Christmas, not this year, 2024. Yeah. So Melissa K. Norris has a publishing company, so I’m writing with her.
Amy Fewell Okay. Yay! Well, that’s exciting. Awesome. Well, we’ll have to have you back when it’s ready to publish, and then we’ll share that. Okay. All right. So we’ve got the culture. We’ve talked about rennet. Now, what about cheesemaking products? Do we need any special pans or pots or what do we need to get started?
Robyn Jackson That’s another point of confusion where people think that they need really fancy equipment to be able to make cheese. And I like to start off with being like cheese has been made for thousands of years. They’ve been pressing cheese with rocks in huts for so long. So if we kind of take that step backwards and think of it in that way, then it helps us look around our kitchen and see what we could use just while we get started. And then later on maybe want to get some fancier stuff. But like when I first started making cheese, I used my enamel canning pot because it could fit like six gallons of milk. And it was like… I mean, the walls are thin and it’s not great material, but it worked. I used it for years before I finally got a designated stainless steel cheese pot. So pretty much the only thing you really need is a thermometer, which I don’t even actually make cheese with a thermometer anymore. But probably when you’re starting out, you want that. And I wouldn’t buy a cheese press or anything right off the bat. There’s some cheeses that don’t even need to be pressed. For example, like feta like I said. Mozzarella. Brie. They don’t even need to be pressed. Whereas if you’re going to make cheddars and colbys and goudas, those kind of ones, they do need to be pressed. But you can rig something up pretty easy. You know, a stack of books in your kitchen kind of pressed underneath the counter. I’ve seen ratchet strap ones. You know, people get pretty unique. And eventually you might want to get a cheese press if you’re like, I really like making this style of cheese. I want to have something that doesn’t topple over when I go out to do chores. But it’s pretty easy to kind of rig up everything you need.
Amy Fewell That’s good to know because, again, when you go to cheesemaking websites, you get overwhelmed, right? You see all these products and you’re like, oh my goodness, what do I need? Do I need all of the things? And then you’re up to like $5,000 worth of things and you’re like, how do I even use this? So I love that you take the old-fashioned approach. And you’re right. For centuries people have made cheese without the fancy American amenities, right? So you, too, can make cheese at home the ancient way.
Robyn Jackson Exactly.
Amy Fewell Okay, So a few more questions and then I will let you go, because you’ve already given us a lot of information. And I don’t want to overload people, but I don’t want to overload you either because you have an awesome course or a membership online that people can check out. So when talking about soft cheeses and hard cheeses, obviously soft cheeses are way easier. But what’s the hard cheese process? Should people have a designated refrigerator for that cheese? Where should they store that cheese? I’ve seen people just store them in root cellars without refrigeration. How does that work?
Robyn Jackson Yeah, so when you think about when you’re going to age cheese, there’s kind of two things that matter. The first thing is temperature, and the second thing is humidity. So temperature always matters no matter what. You want to be aging a cheese between a temperature of about 50 to 60°F. And so for a long time, I just aged my cheese in like I had an extra refrigerator, so I just turned it to the warmest setting, which was a little bit too cool. Like it’s still below 50°F, but it worked. My cheeses just aged a lot slower, but they would still age in that temperature. And the biggest thing is to not go over 60°F. So if you’re a little bit over it’s fine, but if you’re constantly at like 75°F, you’re going to have problems then. So the biggest thing is just to kind of keep it in a cooler environment. There’s this really cool product called an Inkbird that I just got from my fridge. I was like, why didn’t I buy this sooner? But it is like a thermostat for your fridge and it just plugs into the wall and then your fridge plugs into it, and it turns the fridge off when it gets above the temperature you need. So it just keeps it at the perfect temperature. So I have it set for 55°F right now. So that’s a good option. People use cellars as long as it’s not getting too hot or too cold or anything in there. And then the second thing that matters is humidity. So I tell people… This actually should have been when I talked about equipment. But I vacuum seal a lot of my cheeses. And this is kind of contradictory to my old-fashioned styles. But I’m also a mom to three kids. I’m pretty busy. I don’t have time to look after a ton of cheese. And when you make cheese, if you’re going to natural age those cheeses, like make them so that they have their own rinds, the hardest part about making that cheese is not actually the making part. It’s the aging part. So when you vacuum seal cheeses, the hardest part about making that cheese is the making part. So any cheese that is not a bloomy rind like a white mold ripened cheese, like a brie, they can’t be vacuum sealed. Curd washed rind cheeses like those really stinky ones that you have to wash them every day to make them not have that stinkiness. They can’t be vacuum sealed, but all the other ones can. Even if it doesn’t say so in the recipe. Things like asiago, parmesan, colby, gouda, all of those ones can be vacuum sealed and then you don’t have to worry about mold growth at all. It’s going to give you a bit of a different product. Obviously it would be better if you had the time to monitor the humidity and take care of the rinds and all those things. But it still gives you a really good cheese, which is at the end of the day, the goal. So that’s probably the easiest way to control humidity. And then the second way would be to just have them in little ripening containers with little plastic Tupperware boxes, and that’s like a little humidity chamber in itself. So those are the two things that matter— temperature and humidity.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s awesome. So my husband actually called me one day and he said, “Hey, I’ve got this wine cooler from an estate that they don’t want anymore. He’s like, I know we don’t drink wine, but do you want it for some reason?” I’m like, “Yes, bring that home. We’re going to turn that into our cheese cave or something once we are able to make cheese.” And somebody had… I heard it somewhere one time that someone did that. And so I’m like, I don’t know how to do it, but we’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to do it for sure.
Robyn Jackson Yeah. They’re perfect because you can set them to the exact right temperature. You don’t need that Inkbird like I talked about. You can set them right to… They run at a little bit of a warmer temp so that’s very cool.
Amy Fewell Okay. All right. A few more questions. So what is your recommendation when learning? You mentioned that sourdough starter and clabber can kind of cross contaminate. Is there any other cross contamination with cheese that you need to worry about?
Robyn Jackson Yeah. So any of your ferments really, like your wild ferments in your kitchen can cross contaminate into your cheese. I have my sourdough in my kitchen with cheese, and I don’t always think that if I have a yeast contamination my cheese, I’m not always saying that that’s from the sourdough. It could have been from the milk itself, like I talked about that second stage of fermentation with cheese in itself can sometimes have a yeasty presentation. But I would just like keep my sourdough starter on the other side of the kitchen. If you’ve got like kombucha or anything like that, potentially those could cross contaminate. So just using different tools for them or using tools that can be washed really well. So like natural materials or like glass or stainless steel. You know, those are a lot easier to wash than plastic and get the bacteria out. At the end of the day, I think it comes down mostly to just having really strong milk and being able to use really fresh, good milk. So I used to make cheese with… I used to say you can make cheese with milk that’s three to four days old. Now I say don’t make cheese with milk that’s older than two days. And you still can, but you’re going to potentially have more risk of contamination because it’s just a little bit older. There’s a chance for other things to grow in there. So the fresher the milk, ideally fresh out of the udder, just cleaned is going to give you less chances of other bacterias and stuff being able to kind of get hold in there.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s good. Good tip because a lot of times I will see people use… Like that day, they’ll milk that day and will use that milk. And of course it’s fresh too, so it must be just a stronger milk in general. But man, we have so much good information and I feel a little bit more comfortable about cheesemaking just listening to you talk.
Robyn Jackson Oh, I’m glad.
Amy Fewell So, all right. Before we get off here, is there anything else you want to say to our audience, whether it’s about cheesemaking or homesteading in general? Is there anything burning inside of you that you just want to share with them before we get off of here?
Robyn Jackson I think probably the one thing, the one message I always like to echo is that you just have to start. There’s so much information out there. It is so easy to get overwhelmed if you start reading and trying to get all the stuff you need and just being so overwhelmed by all of the information there is. But once you actually start, then you see that there’s a lot of repeats. So, you know, when I first started making cheese, I didn’t really realize that the first four stages of getting your milk up to temperature, adding in your bacteria, coagulating your milk were all the same for almost every single recipe that there is. And so I didn’t really realize that. And so every time I made a new recipe, I was trying to be like, okay, now I have to do this, now I have to do this. Whereas once you start making it and you start to see these kind of repeats, it just becomes easier to fit it into your life. And it also becomes easier to not get so confused by it.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And of course we haven’t even touched on other things either because I know you’re the cheese lady, but I know you also do things like you probably make your own sour cream and other dairy ferments. And so I’m sure that you talk about all of that on your Milkmaid Society and your book that’s going to come out next year. So, you guys, make sure you’re following Robyn online because she is really just an encyclopedia of information when it comes to cheesemaking and dairy in general. And so I’m so excited you came on to join us with the podcast this week, Robyn. We are so honored to have you, and thank you for joining us.
Robyn Jackson Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Amy.
Amy Fewell All right, guys, check out the show notes for all the information we talked about. We’ll link Robyn’s information, and anything that we mentioned specifically you can find in the show notes below. If for some reason you want to read a transcript, you can find it on our website, and make sure that you check out our membership too. We’re going to have a sale on that in October. So if you’re not able to come to the conference, you can get access to thousands of hours of content from the conferences where you can join us online instead of in person. So have a great day, guys, and happy homesteading.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.