Alpine Cheese

The first hard cheese recipe I’m sharing here, this Tomme (the generic name, and what I tend to call it) is extremely easy and straightforward to make, and the results are wonderful.

If I were to teach a cheesemaking class, I think I’d start with this one since it’s supremely accessible and doesn’t require a long aging time. The only uncommon ingredient is rennet (if you’re local, I’ll share), and the only special tool is a thermometer: all the other supplies and ingredients can be cobbled together from an ordinary kitchen.

If you’re so inclined, that is, of course. No pressure!

The process goes like so. Heat milk to 106 degrees. Stir in the calcium chloride (if using pasturized milk), some yogurt, and the rennet. Leave the milk alone for the better part of an hour to set up and then cut the curd. Stir gently for half an hour before draining off the whey and pressing. Salt. Done.

This cheese is dry-salted — salt is applied to the surface after pressing — and the method sounds complicated, or at least weird (it seems impossible that the salt will work its way into the center of the cheese, but it does), so here. I’ll break it down for you.

Seven teaspoons of salt, one for each gallon of milk.

Rub the salt over the top of the cheese.

Cover the cheese with a lid, or, in this case, a bucket. Let sit at room temperature for a day.

Twenty-four hours later, the salt is mostly dissolved and a few tablespoons of whey have pooled under and around the cheese. Drain off the whey and rub the remaining salt over the top and sides.

Excess whey to be discarded.

Flip the cheese and rub seven more teaspoons of salt over the bottom-now-top of the cheese.
Cover with a lid and let rest at room temperature for another day.

Rub the excess salt over the sides. Set the cheese on a clean, dry mat to air dry for a couple days
before (vacuum sealing, if desired, and) transferring to the cheese cave to age.

The young cheese is mild and salty, perfect for stirring into mac and cheese or stuffing in a sandwich. I don’t know what it’s like when it gets older, but I have no doubt it’ll be wonderful: probably like it is young, only more so. (Cheeses and humans are similar in that reguard: both intensify with age.)

A few weeks back, I finally invested in a large, 8-gallon kettle. I got it from Webstaurant (through Magpie) for about 120 dollars and I am so, so, so happy with it. I also purchased a larger basket for my cheese press. Larger wheels of cheese equals fewer cheesemaking days. Now I make a new cheese every four days or so. Per recipe, I use about seven gallons of milk (can’t go all the way to eight, since that’d be level with the top of the kettle) which yields about six pounds of cheese. (It’d be more if I had a Jersey but I’m not fussing. Daisy’s milk has been exceptionally delicious these last few months.)

photo credit: my younger daughter

Lots of people have been asking what I’m planning to do with all this cheese. Well, it’s like anything seasonal: preserve what’s abundant now for when it’s not later. According to my calculations, I think we typically eat anywhere from 2-3 pounds of ordinary hard cheese a week, like Colby, cheddar, and Jarlsberg. (This number doesn’t include my cooking cheeses: mozzarella, cream cheese, ricotta, and Parmesan.) In other words, if I have 200-300 pounds of cheese squirreled away by the time Daisy dries up, we should be good for a couple years, with some left over for gifting.

The cheese cave overflow. I keep the room at 45-50 degrees so the whole room could be a cave. . .
IF it stayed winter year round.

Which is the other thing I’ve been doing with this cheese. I’m not big into Christmas gifts — it’s just not something I really think about — but this year was different. People have been banging down my door to buy the cheese, but the process is far too time consuming, and the results too random, to even consider attaching a price tag. Giving them away, however, felt totally different.

I had so much fun collecting all the thrift store baskets, creating cheese cheat sheets for each basket, googling how to wrap cheeses (it took me a sec to figure it out; those early baskets were gnarly) and then tucking in a bottle of wine, maybe a sleeve of crackers, and several sprigs of rosemary.

Come to think of it, if I continue sharing cheese at the rate I’ve been, I’ll probably need more like 500 pounds. Daisy, pick up the pace, lady. The world needs you!

Alpine Cheese (Tomme)
Adapted from Gavin Webber’s recipe.

I’m writing the recipe as I make it in my large pot; feel free to cut the amounts in half.

To account for the amount of time the cheese will need to be pressed, either start this cheese first thing in the morning (so you can get the first 12 hours of pressing in before you go to bed), or about mid-afternoon.

7 gallons whole milk
1 quart half-and-half OR heavy whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon calcium chloride in 1 cup cool water (if any of the milk/cream is store-bought)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon rennet in 1 cup cool water
14 teaspoons non-iodized salt

Pour the milk and cream into a large pot and heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 106 degrees. Turn the heat off. Add the calcium chloride, if using, and stir well. Thin the yogurt with some of the milk and then add it to the pot, stirring well. Using an up-and-down motion, stir in the rennet (do not mix for longer than one minute). Put the lid on the kettle and let rest, undisturbed, for 45 minutes.

After the rest time, check to see if the curd has a clean break. (If not, let it rest another 15 minutes and then check again.) Cut the curd into 3/4-inch cubes. Let rest for 10 minutes to heal (firm up). Very gently, stir, lifting the curds with a large spoon and cutting the ones that are still too large with a paring knife — this will take about another 10-20 minutes.

Set a timer for 30 minutes, and then check the temperature; it probably dropped a few degrees. Turn the heat to low and, keeping the thermomter in the whey, slowly stir with your hand, lifting the curds from the bottom and swirling in the heat. When the thermometer reaches 106 degrees, turn off the heat and remove the thermometer. Keep swirl-lift stiring with your hand. With the other, hold a book and read. When the thirty minutes are up, the curds should be the size of baked beans and feel like the white part of a soft, poached egg.

Let the curds and whey sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Pour off all the whey (save it for ricotta, if you want). Line a colandar with cheesecloth and scoop all the soft curds into the colandar. Let rest for 10 minutes to drain. Transfer the curds in the cheesecloth (use it like a hammock) to your cheese press, either a commercial press, or one you’ve jerry rigged.

Press lightly for about an hour. Flip and press (a little harder this time) for another hour, or three. Flip and press at medium pressure for twelve hours. Flip and press at medium pressure for another twelve hours.

Remove the cheese from the press. Place it in a large plastic box that has a lid. (Lately, I’ve been setting the wheel of cheese on a piece of bamboo matting that’s set on a bucket lid and then placing the bucket upside down over it as the lid, on account of the cheese not fitting in the bottom of the bucket because the bottom is more narrow than the mouth.) Spoon 7 teaspoons of non-iodized salt on top of the cheese (1 teaspoon salt per gallon of milk) and rub it over the surface. Place the lid on the container (or the bucket over the top) and let rest at room temperature for twenty-four hours.

After twenty-four hours, pour off the salty whey, flip the cheese, and smear another 7 teaspoons of salt over the bottom-now-top of the cheese. Since the cheese is fairly damp, feel free to rub some of the salt down over the sides, too. Once again, cover and let rest at room temperature for another twenty-four hours. Air dry for 1-3 days, flipping daily. Vacuum seal (or sit directly on a bamboo mat, high humidity) and age at 50 degrees for 6 weeks, flipping a couple times a week.

This same time, years previous: marching, how we kicked off 2016, high on the hog, what it means, the quotidian (1.6.14), headless chickens, buckwheat apple pancakes, candied peanuts.

4 Comments

  • Janet

    You can always get another cow. You seem to use the milk and enjoy Daisy.

    I am not a cheesemaker and never will be, but I do enjoy reading about your cheese experience.

    The dress was beautiful on you.

    I enjoy your blog and reading about your wonderful family. I look forward to your new posts.

    Thank you,
    Janet (WA state)

  • Becky R.

    Well, I asked for it, and you posted pretty quickly, Jennifer. I would make a much smaller recipe, and I would have to come up with a method for a press, but this looks doable. Since Covid is rampant here, and I am my husband’s only caregiver, I will have to wait to get to the store to get that much milk. But I plan to try it later. Thank you so much for this. I truly appreciate it. Does it taste salty like cheddar, or salty like farmer’s cheese?

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