colby cheese

I’ve been making Colby cheese for months now. A sweet, mild-tasting, crowd-pleasing cheese, it melts wonderfully (my go-to for mac-and-cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches) and is pretty straightforward to make. 

I’m probably not making Colby here but please appreciate my reading-while-cheesing trick: stirring the curds with one hand while using the liddled kettle of whey (for ricotta) for a makeshift book stand.
photo credit: my husband

I say “pretty” straightforward because, until you get the hang of cheesemaking, it — any and ALL cheesemaking — feels complicated and, truth is, even once you get used to it, making cheese still takes time and attention. It’s not rocket-science but it is next-level culinary commitment. (And it’s worth it.) 

September Colby

LIGHTBULB: The moon is said to be made of cheese so maybe rocket science and cheesemaking have more in common than I think?

November Colby

Colby is a washed-curd cheese which means that once the curds are cooked, some whey is removed and cold water is added to cool and wash the curds. This washing process reduces the acidity and makes the cheese sweeter. Most washed-curd cheeses, like Gouda, Havarti, and Butterkäse, have hot water added to simultaneously cook and wash the curds, but for Colby, the water cools the curd. Again, it’s not complicated. You just need a couple big pots or buckets, and a reliable thermometer. 

January Colby

The addition of annatto is optional. It doesn’t add flavor, just color. Some people aren’t attached to a cheese’s color. Others, like me, are. I tried a white Colby and it just didn’t feel right. 

Jarlsberg-Style on the left, Colby on the right

Adapted from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll.

These days, I typically make an 8-gallon batch, but the recipe below is for four gallons. You can double or halve it — whatever works for you.

I’ve tried a bunch of different mesophilic cultures: whey from previous cheesemaking, Flora Danica or another MA culture, kefir, and I’ve read that buttermilk is also a good option. Because of my (heartbreaking-slash-infuriating) struggles with kefir, I’ve reverted to using freeze-dried cultures — Flora Danica, most times. 

If using store-bought milk: prior to adding the rennet, stir in 1 teaspoon of calcium chloride that’s been diluted in ½ cup water .

NOTE: Whenever the milk/curds aren’t being handled, keep a lid on the kettle. This helps the milk to maintain the correct temperature, as well as keeps it clean. Also, make sure your kettles, spoons, thermometer, etc are clean. I make a sanitizing spray with half white vinegar and half water, spritz everything, and then wipe them down with paper towels. 

4 gallons whole milk
1 teaspoon Flora Danica (or ¾ – 1 cup kefir or buttermilk)
1 teaspoon rennet, diluted in ½ cup cold water
½ teaspoon annatto, diluted in ½ cup cold water
Salt brine (see below)
Extra non-iodized salt

Heat the milk to 86 degrees over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once it reaches 86 degrees, take it off the heat. Sprinkle the freeze-dried culture over the surface of the milk and let it rehydrate for 2 minutes. Stir. Cover, and let the milk culture for 1 hour.

Stir in the diluted annatto. Using an up-and-down motion, stir in the diluted rennet. Cover, and let it rest for 45 – 75 minutes, or until the curd is set: when a knife is inserted into the curd and lifted, the curd should break apart revealing clear lines, no mushy looseness. Cut the curd in ½-inch cubes. Let rest for 5 minutes to heal.

Gently and slowly, begin stirring the curds — I like to use my hand but a spoon is fine — breaking up or cutting any too-large pieces of curd as you go. 

After about 15 minutes of gentle stirring, turn the heat to low and, over the course of 30 minutes, bring the temperature up to 102 degrees. Stir steadily, making sure that none of the curd is sticking to the bottom of the pot and checking regularly to make sure the temperature is rising slowly and steadily. If it’s heating too quickly, cut the heat; too slowly, raise it.

Once it reaches 102 degrees, turn off the heat. The curd should be cooked all the way through — firm and spongy, but not hard. When you squeeze it, it should hold together and then, when you poke it with your fingers, it should fall apart. If it needs more time, hold it at 102 degrees and continue to stir gently for another 10 minutes or so. 

Let the curd rest for 5 minutes.

Remove the whey to the level of the curd and replace it with 75-degree water to bring the temperature down to 90 degrees. Stir steadily. 

Let the curds rest for 5 minutes and then repeat the process: remove the whey to the level of the curd and replace it with water — this time 60 degrees — to bring the temperature down to 75 degrees. Let the curds rest for 15 minutes, stirring every 3-5 minutes.

Pour off the whey and transfer the curds to a cheesecloth-lined mold. Press the cheese at low pressure (10-15 pounds) for 1 hour. Flip the cheese and increase the pressure to 20 pounds — press for another hour. Flip the cheese and press at medium pressure — 30-40 pounds — for a couple more hours. Flip once more and increase the pressure to 50 pounds for 8 hours. (These times and weights are guesstimates: you want to press the cheese for a total of 12 hours or so.)

Remove the cheese from the press and place in a saturated brine for 10-12 hours (about 3-4 hours per pound of cheese). Salt the exposed surface. Flip the cheese halfway through, again salting the exposed surface. 

Remove the cheese from the brine and air dry at room temperature for 1-3 days, flipping every 12 hours. Once it’s dry to the touch, vac-pack. 

Age at 55 degrees for at least 1 month, flipping a couple times a week.. 

To make a saturated salt brine:
1 gallon water
2 ¼ pounds non-iodized salt
1 tablespoon calcium chloride
1 teaspoon white vinegar 

Measure all ingredients into a kettle and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature, transfer to a jar, and store in a cheese cave, root cellar, or refrigerator. 

After using the brine, return it to the jar and add a few more tablespoons of salt; you want to see a little undissolved salt at the bottom of the jar — a sign that the brine is properly saturated.

If the brine gets “floaties”, pour it through a sieve. If it starts to get cloudy, re-boil it, adding more salt and a bit more calcium chloride and a touch of vinegar. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure that’s actually how it’s to be done, but it’s what I’ve been doing and seems to work so far.)

This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week 53, the quotidian (3.11.19), kitchen concert, homemade pepperoni, no more Luna, what will I wish I had done differently?, work, all by himself, blondies.

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