Noteworthy home-cheesemaking hacks from Louella Hill, a cheese educator formerly known as the SF Milk Maid. These suggestions are substitutions to the often costly freeze-dried mold powders.
Rind to Rind Transfers
Select a vibrant, fresh-looking, robustly rinded cheese from your favorite cheese shop. This trick works particularly well for red-rinded cheeses (think Morbier). Be sure that the cheese you buy is high quality to avoid dealing with radiated cheese cultures, various unwanted preservatives, or expired microbes. Bring it home and inoculate a recently made wheel of cheese by rubbing the rind of the store-bought cheese against the surface of the homemade cheese. Rub thoroughly and evenly to ensure a successful cultural transfer.
This is a classic technique many professional cheese-makers employ. You can create an exquisite cheese rind simply by washing it with beer. Here’s how to do it: At the end of a long day, open a bottle of beer. Pour a bit onto an unopened wheel of recently made homemade cheese. Rub the beer into the rind using a scrap of cheese cloth or a dedicated toothbrush. Then enjoy the rest of the bottle yourself.
Growing Mold Spores
Unlike the previous trick, which transfers store-bought secondary cultures onto homemade cheese by rubbing the two together, blue cheese cultures (which are secondary cultures) must be added to the milk earlier in the process. You can grow a batch of blue cheese mold spores quite easily on sterilized bread, and yield enough for a year’s worth of Stiltons. Here’s how:
1. Purchase some fresh, domestic blue cheese like our local Point Reyes Blue. Using a clean knife, cut the cheese in half to expose a fresh surface (you don’t want to take mold spores from the rind or a previously exposed surface). Carefully dig out a penny-sized glob of blue mold (aiming for the blue mold and not the cheese). Set the glob on a clean piece of plastic wrap, then cover and set aside.
2. Take 2 slices of whole wheat bread (it can be stale) and break it up into small, walnut-sized chunks, excluding the crust, and place in a jar. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of just-boiled water over the bread chunks. Form a lid from a double layer of aluminum foil and press it tightly around the rim, but not airtight. The goal is to let air in while keeping the microbes from getting in and out.
3. Stand the bread-filled, covered jar in a larger pot. Place a weight (a heavy ceramic plate works) on the top of the jar. Add water to the pot, taking care to keep the jar upright and the foil lid from getting wet, then cover it.
4. Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes to sterilize the bread and prevent unwanted microbes from growing on it. Turn off heat, carefully remove jar from water, and set on a clean towel. Let it cool for 1 hour.
5. Very carefully, transfer the glob of blue mold spores onto the bread, then quickly close the foil lid. Keep at room temperature in a bright room for 4–6 days by which point the contents of the jar should be completely blue.
6. If using the spores in a batch of cheese right away, take ½ cup of the blued bread out of the jar and place in another clean jar along with ½ cup of the milk you will be using to make cheese. Shake the jar to release the spores from the bread, then strain the spore-rich milk through a clean piece of tightly woven cloth and into your milk vat.
7. The leftover blued bread can be saved in the incubation jar with a secure lid in the fridge for up to 2 months. Remember to use a clean instrument when removing bread pieces from the jar and to resecure the lid promptly to limit air exposure.