How To Make Mistem Cheese

*real* Mistem Cheese photo

What is Mistem Cheese?

"Mistem" is the name I have given to a style of cheese making that I have adopted. I use no rennet, no press and I age my cheese in the normal refrigerator at 6 degrees C. Never having heard of anyone making cheese like this before, I have presumptuously named the resulting cheese after the main character in a web comic.

To be fair, it's a bit like doing everything wrong, but still trying to get a good result. I started making cheese this way because I lacked any of the normal ingredients and equipment to begin cheese making. I still wanted to make cheese, though, and instead of trying to make a famous cheese that already exists, I thought, "What kind of cheese can I make with these constraints". This led me on a journey of discovery and pleasantly surprised me with cheese that I really enjoy eating.

This page rambles quite a lot as I'm hoping to help people who have never made cheese before. If you are more advanced and you just want to see how it works, feel free to follow the next link.

Take me to the recipe!

Instructions for beginners

Making cheese is not as difficult as most people imagine. Even if you don't have a lot of fancy equipment, or special ingredients, you can make cheese. There are some special precautions you should take before you start, though. If you aren't diligent about sanitation, then you can end up making yourself ill.

Sanitation in cheese making.

I delayed making cheese for many years because I thought that I would need a cheese press. I didn't want to spend a lot of money buying fancy equipment only to make one or two cheeses and then give up. Luckily, you don't need any expensive or hard to find equipment to make many cheeses, including Mistem Cheeses. There is no reason not to give it a try!

Equipment you need for mistem cheese.

In addition to being worried about the equipment, I was sure that I would not be able to buy rennet or calcium chloride easily. At least for me, that requires going mail order. My spouse, who acts as gatekeeper to the family credit card, is usually not so sympathetic towards spending lots of money on my mad scientist endeavours. She has good sense. But can you make cheese without rennet? As it turns out, you can!

Ingredients you need for mistem cheese.

Disclaimer

I am very much a novice cheese maker. I started in February of this year (2018) and have been making several very small cheeses every week. I have had a lot of failures, but slowly I discovered a technique that seems to work for me. I don't know if it will work for anyone other than me, which is one of the reasons for making this website. I encourage you to give it a try.

If you are a beginner, like me, I suspect your road will also be paved with the odd failure. The tag line at the top of the page is there for a reason: there are easier, better, and more proven methods for making cheese. However, if you are curious, then feel free to join me on this adventure.

Who is Mistem?

The name "Mistem" comes from the web comic written pseudonymously by evictedSaint on the Dwarf Fortress forums. Mistem Wheeldream (or Misty, for short) seeks to make her way to a new dwarf fortress in order to follow her dream of becoming a legendary cheese maker. There is very little actual cheese making in the web comic, but its cuteness inspired me to get off my butt and try to make cheese myself. In any case, I highly recommend you have a read if you are in the mood: The Littlest Cheesemaker

How to make the cheese

Warning: After this point is based on an earlier description

You might want to refer to the basic recipe

I'm hastily trying to get up the basic information for making this cheese, so I've copy and pasted a much earlier description I wrote of the process. I no longer do things exactly this way, so take care. I will update it as soon as I can. I'm actually planning to make quite a large site with lots of milky-cheesy experiments you can do to illustrate the underlying principles of making cheese. However, I don't have much time, and I'm also quite lazy. Hopefully I'll make progress slowly...

Ripening the milk

Put the milk in a pot (500 ml weighs 512 grams if you want to measure by weight). Add a spoonful of yogurt (about 30 grams). If you are making more cheese than 500 ml, there is no need to scale the yogurt. You just need enough culture to get things started. On the lowest setting you have for your stove, heat the milk, stirring constantly and measuring the temperature. Heat the milk/yogurt mixture to 42 degrees C. You will probably have to turn off the heat about 0.5-1.0 degrees before you get to 42. If you are using electric heat, or if the temperature keeps climbing after you turn off the heat, take the pot off the burner. Put the lid on the pot and wait.

You want to wait 40-50 minutes. Check it the temperature every 10-15 minutes and heat it over the lowest possible heat until it is back up to 42 degrees. Note: temperature for this cheese is not crucial. Anything under 48 and over 35 will be OK, but 42 should be your goal.

Setting the curd

While the milk is ripening, either get out your bottle of white vinegar, or prepare your citric acid solution. I prefer citric acid because it is super cheap (you can usually find the powder in the cake making section of the grocery store -- it is used for icing, I believe), it stores forever (it's a powder), and it's convenient. It's also very neutral in flavour. White (distilled) vinegar is good too, but it has a bit of a flavour. In a pinch you can do as Misty did and use lemon juice, but it imparts a very strong flavour and I don't recommend it for this cheese (hey, she wasn't even Novice level yet!). Other kinds of vinegar may not work reliably because they don't have a strong enough acid. To prepare a citric acid solution, put 50 ml of water (it weighs 50 grams) into a cup and add about 2 grams of citric acid powder (umm.. about 1/4 of a teaspoon I guess). Mix it until dissolved.

After the milk is ripened (you have waited 40-50 minutes), make sure the milk is 42 degrees again. It's important here that the temperature is relatively high (over 40), but it must *never* get above 50 degrees. Again aim for 42. Once you have the temperature, put the thermometer away -- you don't need it any more.

Get your whisk and *slowly* stir the milk. At the same time, very, very, very slowly add the acid mixture. You want to add about 5 ml at a time, stir for about 10 seconds, add more acid, etc, etc. Eventually you will notice curds forming on your whisk. Then the milk will seem to get thicker (stir slowly!) and finally chunks will start to form. Stir these chunks with your whisk -- but gently and slowly. At some point the milk will clear and turn yellow fairly quickly. Stop adding acid now! It's OK if the milk (now called whey) doesn't clear completely -- we don't want to over acidify the curds.

It's at this point that you will notice the difference between homogenised and unhomogenised milk. With homogenised milk, you will need more acid and the whey will suddenly get very clear. The curds will melt together a little bit, but will probably float around in separate chunks. With unhomogenised milk, the whey will stay a little cloudy and some of the cream will stay in the whey. The curds will melt together a lot better and form a nice big mass easily. With unhomogenised milk, you will probably use just over half of the acid you need for homogenised milk. The curds will not be acidic and they will be very creamy. With homogenised milk, the curds will be tart and a bit grainy. It basically makes a different cheese, but I've tried making both and both work out (I think!)

Forming the cheese

Put the kitchen strainer over another pot. Gently pour the curds (lumpy stuff) and whey (clear, yellow liquid) into the strainer. Working quickly (we don't want the curds to cool off very much!), put a bamboo mat on the cutting board and the mould that you made on the bamboo mat. The bamboo should run the length of the board (i.e. in the direction that you will want the way to drain out). Then spoon the curds into the mould, trying to pack it in as best as you can. Homogenised milk curd is much tougher than unhomogenised milk curd, so you can squish it pretty hard. With unhomogenised milk, be careful because it will loose a lot of cream if you press too much/too hard.

Put one end of the cutting board over the sink and put a spoon under the board on the other end (so that it's kind of tilted towards the sink). It's not totally necessary, but it will help it drain better.

Wait one hour (don't be tempted to go faster -- you need to let the cheese form a skin on the bottom, otherwise it will break). Next take your other bamboo mat and put it on top of the mould. Deftly put your hand *under* the bottom mat and the other hand *on top* of the top mat. Press together so that the whole thing forms a sandwich and turn it all upside down. Gently place it back on the board. You will be scared of dropping everything on the ground. Have courage. You will succeed!

The top mat will probably be stuck to the cheese. Very gently start curling the mat to unstick it from the cheese. Eventually the cheese should fall to the bottom of the mould. Some cheese *might* stick to the mat. Eat it :-)

Wait another hour and turn it again. It almost certainly won't stick to the mat this time. Wait another hour and turn it again. This time, when you are done, take the mould off of the cheese. It's strong enough to hold it's shape now. Wait another hour like that (4 hours total).

Salting the cheese

While we are forming the cheese, we need to make a brine. You should make the brine when you first put the cheese in the mould because the brine should be cold when you use it. Warning: you need a lot of salt to make the brine. You can use this brine indefinitely, so get a 500 ml pet bottle to and keep it in the back of your fridge until you make cheese again (you can't make a masterwork cheese your first time!!! you must practice!!!).

Measure out 480 ml of water in a measuring cup. Add 20 ml of whey that you collected from the cheese. Add about 2 grams of citric acid or a couple of teaspoons of vinegar. Finally add 150 grams of sea salt. Yes, it's a staggering amount. Yes, it will all dissolve. You can actually dissolve 180 grams of salt in there. Feel free to add more if you want :-). Put the result in the pet bottle and put it in the fridge to cool down.

When the cheese has finished forming, pour the brine in a suitable container. I use a 500 ml measuring cup. It's the perfect shape. You needs something that will allow you to submerge the entire cheese in the liquid. Very gently put the cheese in the brine. Note: This is an *unpressed* cheese. Also it's made *without rennet*. And the curds are *not cooked*. The cheese if very delicate. As much as possible, handle it from the top and the bottom, where the skin has formed.

The cheese should float in the brine. The top will poke out of the brine. Sprinkle some salt on it -- enough so that you can see a little bit of salt on the top of the cheese (i.e. it doesn't all dissolve).

The brining time depends on the size and shape of the cheese. Brine for 30 minutes for a 500 ml cheese and 1 hour for a 1 litre cheese with the mould I described. If you want to make a bigger cheese, then consult other resources for brining times. Brine the cheese at room temperature (but with the cold brine).

Drying the cheese

After the cheese is brined, flip it over in the brine (the salt that was on top will go back into the brine to help restore the salt that was removed) and then gently remove it from the brine. You will probably have to hold it from the sides to get it out. The brined cheese is *much* stronger than the unbrined cheese, but it is still delicate right now. Hold it as close to the bottom as possible so that it doesn't pull apart form gravity as you remove it from the brine. Again, as much as possible handle it by holding the top and bottom where the skin is the strongest.

Put the cheese back on the bamboo mat and let it dry. You should turn it over every few hours so that the moisture in the cheese is evenly distributed and so that no bulges form. Don't worry about it too much, though. This is a very dense cheese (even though the curd is delicate), so it's hard to get it wrong.

You should let the cheese dry at room temperature for 2-5 days, depending on temperature and humidity. The cheese should start out being shiny and wet and later it will have a kind of matt finish and hopefully be dry(ish) to the touch. The cheese also starts out being completely white and over time it will start to yellow.

A couple of notes about drying (and I'm very much a novice, so your experience may differ). Unhomogenised milk cheese will set a better curd and will form a nice skin, by and large. It's nothing like the skin on a rennet formed cheese, but it's better than the skin for homogenised milk. Also, because this is an unpressed cheese and the curds are kind of problematic, there will probably be cracks and holes, etc. Don't worry about it. It will be fine. This is not a rennet formed cheese and you can't expect it to be exactly like that.

Furthermore, especially the homogenised milk cheese may start to crumble a bit around the edges. Don't worry about it. Over time, the curd on the outside will break down and it will get kind of "paste" like. If you rub it, it will smear. The cheese might also get a bit tacky. This has a lot to do with temperature and humidity, so really just keep your eye on it. If it starts to get really tacky, or smell really cheesy, it's time to put it in the fridge. Otherwise we want to get it touch dry.

The other thing that might happen is that it can get mould on it. At the drying stage you really don't want mould on it. If you notice mould, get a lint free cloth, dip it in the brine solution and wipe off the mould. You need to keep your eyes open and check the cheese regularly at this stage so that mould doesn't get a foothold. I've apparently got some brevibacterium linens in my apartment and a couple of my test cheese started to get a pink smear on the outside. I panicked a bit, and ate the cheese fresh. The cheese was fine. In fact the mould infected parts had the best flavour. Mould is not really something to fear. Just wipe it off.

Ageing the cheese

After the cheese has dried, you can pop it into the fridge and eat it at any time. I've eaten a few of the cheese, early and they are really delicious. The paste is very chalky, crumbly and white. The flavour is fairly sharp with a nice lactic acid tang to it. It tastes *very* much like a Caerphilly or Wendsleydale (of Wallace and Grommit fame) cheese. If you want to eat it young, I still recommend waiting a week as the flavour improves dramatically over that time.

However, I imagine this cheese to be a "natural rind" cheese. That means that we age it and *slowly* dry out the outside of the cheese to form a crust -- or "rind". Usually this rind gets mould growing on it, but since the rind is hard, it protects the cheese and the cheese just gets a cook funky colour on the outside (just like Misty's cheese!)

Normally you should age your cheese in a cheese cave at 13 degrees C and 80% humidity. I don't have a cheese cave. I just have my normal refrigerator in my house. So *this* cheese will be refrigerator aged (Hey, I'm inventing the cheese. I get to make the rules). To do this, you need a "maturation box".

A maturation box is just a plastic box with a lid. You also need a mat inside the box. I actually found a box at my local 100 yen store (dollar store in other currencies) which has a draining box on the inside, so I use that. It's actually the right size for 2 1 litre cheeses. However, you can just cut a bamboo mat to fit your plastic box. Or you can get creative.

Once the cheese has dried to the touch -- or at least is no longer shiny and maybe has a slightly tacky feel -- put it in the box. At first close the lid and put it in the warmest place you can find in your fridge (use your thermometer to find it). Every day, take the cheese out and inspect it. It will get a lot harder once it is cold and it should no longer be tacky. If it's wet, then the box is too humid. Take off the top and lay it crosswise across the box for a while. Or crack open the side of the lid. Essentially adjust it so that it is humid in the box, but that there is no standing liquid and the cheese is not wet.

Every second day, take a teaspoon of your brine solution and dilute it with 3 teaspoons of water and a half a teaspoon of vinegar. Use a lint free cloth to wipe the cheese with the solution. If there is any mould, wipe it off. Make sure to wipe thoroughly in all the cracks and holes in the cheese. When the cheese is young, you will probably find that a paste develops when you do this. That's just due to the way the curd was formed. The paste will fill in the holes and cracks in the cheese, though, and it will look smoother over time. As the rind forms, that paste won't develop any more and you will just be basically cleaning the cheese (which is what would have been the case with a rennet formed cheese in the first place, I think).

After around 2 weeks the rind should form. My cheeses are just forming a rind now, so I can't tell you much more than that. I'm going to eat one after 3 weeks and hopefully it will be delicious.