Clyde Poser in Buckley, Washington earned his “do-it-yourselfer” honors by making his own temperature controlled cheese vat for only $285! A couple of months ago, we received this note from Clyde:
I thought I would share some pictures of my home thermostatically controlled cheese vat I cobbled together.
I am using a restaurant food warmer I got at Costco for about $96.00 and an Auber PID for Bradley smokers. The PID is a dual probe unit but they also make a single probe unit that would be less expensive. I had the dual unit already so I used it.
The food warmer is a standard restaurant unit. Costco has several different capacity inserts. The one I am using is the deep half size, plus the cover.
I plugged the food warmer into the PID and turned the thermostat up to full and let the PID control the temp. (Before I started this cheese I played around with the PID temp setting to find a temp that would give my exactly 90 degrees of milk.)
It takes about 30 minutes to heat 1 gallon of milk to 90 degrees and then hold it within +/- 1 degree. I taped over the spoon slot in the cover and stuck the digital thermometer to monitor the milk temp.
The nice thing about this set up is that when I make other cheeses that need a slow temperature increase to cook curds, such as Colby or Cheddar, I can set the PID and it will increase the temp as fast as I want it to.
The whole setup cost me around $285.00 for a simple thermostatically controlled cheese vat. Quite a bit less than the multi-thousand dollars you would pay for even the smallest commercial unit.
(Note: After he wrote to us, he added a small pump (shown at right) to circulate the water to keep the temperature more even. Now, he is working on a stirring mechanism to stir the curds as they are heated for the different types of cheese.
How did you get started making cheese?
As a Christmas gift last year our good friends and neighbors gave me a 3 month cheese delivery. Each month I would receive three ¼ lbs. chunks of artisan cheese. I began reading the little cards inside the box about how the individual company started and thought, “I wonder how hard it is to make cheese?” I like learning new things and enjoy good food, so I started surfing the internet and found a few cheese supply places and kits. I ordered one of the kits and made my first cheese, which was Camembert.
What gave you the idea to make your own vat?
I came up with the idea when I saw all the warnings about keeping the temperature of the milk constant for making a quality cheese. I was wondering what I could use to accomplish that since our kitchen has a big 6 burner commercial gas stove – not exactly something to produce low constant temperatures in milk.
I needed something that was a water bath and could be thermostatically controlled. I remembered seeing the food warmers at buffets. I found an inexpensive food warmer with inserts at our Costco for only $97.00. I already had the temperature controller for my meat smoker. After some experimentation I figured out how to make it work and control the temperature of the milk within 1 or 2 degrees.
What kind of cheese are you making now?
Colby – I made a Colby about a week ago from the recipe on the New England Cheese website. And I just received an order of Camembert molds so I will be making a batch of 8 small Camembert next week. The first time I made Camembert I only made two. I learned that those go rather quickly when I bring them out for guests. It was great to see I could actually make them successfully, but 2 is a bit ridiculous when the same amount of work would produce 8. After the Cams I plan on trying a Gouda. I am working on getting my cave filled up with cheese because it is difficult to wait for them to age.
I just made 8 Brie and so far they look ok. I just wrapped them yesterday as the white mold was grown out over the whole cheese. Right now I am having a little problem with the refrigerator I use as a cheese cave. The second hand appliance store I bought it from thought it would be a good idea to put a sheet of fabric softener in it to make it smell good. So far, I can’t get that smell out and I am afraid the cheese is going to taste like fabric softener. Consequently I just have the Brie aging in my basement which is only in the mid 50’s for temperature.