Thursday, November 4, 2010

Larry Todd on Making Gouda

Flinging Wax in His Retirement!

Larry Todd in Billings, Montana knows what he's doing when it comes to making cheese.  But I had to laugh when he told me about a little accident he had with his wax:

I went to wax a 1.5 lb Parmesan wheel and didn't have a good enough grip on it.  I ended up dropping it in the wax with the wax splashing out of the pot onto the counter, stove and floor.  It was everywhere.

I spent 5 hrs that night and 3 the next day trying my best to clean it up.  Wax is unbelievably hard to clean up, I found out.  A good thing my wife was out of town at the time.  Now my wife leaves the house when I make cheese.  I wonder why. 

I first became acquainted with Larry when he wrote to us with a question about pressing cheese.  (His question and Jim Wallace's may be found at the end of this article.)  It seemed clear to me that he knew what he was doing, so I asked him to share his cheesemaking experiences with us:

How did you get started?

I retired from the Bureau of Reclamation, which is a Federal water (irrigation and municipal) provider and power generator in the west.  It is the agency that built Hoover Dam and many other projects, but only in the 17 western states.  It is an agency within the Department of Interior.  Because it only works in the west, usually, folks in the east have never heard of it.  It is a great agency to work for and I was fortunate to have a great career retiring as Deputy Commissioner in 2008.
First Gouda cheese made from Ricki's kit. 
It was delicious.  Harder than store-bought.  We liked it better.

A friend of mine from the west coast sent me Ricki's cheese kit for both soft and hard cheeses last summer (Thanks Kim). She did not know that I was interested in cheese, but for some reason she thought I might like it.  At the time, she was making soft cheeses like Ricotta. 
I became interested in cheeses, when through my job and my relocations I was in places that had a great variety of good cheese.  My wife and I would try all types of different cheeses at the markets and then bring them home for eating with wine, bread, crackers, fruit or use in cooking.  We became fond of a large variety of cheeses including sheep and goat. 

I had never seen a cheese making kit before and consequently had never dreamed of making cheese. But when I received the kit, I thought this is the time to try it out. I am retired now and this became a good project.

I waited for winter to start, because in Montana you want to enjoy the summer. During that time, I read up on cheeses and recipes and when I realized I could make Parmesan and Gouda, I became really interested in making the hard cheeses first. That's where I started.

Over time I have added more molds and equipment.  I am having a great time.  So far, I have 1.5lbs Parmesan, 4 (0.75lbs) Baby Gouda, 3.5 lb Gouda wheel and 3.5 lb Colby in the cheese cave (a wine cooler). Some success was 4 previous Baby Gouda (although the one pressed with more weight was better), a delicious 3.5 lb Gouda wheel, and a first time Feta that is great on salad. This week, the Crème Fraiche turned into Mascarpone was unbelievably gourmet good on fresh berries.

Second try at Gouda with baby molds-on their way to the cave.

What are you using for milk?

I buy milk from Good Earth Market that has a milk supplier of Lifeline Farms (non-homogenized, but pasteurized - 160F).  As far as I know, I am the only one in this area who is making cheese from store milk.  There may be rural people with livestock that make it, but at this point I am unfamiliar with anyone who does.

I get a lot of great and helpful information from your WEB site.  I wish my location was closer so I could attend some workshops, but I think I will have to learn from trial and error.  Lots of error of course.

First press (modified twice since). 
My design was a little lopsided.
What are you using for a press?

I made my own press.  I researched on the internet and had my own ideas (naïve as they were) about what would work.  Went to Lowes and bought material and put it together. The press was a direct weight press.  I just added weight to the stem, which pressed the cheese.  It actually worked pretty well.  Although, if doing it again some things would change. 

Recently, I realized that when using larger than a 2 lb. mold as the book states, the weight needed to be increased sometimes up to 3 times what the recipe said.  I used a Tomme mold for Gouda and Colby. But increasing the amount of weight was too much for my press design. 

This weekend, I modified it by putting a lever system on it where I can put about 4 lbs of weight to the mold with 1 lb of weight. This increase will result in the increased pounds needed for larger molds. This system is illustrated in Ricki's book.  In the garage the modification looks pretty good, but I'll see how good it is when I try it this week.
Where do you age your cheese?

I age the cheese in a wine cooler that I bought-one that had temperature controls.  I set it at 54F and it keeps a temperature of 54-55 constantly. The humidity is very dry here and the cooler does not have any automatic humidity controls, so I have been watching with a humidistat. I think the wet cheese drying keeps the humidity around 80%. The cooler seems to work great for me. I just put it in a storage room away from home activity. The cheese seems to be happy. 

Any tips for others starting out?

Because of (the wax incident), my Parmesan did not get a good seal from the wax and mold began to grow under it.  I cut it off the other day and brined the cheese.  We'll see in a couple of months whether it actually turns out. I have gone to developing natural rinds instead of waxing. Although it takes some care, at least weekly, by wiping them down with brine and putting olive oil on them, I think they look better and in the end for me, it is less work. That doesn't mean I won't do waxing in the future, but if I do I will be more careful.

The other learning is when increasing recipes.  Doubling or tripling the recipe is very doable by proportionately increasing the ingredients.  But, if this means using larger molds, then you have to add more weight.  I realize that a lot of home cheese makers  make small batches.  But, if one makes a larger batch and uses a larger mold then more weight is important.
Second Gouda after waxing. 
They were dipped and then filled in spots with brush

Did you make cheese this week?

I did make cheese.  I decided to make Gouda again, because it is the one that I know best.  I wanted to try out a few things to see how they worked in a process that I was familiar with.  First, I have a bigger stainless steel pot (8 gal.), second, the modifications I made to the press and third, I received the large mold M2 (48 sq in) this week and wanted to try it out.  I used 6 gallons of milk and added a couple of pints of cream.  I do get whole milk but, It seems like it is a little shy on the cream.  So we'll see how that addition goes. 

Larry's most recent session making Gouda

Warming the milk to 90F.  Why four thermometers?  I was checking the accuracy of some new ones.
Rennet dissolving on the left, and calcium chloride ready on the right.

 Clean break in the curd.
 Cutting the curd with the new curd cutting knife.  It works great.
Curd after cutting.
Hot water to wash the curd at 175F.
Washing the curd.
Ready to remove whey after washing.
Whey lowered to the curd level.
Setting in a hot water bath of 100-102F. This helped keep the curd at the required 100F temperature for 15 min. while stirring and then for 30 min while the curd settles. The thermometer (lower right) is reading the temperature of the hot water bath.
No it's not popcorn.  Curd in an M2 mold ready for pressing.
First press for this Gouda.  The original press was modified with a lever system to press larger molds.  It worked great.
First Gouda press with whey drained into the pan.
Final 16 hour press for this Gouda cheese.  The gallon jug on top is an extra 3 pounds I needed for the final press.
Out of the press and drying for a few hours.
Weight at 6 lbs. 10.7 oz.
Brining with salt sprinkled on top.  Then to the cheese cave.

Everything went smooth and no bumps or hiccups. I put the cheese in the final press about 5:30pm and will take it out about 9 in the morning.
I hope I am not coming across like an expert.  I am very much a beginner and basically don't know much at all.  But I am having a great time making cheese and am learning something every time I do it.  And, we and friends have enjoyed eating what comes out of the cave.

Was the cream you used ultra-pasteurized?

Yes, the heavy cream was pasteurized and not ultra-pasteurized.  I purchased it at the Good Earth Market where I get my milk.  It was from Idaho. However, I noticed in Costco the other day that they too have pasteurized heavy cream and Half and Half.   Though I haven't talked with them to see if I can get it only a few days old.

I hear that in Montana the laws are that milk products from out of state has to be ultra-pasteurized, except maybe the heavy cream. Probably the long haul distance. The Good Earth Market buys from a Montana dairy producer, but they don't market heavy cream. Costco also buys from a Montana dairy, but in August that dairy merged with Darigold.  I have no idea if that will change the pasteurization of the milk and cream they produce.  When I find out more information, I'll let you know.
The press modifications worked out great. The M2 is certainly large but I liked it and it worked out great. The larger pot also worked good for a larger batch.  Having had some experience now, my process seemed smoother.  Now, we just wait to see how it tastes. I hope it's good.

Another Hobby

Larry is also an accomplished nature photographer.  You can see some of his work (mostly birds) on

The woodpecker is a downy woodpecker that is picking grubs out of a cattail. 
 Both the cardinal and the downy were taken just south of Wash DC. in Virginia. 
The black-tailed deer picture is a doe and her young (probably 6 months). Kind of shows the affection in wild animals. This was taken was taken a few miles from our home in Montana. 
If you would like to contact Larry about his photographs or his cheese, you may use this email:

Question and Answer Regarding Pressing Cheese

Q.  (From Larry)  I have been seeing in the that the amount of pressure for pressing cheese should be figured on a PSI basis and not straight pounds. This is because the batches vary from small to large and the area of the molds vary. So I may not be putting enough weight onto the cheese - mainly for the final press, I think. For instance, if I press gouda in my large Tome mold at the recipe weights the PSI is about 1. The some on the forums (commercial folks) say they press at 3.5 to 5. The Parma in the Rikki's recipe book is more like 20 lbs. where the Parma recipe on the WEB site is 85-125 lbs.

I am wondering if there is or if you have a table of PSI for different cheeses. I realize the duration of aging (short period vs long period) requires different pressing weights, but thought there might be some general rules to guide a person. Or maybe I should increase the weight in the recipe proportionately to the gallons of milk used? Do you have any information on this subject or PSI?

A.  (From Jim Wallace)  Larry, Ricki wrote her book to address the issues of the home cheese maker. "PSI" is a foreign concept to these folks so Ricki decided to standardize and simplify the entire process. She focuses on the small mold we sell and designed these small packs of culture to work for  the home cheese maker in a manageable 2 gallon batch. Therefore it is simply a matter of suggesting a weight mass for each cheese in the book.

Now if you are working with larger molds then it is simply a matter of comparing relative surface areas and adjusting weights proportionately.
Surface area = (radius of surface squared x 3.1416[pi])

our small mold (M3) used for Ricki's book is 4.5 inch diameter and surface area is about 16 sq in
our larger mold (M2) is 7.74 inch diameter with  surface are of  about 47 sq in.
therefore switching from the small mold to larger mold the weight needs to be increased by 47/16 or 2.9 times so a 20 lb weight for the larger mold would need to be 58 lbs.

HOWEVER: these are just guidelines and the real pressing, whether you use weight or lbs per sq in, depends on the final moisture and aging potential of your cheese.

NOTE: be very careful when reading pressure as "PSI" because quite often it is not the surface "PSI" but that read on a gauge in a hydraulic system where the diameter of the pressure plate and that of the piston are of different diameters but that is another story.


The Japanese Redneck said...

I really luv the idea of using a wine cooler as a cheese cave. I was having a hard time trying to figure out where to put another appliance in our home just for curing cheese.

Heather, Rex, etc. said...

Another cheesemaker in Billings? I will be emailing you!

sstrantz said...

Beautiful photography! And...thanks for all the help.

sstrantz said...

Beautiful photography and...thanks for all the the help!

Cara said...

What a fantastic post! I had thought I might want to make cheese, and I got as far as purchasing the rennet when I realized it was over my head.
We're also in Billings :)

Kevin said...

I would sure love to meet you and have you talk my ear off about cheese making. We live in Laurel and this has recently become an interest to me. if you have time.

Kevin said...

We live in Laurel and Cheese Making has recently become an interest to me. I'd love to talk to you about it and get some ideas of where to start.


Lauri Onkka said...

I am in Sheridan, WY and I just use Safeway Lucerne milk. It works fine and is much cheaper!Is anyone aware of any cheesemaking supply shops in Billings?

Jean-Pierre Dodge said...

For the question of storage, I just discover this amazing thing:
I thought it was cool !