2021©The Beverage People
Stove Top – When heating your milk on the stove top, you are working with an intense heat source. The intensity of the heat source causes a problem. It needs to be distributed in some way to avoid scorching of the milk. With most cheeses “cooked” at low temperatures, the scorching can sometimes be addressed with a heavy clad-bottom pot---but these pots are expensive and the risk of over-heating is not completely eliminated. Some cheesemakers eliminate this risk by deploying a double boiler setup. The water bath in the double boiler creates an effective buffer between the heat source and the milk. But it is difficult to control the exact temperature of the water bath and the milk---generally the entire cheesemaking day includes minor frustrations as the target temperature is missed with excessive heat, or excessive cooling with cold water or even ice to correct the temperature swings. Neither the heavy-duty single pot technique, nor the double boiler technique, ends up in a completely simple or precise process.
Induction Cooktop – The induction stove has a key advantage over the traditional gas or electric stove top. It is much safer. The heat is directly transmitted to the cookware. While safety is improved, the other disadvantages and frustrations of hitting your target cheesemaking temperature remain the same as with other types of stove tops.
Sink or Insulated Icebox – With most cheeses “cooked” at low temperatures, very little heat is required. To incubate your milk at 72° F or even 92° F is not particularly difficult in the summer in many regions. These temperatures can easily be had from the kitchen sink, even in cold regions. Therefore, some cheesemakers choose to simply heat the milk for these types of cheeses with hot water from the sink, and may require insulation to avoid losing water temperature throughout the day. However, it can be difficult or just annoying to keep your kitchen sink full of water and milk all day, and even in an insulated icebox there will be some temperature loss over time. Therefore, maintaining temperatures with this technique requires work and attention. Without a heat source, the water will occasionally require replacement or replenishment with hot water.
After years of cheesemaking using all the above techniques, my experience on the very first cheese batch using a Sous Vide Cooker and Circulator was a “Eureka” moment. For me, there is no going back.
A Sous Vide operates in the temperature range needed for all cheeses except when the milk is actually boiled (very rare). It is a simple and effective device. It has a basic heating element, combined with a circulation propeller and a temperature controller.
For most of our home cheesemakers, using this Sous Vide simplifies your cheesemaking day by automating temperature control. It can also be an economical choice as it may allow you to use a less expensive "double boiler" setup. For example, most double boilers are made from heavy-duty stainless to endure the direct heat of a stove top. Since the Sous Vide may never expose the "double boiler" materials to high temperatures, you may choose to use other types of materials for the outside "pot" or even use a plugged kitchen sink.
Finally, it will improve your temperature accuracy during the cheesemaking process by reducing the over-heating and under-heating fluctuations often experienced by home cheesemakers on the stove top or insulated icebox. Greater control means greater consistency and reproducibility of your process.
To use the Sous Vide for cheesemaking, you will need to set up a “double boiler” with the milk in the inside pot, and the Sous Vide heating the water bath in the outside container.
“Double Boiler” options and tips:
Using the term double boiler in this case is a misnomer since you will not be boiling for most cheesemaking recipes. I’m using the term because most people will quickly grasp the concept, and also for lack of a better term. At any rate, set up as follows:
Calibration of the Sous Vide
For the highest level of confidence in your temperature accuracy, you should calibrate the Sous Vide. Refer to the instructions manual for help on your specific device. Generally, you can can calibrate to boiling water at 212° F (if the probe can tolerate it) or an ice bath at 32° F.
Selecting Set Temperature on the Sous Vide
Now that the “double boiler” is set up with the Sous Vide in place, and the Sous Vide has been calibrated to read temperature accurately, you may start heating your milk. I recommend that you set the Sous Vide temperature to +1 or +2 above your target temperature of the milk. You should also have a calibrated thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature of the milk/curd throughout the process. Be sure to stir the milk/curd from time to time to help distribute the heat inside the vat. And with the rest of your time on cheesemaking day, just do what you want! The Sous Vide is on the job!