How to Press Cheese

pressed cheese wheels

No piece of cheesemaking equipment is more misunderstood than the cheese press. The name implies a purpose rather than a process. When you hear "cheese press" you probably envision a machine resembling a wine press. That leads to thoughts of using brute force to wring the whey out of cheese curds. It is just not like that. Pressing cheese is more about squeezing than about compressing or extracting liquid. The application of pressure to fresh curds is called "pressing", and the process will cause some liquid to be pushed out from between pieces of curd. This is good however it is not the sole reason for pressing. For the cheese press to work most of the free whey must already be drained from the curds and this will have happened in the cheese pot while processing the curds.

When curds are squeezed their surfaces are stretched and the very thin layer of fat that surrounds them is split open. This exposes the milk protein matrix. When exposed to one another they will bond. To the cheese maker this is known as knitting. This is the process where loose cheese curds become solid cheese. To the novice, it may appear that the curds are simply 'pressed' or mechanically packed together. The atomic bond between molecules is far stronger than any created by pressure alone.

A cheese press must have certain design features. Most important is that it is the correct capacity. Capacity means the ability to hold the necessary volume of curd needed to produce the desired diameter and height of the finished cheese. The press must evenly support fifty pounds of weight. Liquid must be allowed to easily drain away from the curd and press.

The Tomme Cheese Press

The Tomme (pronounced tum) is a basket style mold with small holes in the sides and bottom to allow the draining of excess whey. The word Tomme is loosely translated from its Alpine roots to mean "hunk", "round" or "piece". The follower or lid fits inside the basket with just enough clearance to prevent binding against the sides and has a flat surface on one side with a support structure on the other. The supports distribute weight evenly over the surface on the flat side. The Tomme mold and the follower that is included along with weights that you provide make up the Tomme Cheese Press and forms cheese into a classic wheel shape.

A visit to your local used sporting goods store or flea market will net you the perfect set of operating weights for the Tomme press. All you will need are a few barbell weight plates. Look for ones that have flat surfaces and clear heaviness markings. Just be sure that the diameter of the heaviest weight is less than the follower.

The simple design of the Tomme press, with only two working parts, plus inexpensive weights is easy to use and cleans up in a snap. This pressing system has the capacity to press curd from three to four gallons of milk with constant pressure and without the need for regular adjustments.

If barbell weights are not an option, you can use water. A one gallon plastic milk jug full of water weighs approximately eight pounds.

Preparing the Cheese Press

Begin by lining the mold with an 18"-24" square of sterile coarse cheesecloth. You can sterilize the cheesecloth by boiling for thirty seconds, then rinse with cold water and dry.

Place the curd into the lined mold. The mold should be placed on a rack which is set in a tray to collect any whey that drains from the pressing cheese. The whey that is collected from your cheese press should be discarded.

Fold the excess cloth smoothly over the top of the curd. Avoid folds or bunching up the cloth, this can cause an irregular surface which can lead to mold growth.

Place the follower flat side down on top of the wrapped curds. Ensure that the curd is level and the surface is flat and everything is stable. The amount of pressure and time of pressing will depend on the type of cheese being made. Follow the pressing schedule for your specific recipe.

Gently apply required amount of weight. Too much pressure too fast will cause voids or pockets of whey inside the cheese. Weights should be centered on the follower, off centered weights may tilt the follower and bind it to the wall of the mold.

Turn the cheese after the required amount of time. Each cheese recipe will provide you with a pressing schedule. This is a sequence of weights and time periods between turnings. This process provides for even pressing and equal distribution of the remaining moisture into the cheese. To turn the cheese; remove the weights, turn the entire assembly over and then remove the mold. This will leave the cheese sitting on top of the follower. Unwrap it, turn it over, rewrap and place it back into the mold.

Continue following the directions in your pressing schedule.

*This article is an excerpt from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making by James R. Leverentz.

homemade cheese tray

Cheese Making

Making Cheese is Easy When You Use Our Supplies and Methods.