How To Build a Cheese Press for ~$10

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by Jason Akers from http://www.theselfsufficientgardener.com. The Self Sufficient Gardener is a blog and podcast about growing your own food and living off the land.

Legend tells of a merchant traveling across the desert sometime after the first civilization took root.  At his side was a skin full of liquid–a canteen more or less.  The more appropriate word would have been stomach because…well it was basically a calf’s stomach–yum!  And it was full to the brim with that trusty desert thirst quencher–MILK.  Anyone queasy yet?

I only mention all these details because they turned out to be kind of important.  So our dusty traveler stops to take a drink only to find his milk went chunky.  His first instinct was probably to stick his head in the first water hole around but since it was the desert I guess he just toughed it out.  But it turned out that the chunks weren’t bad–not like when milk goes bad normally.

The calf’s stomach was full of an enzyme called rennet which helps calves digest mother’s milk.  The “breaking” of milk divides it into two things–one of them being the basis of cheese.

That’s kind of where the legend jumps to more modern times.  I wonder how long mankind had to eat chunky milk/cheese before the first deliciously smooth smoky cheddar goodness.

Well thankfully we no longer have to worry about that…or do we?

My first forays into cheesemaking went great until the time came to make curds into cheese.  My missing tool was a cheese press.  I searched online and found a sleek stainless steel model-the Rolls Royce of cheese presses–with a Rolls Royce price.  There was no way I was going to pay hundreds of dollars for a cheese press.

Lucky I found a few articles online and in print regarding building homemade cheese presses.  Here’s my version of that design.

Materials you will need:

1.  (2) stainless or galv 6″ shoulder bolts

2.  (2) matching nuts (not the aircraft type with the locking plastic!)

3.  A handful of matching washers

4.  A small chunk of PVC (4″ diameter is a good place to start)

5.  One 4″ knockout cap for the PVC

6.  A wooden cutting board (about a foot long)–normally this will make the pusher board and the base surface.

7.  A few smaller pieces of PVC, or wooden dowels of about 1″ in diameter

You should be able to pick up all of that for less than 10 bucks.  You may find ways to substitute things so read the directions first and then modify (like I did).

1.  Draw the inside circle of your large PVC onto what will be the unused surface of the cutting board or other suitable chunk of wood and cut it out with a jigsaw or other appropriate power tool.  Cut your large and small PVC to length.  Further ahead you will find out that I cut the smaller ones way too long and had to cut them down again.  I am really bad about measuring things and usually I just cut to fit.  The PVC pieces must be completely flat on one side. That is the side that will be against the base or the follower.  And the larger piece should be about 4-5″ tall.  You can also cut your cutting board down to a more compact size.  Since you probably have cut your round out of it, you may want to cut of the sharp corners.  If there is enough left, cut out your pusher board or find a suitable replacement.

2.  Note the rasp, next step is to clean up the edges.

3.  Check the fit–doesn’t have to be exact.

4.  Take the knockout cap (because in plumbing jobs it’s temporary) and remove the flange.  It wasn’t in the original picture because it was an afterthought.  If your wood block fits perfect you don’t really need it, but its so hard to get the wood follower just right.  Check the fit on the cap after you are done.

5.  Drill 1/16″ holes about an inch apart up/down and around the circumference of the big PVC.  I also like to file in weep notches on the bottom surface.  Resist the urge to cleanup the holes on the inside with sandpaper.  You want to protect the inside surface from scratches which harbor nasties.  Use your thumbnail instead.

6.  Drill holes with matching spacing through your pusher board and your base cutting board.

7.  Begin assembly.  From the bottom up.  Two bolts–>two washers for each bolt—>into the cutting board base—>large PVC on top.

8.  Add the followers.

You may have to recut the small PVC pieces.  You can see here that this is about the exact distance you want.  The PVC pushers must be just shorter than bolts when the followers are in place and at TDC (top dead center).

8.  Add pusher board, washers then nuts.

Some Bad Google Sketchup-fu of The Press Model

Want more options?  You can build mold and follower sets for various sizes. Here’s my mack daddy-sized set.  After the build, put all of your stuff here that touches food into a dishwasher and blast the heck out of it.

The great thing about this design is that it allows you to utilize one of two methods of pressing.  You can either use mechanical force by tightening the nuts and bolts or you can place a weighted object on top.  Some recipes call for a certain weight to be added so it helps to be able to adjust to the learning curve.  Hopefully in a future post I can take you though the cheesemaking process.

Until next time…

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About the author
Hi, I'm Jason Akers, the host of The Self-Sufficient Gardener Podcast and contributor to Backwoods Home Magazine, Backhome Magazine and of course...Save Our Skills! When I'm not trying to get my garden to grow or writing, I like to fish, hunt and shoot. If you would like to learn more about maintaining a self sufficient garden visit my website and checkout my gardening podcast on iTunes.
  • Gloria

    Just wondering if you could share to cheese making recipes for the cheese press. AND do you know how to make cottage cheese? ANd how do you make rennet?
    Thanks!
    The how tos are great for those of us who want to learn. I’m glad you are with Jack. This is great information. I’m planning of making one of these and trying to use it. My family usescheese like it is going out of style. [grin]

  • http://www.theselfsufficientgardener.com Jason

    Hey Gloria, I wrote the article so if Nick doesn’t mind I’ll give your question a crack.

    There is really only one basic cheese recipe. Milk, starter, rennet, salt. Some cheeses such as bleu cheese require an innoculation with bacterial culture. I’ve never messed with these, too complicated for this guy.

    Three other things change what type of cheese you get, the type of milk, the processing or the aging.

    I’m planning on doing a large article on making cheese, maybe a video. I’ve got rennet and starter on the way. The basic method IIRC (I’ll have to reference my books when I do this again, it has been one year) is let milk come to room temp, add starter, heat, add rennet, let coagulate, cut, rinse, wash, salt, press, brine or wax, age. Like I said, modify a step or put more into it and the cheese you get is different. Cottage cheese is supposed to be easy (I hate it so have never made it!). Its just buttermilk and rennet basically, you get to skip the starter.

    Rennet can be made but you need a fresh calves stomach unfortunately. I’m desperately trying to figure out how to make the vegetarian type. I’ll definitely post here when I find out.

    Thanks for the question. We use tons of cheese too!

    Jason

  • chrisa

    Hello, This is awesome.  I made one of these from your instructions and it works great.  I used an old tupperware canister for the mold itself, just cut the bottom off and trimed the lid to fit inside.  worked like a charm. 

  • megan

    Hi there,
    If you want a calf-less way to make cheese, you can just get some milk kefir grains, culture them, and use that. I recommend getting them from this lady: kefirlady.com

  • Loganrich

    I’ve heard u can make vegetable rennet from scotch thistle

  • Thomas

    You can use the sap from fig trees for vegetarian rennet, put some on on a piece of cheesecloth and dip it. It is much stronger than animal rennet so use sparingly, some people put a bit on the cloth, let it dry, and then wash it a bit before putting it in. For cottage cheese you don’t need rennet – a gallon of milk, heat until it’s just about hot enough that you don’t want your finger in it, turn off the heat and add 1 1/4 cup of vinegar. Mix. Let it sit until the curds and whey are visually very separated (think tofu in miso soup) and then strain through a cheesecloth or colander. Eat warm, or if you want them cold, chill them – add some cream before serving for the American style cottage cheese.

  • jenny mcsweeney

    Some recipes call for weight as you mentioned. How do you put 50 lbs of weight on the press?

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