Though we have visited a number of cheesemakers who cheddar their cheese (notably Bob Wills, Sid Cook, and David Metzig), we have not been around to witness it before this most recent trip to southeastern Wisconsin. Joe Widmer (of Widmer’s Cheese Cellars) was kind enough to let us tromp around his operation for hours as he and his team banged out some cheddar… the old-fashioned way.
It starts much the same as most cheese making: Add culture and rennet to pasteurized milk and allow it to set. Then the set curd is cut and the whey is drained off. This is the point when curds are usually placed into forms their own weight will press out remaining whey. But for cheddar, this is where the interesting part begins.
Water is added to the curd and heated under constant stirring. The cuds are heated to around 100 degrees, which helps the curds start to melt together a little.
The water is then drained off and the curds are pushed together to drain off even more water and whey.
At this point, the curds are starting to knit together, and resemble “Floam,” a modern spin on the Play-Doh concept.
After the warmed curd has a little time to sit, it is cut into loaves and stacked up to press out more liquid.
It is then flipped over multiple times until the layers are each a thick mass.
At this point, they are cut into smaller pieces and put through a mill like a wood chipper to make them into small curds again.
This is when they are “cheese curds” like true Wisconsinites know and love — a little dry, squeaky, and flavorful.
The curds are then put into molds to further drain and age. A lot of work, most definitely — but the process helps make for a mellower, less sour cheese as it ages.