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Cheese-Making-art - 9/29/97


"Cheese Making for the Compleat Novice" by Lady Aoife Finn.


NOTE: See also the files: cheese-msg, cheesemaking-msg, cheese-goo-msg, fresh-cheeses-msg, cheesecake-msg, dairy-prod-msg, butter-msg, almond-milk-msg.





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                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



                   Cheese Making for the Compleat Novice

                                by Lady Aoife Finn




Take seven quarts of the strokings as they come from the cow put into it a quart of Cream, in the heat of Summer let the Cream be cold, but as the weather grows cold put it in Scalding hot, but heat not the Milke; put therin a good spoonful of Rennet, then stirre it well together, cover it & let it stand till the Curd comes, then with a Dish lay the Curd as whole as you can in a Cloth in the Vate, and when you [have] filled the Vate put the Cloth together & lay the Flower on it, & let it stand for half an houre, then lay the Cloth smooth, & put 18 pound weight on it, & let it stand 4 hours unstirred, then turne it upon the Flower & Salt it then turne it into a clean Cloth into the Vate again, and lay so much and half so much more weight upon it, & let it stand till more Whey com out. Then turn it into a clean drye Cloth; let it remain no mare in the Vate, but lye in a Cloth on the Floore, & as the Cloth wets, turn it to drye, & when it don wetting the Cloth, put it into Rushes, & cover it with rushes, & turn it Twice a day. If the weather [be] hote, cover it not; if the weather be cold cover it with a woolen Cloth. It will be ready in 10 days to eate.(1)  


      There are few processes encompassed in the art of cooking and household managment that mystify the novice as much as the art of making cheese. In truth, it is a fairly simple process; Milk, if left long enough, will curdle. Doubtless this is how the first cheeses were made. We may never know, however, because this occurance is lost in the mists of time. We can trace hard cheese back to the Ancient Jews and Romans, who fed it to their troops, believing it made them stronger. This couldn't have been far from the mark, because cheese is packed with proteins and fats, a combination  of properties that ensures slow digestion and muscle and bone building potential.


      Cheese as a foodstuff is as ancient as domesticated animals, and the nourishing qualities and its propensity for storage made it ideal for people of innumerable cultures. It can be made from  the milk of any milk-giving animal, although the end product will vary in its flavour and characteristics. Cheese has been known to be made from the milk of the cow, sheep, goat, mare, llama, reindeer, buffalo, zebra, and yak(2). If you doubt the quality of cheese made from some of the more esoteric animals, then think of Feta cheese, made from goat's milk,  and Buffalo Milk Mozarella, and Roquefort and Romano made from sheep's milk.    


      Most hard cheeses as we know them are named for their towns or districts, and have been refined outside the middle ages, when cheese eating seems to have been a pot luck enterprise for travelers. Certain cheeses can be duplicated due to their visible cultures, (marbling,etc...) but on the whole cheese types are unique to the areas they are made and their individual characteristics are due to climate and storage conditions as well as such variations in production as cream content in the milk, pasteurization, length of time curds remain in the whey, the curdling agents used, moisture content, temperature of the milk, etc.... In addition, certain cultures flourish in certain areas. Much like bordeaux wine yeast is readily found on bordeaux grapes in Bordeaux France, certain cheese cultures flourish in their own distinct environment.


      Cultures are jealously guarded commodity, but within a given geographic area the cheeses  produced by different houses could very well be indistinguishable from each other to the layman. This uniqueness of friendly cultures translates into an added bonus for cheese makers. Do not automatically cut out a culture that finds its way to the surface of your cheese. Taste it first, to see if it is palatable. Of the billion kinds of microscopic organisms on this planet, it is entirely possible that the spores taking root on your prized project will produce something delicious.


Making Hard Cheese.....


      It takes a remarkable amount of milk to make a small amount of hard cheese. 100 pounds of milk can make from 8 to 13 lbs.of the compact food, a little over two gallons to the pound of cheese. To this milk we add a lactic enzyme for a conditioner, instead of waiting for the milk to get sour on its own (thus collecting weird bacteria on the way). This can be as simple as a half cup of sour cream, yoghurt, or buttermilk. While not strictly necessary, it makes for a cheese with character of its own and hastens the formation of curd. The milk is left to stand for a period of time before it is heated to the optimum curd-forming temperature (approx 84-86 degrees).(3)  


      The next step is the formation of curd, sometimes referred to as "brats". This can be accomplished with several different products. The most well known is Rennet, a milk-digesting enzyme known to our ancesters near and far, and available in packaged form in any well stocked grocery store next to the Jello(r). Rennet is popular for curdling because it takes much less to do the job than any other form. It is also very economical. It is  frequently sold to make junket, an elemental cheese which incidentally is a period dish. Rennet comes in tablet and Liquid form. The dried crystals are said to be able to curdle up to 10,000,000 times their volume in milk. Rennet is an extract of the stomach lining of calves, produced by soaking the stomach in brine.(4) The same sorts of enzymes are present in human children (prompting my mother to refer to babies who spit up a lot as little "cheese makers").Other curdling agents are lemon juice, as well as vinegar and the ubiquitous verjuice, wine or any other sour or acidic substance. These are added, sometimes in conjunction with rennet, to give dimension to the flavor of cheese.


      Various directions will give you a time limit for which the curdling should take place. I have found this to be highly variable, but in general store-bought milk will take longer unless it is old and near turning. Never attempt to use acidophilous milk or any product using acidophilus cultures, since these are anti-curdling agents. I have been known to hasten the curdling process by adding either extra curdling agent or a different sort (i.e. white vinegar if I was using rennet). Be warned that this may change the texture of the finished curd, however.


      Some directions will have you removing the curd at this point, others will have you gently warming the curd to give a firmer texture (to approx. 101 degrees). This will also give the curds definition, and eliminate any milky appearance of the whey. You may or may not want this, depending upon the sort of cheese you are attempting. Once the curd formation has finished, however, the curds are removed from the whey (which should look like yellow-tinged water).


       The whey (or whig) was a very popular drink in late period, and public houses were set up to serve the viscous fluid.(5) Do not automaticaly pour it down the drain. Taste it!


      When most of the whey has been removed, the curds are put into a cloth to hang while the cheese mold (or vate) is made ready. Tie the ends of the cloth together like a hobo's knapsack and hang it on the kitchen faucet to drip, or put it in a collander over a bowl. Meanwhile, get the mold ready. Don't squeeze or press your package of dripping curds..


      The cheese mold can be as simple as a coffee can, with the bottom and top removed. Put this on a strong cake rack over a bowl.

The object used to press the cheese curds is called a follower (or flower). Use a saucer of the right size, or bang down any sharp edges of the bottom of the coffee can, and use this. You will then need some object to act as the press, protruding above the edges of the can far enough to bear the weights as the cheese is pressed without disapearing into the coffee can. Another can works well. For weights, use bricks. This is a precarious arrangement unless you are able to hold it all together somehow. Try using big cans, or for smaller cheeses use smaller weights, or else the whole contraption will fall over regularly. See appendix A for an illustration of a simple cheese press you can make.


      Arrange a clean cloth inside the mold. Layer in the curds, sprinkling with salt in the amount of one tablespoon per gallon of milk used as you layer them. Put in any herbs or spices you plan to incorporate, too, if you have not steeped them in the milk. Put in the follower, and the press. Wait until dripping slows. Put on the weights one by one, waiting until dripping slows to put the next weight on. When you have four bricks, leave to press for 12-18 hours.


      At this point, some recipes will have you bandage the cheese with clean muslin. Some will have you leave it "naked". Whichever method you choose to follow, check the cheese for pits, deep cracks, etc... Avoid exposing the cheese to naked metal after this point, which will tinge the surface grey in spots. Salt the outside of the cheese. If cracks or pits are present, do not attempt to cure the cheese. It is green cheese in its present form, and perfectly edible.


      Cure the cheese by letting it air dry, with a layer of cloth or paper toweling under it. Change the toweling daily.Turn it several times a day and wipe off any visible moisture. Salt it occaisionaly. Salt acts as your preservative, and also attracts the moisture to the surface from the interior. Ideally, drying will occur in a cool place. If mould forms, it can be cut out if unpleasant, or rubbed off. Rub the surface of the cheese with vinegar or salt to prevent mould from growing. When the rind has formed, you need only turn it a few times a week. You may seal it in wax now, if you prefer. Some cheeses such as parmesan are rubbed with oil to give added dimension to the cheese and make the rind more elastic. In this case, definitely cover the cheese with wax, so that it does not get rancid. Age the cheese a month at a time, untill it is of desired flavor.



Some Recipes


Ricotta Cheese


From the Ontario Minstery of Agriculture


2 Litres Whole Milk

50 millilitres vinegar


Scald the milk to 85 degrees celcius. Remove from heat and add vinegar. Let stand at room temperature for 5 hours. line strainer with four layers of cheesecloth, then pour boiling water through to sterilize. Put cheese in strainer and let drain for 1 hour 45 minutes. Refrigerate ina covered container. makes about 500 mililitres. (6)



How To Make Simple Cottage Cheese


1 Pint creamy milk or goat's milk, not sterilized

1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice


1 tablespoon chopped chives (if desired)

Salt and pepper to taste


1 Heat the milk in a saucepan until it begins to bubble and rise.

2 Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vinegar or lemon juice.

3 Pour the milk into a bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave to stand undisturbed for 4-12 hours, or overnight if convenient.

4 Tip or ladle the curds into a muslin bag or a piece of doubled muslin placed over a collander.

5 Tie up in the muslin bag or cloth with string and hang it on a hook for the whey to drain into a bowl for 4 hours or ovenight.

6 If liked, keep the drained whey, which aids digestion, to add to soups and stews or cakes and puddings.

7 Place the cheese from the cloth in a bowl and mix in the seasoning. Store in a refrigerator. It keeps 2-3 days (7)



Cottage Cheese


1/4 Junket Rennet tablet

1/2 cup water

1 gallon skim milk

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cream


1 Dissolve Rennet tablet in water by crushing. Set aside. In large sauce pan heat skim milk to 70 degreen Farenheit. Stir in buttermilk and rennet tablet solution, mixing well. Cover with towel and let stand at room temperature 12 to 18 hours until firm curd forms. To test for a firm curd, remove a milk sample at a point near the edge of the saucepan with a spoon. The curd is ready to cut when the coagulated milk sample holds its shape and the edges are sharply defined.


2 Cut curd into 1/2 inch long pieces using a long knife. Heat curd slowly over hot water until temperature reaches 110 degrees. Hold curd at 110 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring at 5-minute intervals to heat curd uniformly. Pour mixtire onto fine cheesecloth in a colander and drain off whey.


3 After whey has drained 2-3 minutes, lift curd in cheesecloth and immerse in pan of cold water 1 to 2 minutes, stirring and pressing with a spoon. Then immerse in icewater 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the curd until it is free from whey and place in a large bowl. Add salt and cream and mix thoroughly. Chill. (8)



Rich Three Cheese Pie


1 9 inch Pie shell, baked blind 10 minutes

1 cup homemade ricotta or cottage cheese

3/4 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

1/4 cup grated parmesan

2 tablespoons flour

4 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons summer savory

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage


Toss the cheddar and the parmesan with the flour and herbs. Stir in the ricotta or cottage cheese. Pour into the cooled pie shell.

Mix the eggs and milk together. Pour over the cheese mixture. place on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees approx. one hour. Serve Warm or cold.(9)



To Make a Dish of Tender Curds


Take the same boiled milk you take the Brats off. and make it a little more than milk warm; put in your Earning, take first the Whey clean off, and beat the Curds in a Mortar, and put it in your Loam Plate, and serve it up with Cream, Sugar and Cinnamon.(10)



[Smearcaes with cinnamon and sugar]


Make cottage cheese according to one of the above recipes. Mash or puree it. Put it in a bowl, pour a little cream over, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.



To Make Band-string Cream.


Take the same boiled Milk you take the Brats off, and the juice of a Lemon, and a Gill of Sack, and set it on the Fire, till it break, and put it through your Band-string Shape, put a Mutchkin of sweet Cream about them, and Sugar and Cinnamon on the Top of them, and serve them up.(A band-string is a long thin shape)(11)


To make Cream Cheeses my Lady Carberries way


Take 3 quarts of cream and 6 quarts of new milk: warm the Milke, & set it a little warmer than from the Cow, with as little Rennet as will turn it: when it comes take it up as whole as you can, & put as much in the Straw as will make it an Inch & an half thick, & doble up the Straw. Open the first & shape them up, when you have put all the Curd in the Straw, & let it lye 3 or 4 hours then open

the Straw and shape them again, & at night turne them into fresh straw, & strew some Salt on one side: the nixt morning put them in fresh straw, & strew a little Salt on the other side, & turn them twice a day in fresh straw, & wipe them if they Mould. This quantity will make 7 or 8 Cheses. If they drye too fast put them in wet straw. (12)


84 Green Egg and Cheese Soup


Take parsley, a bit of sage, just a bit of saffron in the greens, and soaked bread, and steep in puree (of peas) or boiled water. Add ginger steeped in wine, and boil. Add cheese, and the eggs when they have been poached in water. It should be thick and bright green. Some do not add bread, but add almond milk. (13)



Mon amy


To make mon amy, tak and boile cows creme and when it is bolid set it asid and let it kele then take cow crudes and press out the whey, then bray them in a mortair and cast themin a potte to the creme and boile all together put therto to sugar hony and may butter colour it up with saffron and in the settynge doun put in yolks of eggs, well bett and do away the streyne and let the pttage be stonding and then put it in dyshes and plant ther infloures of violettes and serve it. (14)


Mon Ami


1 pt. (2 1/2 cups) thick cream

4 ozs (1 cup) cottage cheese

2 ozs(1/4 cup) sugar

4 tbs honey

1/8 tsp saffron

1 oz (2 tbsp) butter, softened

4 egg yolks

Crystalized or fresh violets


Boil the cream and set it aside. Beat up the cottage cheese and mix  it with the sugar, honey, saffron and cream. Blend well. beat in the softened butter, in small pieces, and the egg yolks. Pour into a saucepan, heat and cook over low heat, stirring until thickened. Do not boil. pour into a custard bowl and chill. Decorate with fresh or crystalized violets. (15)



Herbed Hard Cheese


For every 5 cups whole fresh milk, add 1 cup of active culture yoghurt,mixing well. Let stand 1/2 hour. Add approx. 15 leaves of the herb of your choice (choose "savory" types...sage, chives, or a blend of oregano, thyme and basil, or add 1/4 cup cracked pepper). Crush the leaves lightly. Heat the milk to 84-86 degrees. Take off the heat and add 3/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 rennet tablet. Cover with a towel to help maintain heat, untill curd forms or mixture has the consistency of yogurt when a bit is taken up with a spoon. Stir through the mixture quickly to break it up. Heat slowly untill it reaches 101 degrees, and the curds take on definition, then pour out most of the whey.


Line a collander with muslin or a clean handkerchief. Place the curd mixture into it to drip while the mold is being prepared: wash the parts thoroughly in very hot water and soap. Rinse well in hot water.Let air dry. Assemble.Put a damp clean cloth into the mold, and smooth any wrinkles or folds. Gently place the curds in, sprinkling the layers with a total of 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and making sure the herb leaves are incorporated.


Fold a corner of the cloth over the cheese and put in the follower. Let drip untill dripping slows. Put in the press, and let drip untill dripping slows again, or an hour. Remove cheese in order to smooth any lines or indentations and re-shape if necessary.Gradually add on the weights in the same manner( use two bricks for 5 cups, or up to four for 2 gallons). Let press 12-18 hours.


Remove from the press and air dry on absorbant material, sprinkling with salt frequently. Turn every few hours during the day for 2 days, (untill rind forms)then a few times a week thereafter. Wipe the exterior with a vinegar soaked cloth to kill any stray mold spores.Wrap tightly in plastic or seal with parafin or beeswax, and age in a cool place as desired, at least a month.(16)




1.Lady Castlehill's Receipt Book, Castlehill, Lady, ed. Hamish Whyte, Molendinar Press, Glasgow, Scotland, 1976 (ms. copied from 1700's) pg. 17.


2.Encyclopaedia Brittanica 1961, vol. 5 William Benton Pub., Chicago, Ill. pg 333.


3.Backwoods Home Magazine, article How to Make Cheese and Butter by Dynah Geissal, ed. Dave Duffy, Ashland Or. , July/August 1993, pg 41.


4.Encyclopaedia Brittanica 1961, vol 19 William Benton Pub., Chicago Ill. pg 151.


5.Food and Drink in England, from the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson, Academy Chicago Pub., Chicago Ill. pg. 171.


6.The Compleat Dagger Lickin' Good cookbook, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch, Raymond's Quiet Press, Alberquerque NM 1986, pg 46.    

7.Farmhouse Cookery, Recipes from the Country Kitchen, Reader's Digest Assn., London 1980 pg. 179.


8.Package Insert from Junket Rennet Tablets, Redcoe Foods, Windsor CT.


9.Original Recipe Copyright the Author, Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt, 1992, all rights reserved.


10.Mrs. McLintock's Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work, McLintock, Mrs. Ed. Iseabail Macleod, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, Scotland 1986 (reprint of original ms of 1736), pg 17-18.


11.Ibid. 10


12.Ibid. 1, pg 18


13.Le Viander de Taillevent, Taillevant, 'ca, James Prescott Trans., Alfarhaugr Publishing Society, Eugene OR. 1989 pg.31.


14.Seven Centuries of English Cooking, De La Falaise, Maxime (Maxime McKendry), Grove Press, NY, 1973, pg 94 (Andrew Boorde, 1542).


15.Ibid. 14


16. Ibid 9, 1993



Questions? Comments? Contact me! Lady Aoife Finn, Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt, <mtnlion at ptd dot net>.


Copyright 1996 by Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a copy.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org