Why Build a Homestead Cheese Cave?
For the most part, we milked her once a day, so that volume was normal. I made cheese every four days and most of my wheels were in the 3-6 lb range. I aged them all in an upright wine cooler after either waxing or vacuum sealing.
Now, as many of you know, I’m a former commercial artisan cheesemaker. My specialty was long-aged cheeses like Gruyere, clothbound cheddars and the like.
Back then I used three CoolBots to cool cheese caves for our artisan cheese business. We also used CoolBots to power an A/C in a cold storage room, and I built a cold storage 8′ X 14′ trailer to transport milk.
But that was when I was making 30,000 pounds a year of artisan cheese. Now that I have only one milk cow, why build a cheese cave?
Because this year Stella is dishing out five gallons of raw, creamy milk per day. That’s 35 gallons a week, or 300 pounds of milk.
And we’re a family of three.
So it begs the question, what to do with all that milk? I mean, we don’t even drink a whole gallon each week, but if we did, that would leave 34 gallons per week to use.
So making cheese is logical and is the best way to preserve the milk for the long term.
Now, many folks like to make “fresh” or high-moisture cheeses. Mozzarella, Chevre, that kind of thing. But those cheeses don’t age well and I’d either have a lot of spoilage or become as big as a house by eating all that cheese.
So I never make fresh cheeses for that reason, and for another very important one.
I only use raw milk for my cheeses, of course, as that’s what we drink around our house. And while we are careful to make sure Stella is healthy and our milk is as clean as possible, I don’t do any testing of the cheese I make, as I did in my “commercial” days.
Therefore, I need to make cheeses that meet two criteria:
- they can be aged for a LONG time and continually improve, and
- they are as inherently safe as possible (generally these are low-moisture, more acidic cheeses).
Those criteria require that I make long-aged “hard” or “semi-hard” cheeses. That’s why I focus on Gouda, Gruyere, Cheddar, Parmesan and, occasionally, blue cheeses wrapped in hard cider soaked Kudzu leaves.
Now, as a cheese lover, I’ll add one more criterion to the above list; I STRONGLY prefer natural rind cheeses to waxed or vacuum sealed cheeses. Strongly.
That means I need an environment to properly age a cheese, and that environment is called a cheese cave.
How to Build a CoolBot Cheese Cave
I’ll start with several pics of the process to build the cheese cave. Click to enlarge and see the caption of each.
- Built a lean-to off an existing storage building to access electricity and minimize building costs.
- Use 2x4 construction instead of 2x6 because I’m not in the hottest climate. If I were I would have used 2X6.
- Used decking for the floor in the cheese cave since it’s easy to wash down and since I don’t care about being inspected.
- Used 8″ of gravel and sand for the floor of the cheese cave to help me maintain humidity. All cheese caves should be like this (real cheese caves have real earthen floors too).
- Sloped the cheese cave ceiling to ensure moisture droplets didn’t collect and drop on cheese.
- Used wood walls and ceilings in the cheese cave to help retain moisture and keep humidity at desirable levels.
- Used ample plastic moisture barrier to keep moisture in the cheese cave.
- Sized the cheese cave at 6′ X 8′ with 9′ ceilings.
- Of course, used a CoolBot to trick the air conditioner into maintaining a lower temperature than it would otherwise.
Now, I bought a cheap 8,000 BTU air conditioner at Lowes for this project. That’s not what the fine folks at CoolBot suggest, but it works fine.
In terms of installation the CoolBot was easy to install. Well…that’s actually a lie.
Let me start over.
The CoolBot would have been easy to install had I thoroughly read the instructions.
I suck at reading instructions.
I look at pictures and then just get going. My wife says I’m like a bull.
So, I initially stuck the probe in the wrong location of the air conditioner and couldn’t hit my target temperature. Then, after making 2-3 holes in the A/C unit, I decided to read the instructions. Thoroughly.
And they said to place the probe at the bottom of the A/C. I made the change and it worked perfectly from then on.
With these larger format cheeses this year I use this microperforated cheese mold I bought on Amazon. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the $300 Kadova molds I formerly used and it’s working great.
When I get bored I make something else, usually one of those but with various rind treatments. One of my favorites is one I call Dutch Buzz…it’s a Gouda I make with an espresso/cacao rub.
I love it. My five-year-old daughter calls it stink cheese. Her loss, not mine.
Finally, let’s talk production volume. Believe it or not I estimate that I’ll make 1,000 pounds of cheese this season. The math is simple:
- average 4 gallons/day
- milk for 270 days (give Stella 3 months off)
- 270*4= 1,080 gallons
- 1,080 gallons * 8.6 = 9,288 (a gallon of milk weighs about 8.6 lbs)
- at a 10% yield (normal for hard cheees), total production will be 929 lbs (9,288*10%)
If each cheese weighs 11 lbs on average, I’ll need to store 85 wheels of cheese. I can do that in this cave with creative shelving, and the good news is, the more cheese I have in the room the easier it is to maintain humidity.
But…c’mon! 85 wheels of 11-pound cheese? For a family of three?
Clearly we’re going to need some more friends. Or I’m going to be forced to start selling cheese again. But this time it will have to be in a herd-share type model since this operation wouldn’t pass inspection due to the wood and gravel.
Oh well, I’ll cross that bridge later.
The CoolBot worked well for me in this project, as it has in the past. It’s also a great tool for storing eggs, meats, flowers and other farm products.
If you’re interested, you can grab one here for a $20 discount…thanks to the folks at CoolBot for that.
Now, enjoy the video of my set-up. If you have any questions, ask away here on my Facebook page.