Thursday, April 28, 2011

Canning Cheese!

Are you a cheese lover? I am. I don’t eat a lot but I sure use a lot in my cooking. Many of my favorite recipes use cheese. This has always bothered me as I was working on food storage because I knew I couldn’t store cheese. In fact, I always told my husband, jokingly of course, that if we ever knew in advance that a calamity, disaster or other catastrophe was about to happen, I would run to the store and spend my last dollar on cheese. Not very practical, I know; not to mention not very likely.

I know you can actually buy cheese for your storage. You can get the little cans of cheese (I think they come from Australia?) but they are not cheap, even though I understand they are pretty good. You can buy #10 cans of dehydrated cheese for around $45 a can, which I know would be wonderful but is quite an investment. Then there is that wonderful powdered cheese. Hmm what will we do with that? And of course, most practically of all, you can make cheese, even with all that powdered milk you have stored. In some future posts, we will learn how to make several different kinds of cheese.

However, I learned recently that it is possible to can cheese. I was so excited when I read this. It was like a little ray of sunshine to me, because storing cheese has been on my mind for so many years. When I first read this, I will admit I was skeptical. I’ve heard in the past of other items that people say it’s okay to can and then you find out you can’t do it. I decided that I would find out from some of the people who have done it. I contacted several people who have canned cheese and found out that it works well. They all told me the same thing which is that some will tell you it isn’t safe. The reason they say that is because they have never done it so they can’t tell you how to do it and that it is safe. It is like the FDA; they don’t endorse a product until it has been tested. However, the people I talked to all said that they do it and have done it for several years, (two of them for more than 5 years each) they feel completely confident canning and eating the cheese.

So here is the deal; I am going to tell you how I am canning cheese. I’m excited to do this after checking with several who have done it successfully. If you want to try this, feel free. I’m not making any promises about how you will like it or how long it will keep, I’m telling you how to do it if you wish. If you don’t feel that you want to do it, it’s up to you.

One thing you should know before you start. If you don’t have an outlet where you can buy cheese or if you can’t get it on sale, this might not be something you want to try. If you live close to a creamery or a dairy outlet where you can buy discount cheese or cheese ends , or if you have coupons or can buy it on sale, then this may be something that you want to try; if so, I hope you are as excited about it as I am.

Second, I did my first 2 batches of cheese in half pint jars because I have a small number in my family to feed. Also, if we were living without electricity, I wouldn’t be able to refrigerate the cheese once it was opened, so smaller jars would mean less waste. If you have a larger family you may want to do pints. Also I believe using half pints or wide mouth jars would allow you to get the cheese out of the jar easier.

You can use Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, Colby Jack, and Cream Cheese! Wouldn’t it be exciting to buy cream cheese on sale and can it for when you want it? I’m trying that next.

This information on canning cheese is from Jenny at Frontier Freedom.Here is the procedure:

1. Sterilize clean wide mouth pint jars or wide mouth half-pint jars in a 250º oven for at least 20 minutes. You’ll process the cheese in a boiling water bath for awhile, this probably isn’t necessary, but I like having the jars hot when I put the cheese in.

2. Sterilize new canning lids according to package instructions. I let them simmer in water about 5 minutes, and then keep them in hot water until I need them. (You can do this step after you get all the jars filled with cheese, while you are waiting for the cheese to melt.

3. Now I cut up the cheese, if it’s frozen you can crumble it and pack it into clean, dry pint jars. If you are in a hurry, you could grate the cheese but I don’t think it’s necessary. Then, place the jars (without lids) on a rack in a boiling water bath canner, to which you have already added some hot water. Do not put the lid on the canner while the cheese is melting. You want the water to come about halfway up the jars. Any higher and it bubbles into the jars if it gets to boiling. Then, as the cheese melts, I add more cheese kind of pressing it down into the jars, until the cheese fills the jars to within about ½” of the top.

4. When all the cheese is melted, remove the jars from the canner, wipe the rims very well, and seal the jars. One thing I should mention, as the cheese melts, you may notice a little oil rise to the top of the jars. DO NOT remove the oil. Once the cheese hardens again, it will be reincorporated with the cheese.

5. Next proceed with a boiling water bath for 40 minutes. When ready, remove jars from water with a jar lifter. Leave undisturbed until completely cooled. Check to make sure all the lids have sealed before labeling and storing.

Jenny at Frontier Freedom says, “We’ve eaten cheese that I canned like this several years earlier and it was delicious. It tends to get a little sharper, which I like. It doesn’t melt as good as fresh cheese, but when you’re in the bush and don’t have fresh cheese, it’s more than acceptable any way you’d use fresh cheese! During the winter, we usually keep cheese stored in buckets outside so it stays frozen. But, like meat, come springtime with the warmer temperatures, I start canning.”

There are 2 ways to remove the cheese from the jars. You can place the jar in a pan of water (loosen the lid a bit first), and then place that pan in another pan of boiling (or hot) water. This melts the outside of the cheese and will help it slip out of the jar. But, it also heats the cheese, which may or may not be desirable. I usually just run a knife between the cheese and the jar. Sometimes the cheese will slide right out, but usually I have to sort of cut and pull it out in chunks. *I removed the cheese from a jar I had canned and it mostly slid right out. You can also cut it in chunks and take it out.

Here’s what Jackie Clay from Backwoods Home said about how she cans cheese: “You won’t find this one in a canning manual, but I experimented and found something that works for me. One day I was canning tomatoes while whacking a chunk of cheddar cheese for lunch. Mmmm, I wondered. Tomatoes are acid. Cheese is acid. So I cut up cubes of cheese, sitting a wide-mouthed pint jar in a pan of water, on the wood stove. Slowly cubes of cheese melted and I added more until the jar was full to within half an inch of the top. Then I put a hot, previously boiled lid on the jar, screwed down the ring firmly tight and added the cheese to a batch of jars in the boiling water bath canner to process. It sealed on removal, right along with the jars of tomatoes. Two years later, I opened it and it was great. Perhaps a little sharper than before, but great. So I started canning cheese of all types and, so far, they’ve all been successful. To take the cheeses out of the jar, dip the jar in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes, then take a knife and go around the jar, gently prying the cheese out. Store it in a plastic zip lock bag.” — Jackie

Canning the cheese did not take long. I did 2 batches of 12 jars each on one day and it was really quick. Other than cutting up the cheese, most of your time is spent waiting for the cheese to melt (and adding more cheese to the jars) then waiting for the cheese to process. I canned just mild cheese but am going to do Mozzarella and Cream Cheese next. I loved doing this and seeing the jars of cheese on my shelf!


Peggy Clyde. said...

What a great idea. I can't wait to try this. I am a big preparedness person and appreciate all of your tips. Thanks.

Penny Blackwell said...

Hi, How long does the cheese last for in the jars? Also have you tried making Cream Cheese and how what is the shelf life?
Thank you
Can't wait to try canning cheese.

Stephanie Holladay said...

You know if you make your own cheese you can smoke it or wrap it in cheesecloth or soak it in brine and age it. Or you can wax it and it's good for a long time. This is how it use to be done in the old days. Plus you would know exactly how old it was this way too. I'm not sure that canning cheese is safe. Just a thought.