Time To Make The Cheddar: Cheese-Making At Evanston’s Urban Stead

Scott and Andrea Robbins have parlayed their love of cheese—and their neighborhood—into making “cheddar for the better” at Urban Stead Cheese, where farmstead-style cheesemaking, waste reduction, and community giveback are everything. Here’s how they churn out their cheddar.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

1. Raw milk from an Ohio Jersey Cow farm is pumped from the bulk tank into a cheese bath, where it’s heated to 145 degrees for pasteurization. After 30 minutes, the temperature is lowered and active cultures are added, including lactobacillus and Urban Stead’s unique culture recipe. The cultures go to work for 15 minutes to an hour, and then coagulants are added to help it firm up. “It’s what gives the milk almost that yogurt-y texture,” Andrea says.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

2. Harps, or curd knives, are run through the mixture to create a cottage cheese-like substance. “That’s the first moment you get curds and whey,” says Scott. The whey is heated slightly, and the curds are stirred to cure the outsides, tightening the exterior proteins. The curds shrink as they’re cooked for 30 to 80 minutes. The whey is poured off the curds and then they’re transferred to the tub.

3. The curds’ proteins are attracted to one another, causing them to bind once piled. “You’ve got a mountain of cheese curds in your cheese bath,” says Andrea. They rest for 20 minutes as they slowly compact into one mass, all the while the pH is dropping, a key part of the process. “As the pH drops, it expels whey, but the proteins get stronger and stronger,” says Scott. “They want to continue to bind,” a process that’s encouraged by the pressure of 300 pounds of curds being stacked on itself.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

4. The remaining mass is cut into slabs, and the next hour of the process—literally called “cheddaring”—continues to remove whey from the cheese. The slabs are rotated and flipped until they flatten out and the texture becomes drier and stronger, resembling a cooked chicken breast. “I can actually pick up one end, and it will still hold its shape,” Scott says.

5. Here, the slabs meet “Millie,” Urban Stead’s curd mill. “Imagine a wood chipper,” says Andrea. “You’re dropping them in and out kicks these curds.” Then they get salted, tossed, and drained once more. The process stops here to make the teeth-squeakers.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

6. What isn’t used as fresh curds gets molded into truckles (cheddar’s version of a cheese wheel). Twenty-five pounds of cheese curds are manually “punched” into each individual mold. “Cheese curds are so strong, to get 25 pounds of them in there, you will see them literally punching them down,” Andrea says. Next, the cheese is mechanically pressed at 50 psi into a smooth truckle. And finally, the wheels are coated with rendered pork lard, “bandaged” with cheesecloth, and aged for a minimum of 180 days, with a target age of 12 to 18 months before the cheddar is fully mature, before cutting.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

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Urban Stead Cheese, 3036 Woodburn Ave., Evanston, (513) 828-0830, urbansteadcheese.com

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