Tools of the Trade: The Cheese Hoop

Commercial farm cheesemaking was introduced to the Northeast in the 1840s and 1850s. The process of cheesemaking was altered slightly due to more efficient equipment, though many traditional tools continued to be used. As demand increased, farmers began to build separate “cheese houses” to store their more advanced equipment.

Commercial cheesemaking often occurred in a self-heating cheese vat. The vat was a rectangular tub that was “jacketed” for heating and cooling. It had a firebox for heating the water surrounding the tub, while cold water from a well or spring would be circulated through the jacket for cooling. The cheese curds were moved to the sides of the vat, leaving a channel in the center for draining the whey. Afterwards, curd was cut into blocks and stacked. The added pressure from the weight of these stacked towers of curd allowed further draining of the whey. These stacks would be flipped periodically so that whey could drain evenly. Once the blocks of curd became smooth and elastic, the cheesemaker would grind, stir, and salt them. After this the cheese was packed into a cheese hoop.

The tin cheese hoop was introduced in the late 1800s, replacing the earlier wooden hoop. The tin hoop proved useful because it was far easier to clean and sterilize. After the curd was salted, the cheese hoop was placed on a drain board and lined with cheesecloth. The cheesemaker then used a flat-sided curd scoop to fill the cheese hoops for pressing. The cheesemaker would then tighten the hoop to help shape the cheese and drain any additional whey. After an hour had passed, the cheese was removed from the hoop and set on a finishing table. The farmer made sure to trim and remove any wrinkles from the cheesecloth, resulting in a more aesthetic appearance and consistent rind development. The cheese was then ready to be aged and eventually, sold.

wooden and metal cheese hoops

Photo credits: Left image from Professional Cheese Moulds; Right image from Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese

Featured post image from The National Historic Cheesemaking Center

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