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Tools of the Trade: The Cheese Press


In 19th century New England cheesemaking, women were in charge of cheese production. Early female settlers brought back their knowledge from the Old World and carried on the tradition of making cheese, mostly in small batches for their family. Cheesemaking on the farm was no child’s play; it was a precise, difficult process. The woman was required to lift heavy objects, milk the cows, and pour extremely hot liquids into an array of vessels. When not making cheese, this pioneer woman was also responsible for cooking, cleaning, sewing, ironing, and food preservation.

Subsistence-farm cheesemaking required a fair amount of equipment. Among this was the cheese press, a tool used to shape cheese curds as well as press excess whey from them so that they would end up in a form suitable for storing and curing. After salting, the dairywoman would place the curds into cheesecloth-lined cheese hoops, which she would subsequently rest on two platforms. The platform above the hoops was brought down by an iron thread to press the cheese overnight. The next day, the newly-formed cheeses were removed from the press and left to bathe in warm water. This allowed the cheeses to solidify before being pressed a second time. Afterwards, the young cheeses were packaged, dated, and placed in a farmhouse aging room—or a cool cellar during warmer summer months—so that aged cheeses could be enjoyed when fresh milk was no longer available.

A wooden cheese press
Photo courtesy of Harvest of History

Vanessa Lyons

Vanessa was an online editorial intern at culture. She grew up in New Hampshire enjoying her mother’s glorious cooking, which ignited a zeal for tasty cuisine. A stint at a specialty food and wine store only elevated this desire, specifically for cheese and any of its fermented accompaniments. When not attempting to bolster her cheese knowledge, she escaped to coastal Maine or locked herself in her bedroom to read Game of Thrones.

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