The Last Frontier

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Canning Cheese

I’m often asked how to can cheese and butter since we live without electricity, and therefore have no way to keep things like that fresh during the summer. Canning cheese is actually quite simple, and home canned cheese is delicious. (To read my article about how I've been canning butter for years, click here.) I have successfully canned hard cheeses like Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack and Colby, and I have also canned Cream Cheese. I expected the Cream Cheese to separate, but it turned out great! To learn how I've been canning cheese, click the Read More link below.

Canned cheese usually gets a little stronger flavor over time, which we like. I think that canning cream cheese actually improves the flavor. The Mozzarella cheese gets a little darker from the heat, but I used it tonight when I made pizzas for supper. That jar was about three years old, but it tasted as good as fresh.
Most people have access to grocery stores and can keep as much cheese as they want in their freezer. But, since a charter flight into town to go to the grocery store costs us over $1,000 we just can’t do that very often. So, here is how I can cheese. Please note that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture does not recommend canning cheese at home. It is common for families who live off the grid to can cheese anyway. It’s the only way to have cheese year round. Of course we could live without it, but it’s a nice treat. I’ve eaten cheeses right out of the jars that I canned up to five years earlier, and none of us have ever gotten sick from it. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, though. This method has been used for many, many years, probably for generations. But, I’m only providing information on how I can cheese. I’m certainly not suggesting that you try this since the FDA has not approved it.

  1. It takes between 10 and 11 pounds of cheese to fill 12 pint jars.
  2. I sterilize wide mouth pint jars (wide mouth half-pint jars may be used) in a 250 degree oven for at least 20 minutes. Since it's harder to regulate a woodburning cookstove oven to that low a temperature, mine is usually a little hotter. Since I process the cheese in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes this probably isn't necessary, but I think it's safer.
  3. I sterilize new canning lids according to package instructions. I keep them in hot water until I need them.
  4. I cut up the cheese, or if it’s frozen I crumble it and pack it into clean, dry, wide mouth pint jars. Then I place the open jars (without lids) on a rack in my boiling water bath canner, to which I have already added some water. I add enough water to have it about halfway up the jars. Any higher and it bubbles into the jars if it gets to boiling. I do not put the lid on the canner while the cheese is melting. It would cause condensation to drip into the jars of cheese. As the cheese melts, I add more cheese until the cheese fills the jars to within about 1/2 inch of the top.
  5. When all melted, I carefully remove the jars from the canner using a jar lifter (the jars are very hot), wipe the rims, and place the lids and bands on the jars. Then I proceed with the boiling water bath for 40 minutes.
How to do a Boiling Water Bath

I have the Ball Book of Canning and follow the instructions in there for a Boiling Water Bath. Basically, I place the hot, filled jars (with lids and bands) back onto the rack in the canner of hot water, and then add enough hot water to cover the tops of the jars 1 inch. (Actually, it says to have the water boiling when you place the jars in the canner, and then add more boiling water to cover the jar top 1".) Then I place the lid on my boiling water bath canner and heat. When it starts a good boil, I start timing. I boil for 40 minutes. Some resources say the time can be significantly less. The Extension Service says this method should not be used at all. My thought is is somewhere in the middle --- that 40 minutes is probably longer than necessary, but I've done this safely for years and the cheese tastes great, so I'm planning to keep doing it this way.
When the jars have boiled long enough, I remove them from the water with a jar lifter. When canning anything, leave the jars undisturbed until they have completely cooled. Check to make sure all the lids have sealed before labeling and storing.
General Information

We keep ours in the cache year round, so it stays cooler than it would in the house. During the winter it remains frozen. I've read books about the old methods of preserving foods. Many people (my grandmother included) canned vegetables and meats using the "Open Kettle Method", which the FDA of today says is not safe. The authors of the book I read suggested that one of the reasons the food kept well back then was because the jars of food were usually kept in a root cellar or other place outside the house where they were kept cooler. Most people today would keep all their food inside their kitchen where it is quite warm. I've read that the storage temperature of even canned foods greatly affects the quality during storage.

The flavor of canned cheese intensifies a little over time. I have a friend who prefers mild cheese, so she starts with the mildest cheeses she can get before canning. We prefer the stronger flavors. Some canned hard cheese doesn’t melt quite as good as fresh cheese, although most do fine. This seems to vary, even within the same brands and types of cheeses. When you’re in the bush and don’t have fresh cheese, it’s more than acceptable! During the winter we usually keep some cheese stored in a bucket in the cache. But like meat, come springtime with the warmer temperatures, I start canning.

To remove the cheese from the jar, there are basically two ways. Sometimes I place the jar in a pan of water (I loosen the jar lid a bit first), and then place that pan in another pan of 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; other times I have to sort of cut and pull it out in chunks.

Next I'll write about Canning Butter. I'll also try to add some pictures to this post.


Doug and Vicki Smith said...

I just discovered your blog today. I love it! We live in northwest Arkansas in a suburban area but are fully expecting a financial collapse of our economy, so we are getting ready. Our family loves cheese and felt that we would not be able to have it in TEOTWAWKI. I will definitely be trying your directions for canning cheese. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thanks for posting this!


The Last Frontier said...

I totally agree with you on the coming colapse of the economy. I'm glad you found my blog, and thank you very much for posting a comment. If you have any questions, please just ask.

AKmamaOf6 said...

Oohh, I love this idea. We discovered this year that our goats produce either way too much or not enough milk at any given time, so we have been making cheese like crazy. It would be nice to try this and see how it works our for the extra cheese that we get and then have nothing in the early spring. I'm not a fan of frozen cheese for snacking on. So maybe I'll try this out.


Judy from Oregon said...

I canned mozzarella cheese this morning. The cheese didn't seem to melt very well. The bottom of the jars seemed to darken as if the cheese was starting to scorch. I sterilized new jars and transferred the non-scorched cheese into them. I proceeded to process for 40 minutes. There are small air bubbles, in the jars. Will this be a problem?

I also canned cream cheese. It looks great!

The Last Frontier said...

After canning, I've never had any of the cheese to melt as well as it does when fresh, but it still works well, at least for me. Mozzarella is the only one that's ever darkened. Someone told me that was because of processing too long. It could probably be processed for a shorter time, but the darker color has not affected flavor, so I keep doing it for the full time. I don't think the bubbles are a problem. They are from the heat, but in my experience, have not affected the storage life or quality.

kvsweatt said...

Just pulled my first jars of cheese out of the canner! I did only 1/4 pints for this first run since it is just 2 for dinner usually. I'll give them a week or so and see how it goes. Preparing to "live off the grid" and have been canning quite a bit. I really just want to be self-sufficient and not waste anything!

BradyNTenya Hall said...

My sister told me about your blog and I am thrilled to have found you!! I am so grateful that you are willing to pass on knowledge that just isn't around as much any more. And I am very excited to explore the rest of your blog. I do have a question though, what happens if condensation DOES get in the cheese though? Does it ruin it?... Please say no. Lol (I hope you still check this because I saw that you wrote the post almost 5 years ago...)

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