Generally hoops have open tops and bottoms and molds are basket shaped. Hoops are often cyclindrical shaped but can be square or rectangular, they often have followers, (circles, squares, or rectangles) placed on top of the curds upon which weight can be applied to lightly or heavily press the curds into their preferred shape. Normally hoops are placed on some sort of drainage material through which the whey can drain from the bottom of the cheese. Molds are similar to hoops except they have bottoms. Molds are historically used for gravity draining whey from cheese but with the advent of strong modern food grade materials they are now also often commonly used for pressing cheeses in. Because of modern materials, hoops are generally less popular as strong baskets can now be made with bottoms that will not shear out when being used for pressed cheeses. However hoops are still used for cheeses that are turned during gravity whey drainage such as Brie & Camembert.
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The primary use of hoops and molds is to drain whey from the curds. To do this they need the correct shape and number of round holes or slots to drain the right amount of whey in the right amount of time for the type of cheese being made. Additionally, hoops and molds for pressed cheeses are often lined with a light thin cheesecloth or mesh material to aid whey drainage from the top and sides of the cheese to the whey escape routes normally out the bottom of the hoop or mold.
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The material used to make hoops and baskets used in cheese making needs to be food hygenic and if reused, easily cleanable. Historically materials used were woven straw, dried reeds, or woven wood for baskets and strips of wood for hoops. While these materials are still used. most modern manufactured hoops and baskets are made from food grade polypropylene or stainless steel.
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The strength of hoops and baskets used in cheese making is dependant on the forces the curds or cheese will be under while in the hoop or basket. These can range from minimal for very small gravity drained cheeses to low for large gravity drained cheese or lightly pressed cheeses to medium for large wheels with medium pressing weights to high for highly pressed cheeses such as cheddars.
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Examples of hoops:
- Light weight thus poor strength with medium density of commonly round whey drainage holes. These are commonly plastic and used for unpressed or very lightly pressed cheeses while forming their shape such as Bries and Camemberts.
- Medium strength with low density holes. These are commonly plastic and used for medium pressed cheeses while forming their shape such as rennet coagulated washed curd type cheeses Edam and Gouda.
- Strong strength with low density or no holes. These are commonly stainless steel and used for very highly pressed cheeses such as cheddars.
Examples of baskets:
- Very light strength with multiple holes or slots. These are commonly plastic with poor strength for pressing and are commonly used for gravity draining whey from curds when making soft cheeses. Some examples are lactic acid coagulated type cheeses such as Cream Cheese, Chevre, or lactic acid surface white mold ripened type cheeses such as Chaource & Saint-Marcellin, or secondary coagulated (usually recooked) type cheeses such as Ricotta.
- Medium strength with medium number of holes or slots. These are commonly thicker plastic with medium strength for medium pressing. They are commonly used for medium pressed rennet coagulated cheeses. Some examples are rennet coagulated type cheeses Caprino & Manchego, and rennet coagulated washed curd type cheeses such as Edam, Gouda, and Colby.
- High strength with medium number of holes or slots. These are commonly stainless steel with high strength for high pressing. They are commonly used for high pressed rennet coagulated cheddared (normally stacked and milled curds) type cheeses such as Cheddar, Derby, Red Leicester, Wensleydale, Cantal, and Monterey Jack.
Many novice cheese makers start by improvising for their hoops and baskets, some examples are:
- Small fruit baskets from grocery stores such as blueberry or strawberry baskets or small food grade plastic containers such as yogurt containers with holes drilled in.
- Food grade normally white coloured PVC 4″ or 6″ diameter pipe from large hardware store with or without holes drilled in and round follower cut from polyethelene cutting board for pressing cheeses in. While this material is frequently used in house construction for cold and hot water supply, it is not recommended for use in cheese making due to the effects of low pH/highly acid cheese.
- Given the non-ideal examples above, many hobby cheese makers upgrade to purpose built manufactured hoops and molds. These are generally purchased from Cheese Making stores. Our international listing of supply stores is here.