Author Topic: Dreaming of Making a Vat  (Read 1719 times)

Offline Mike Richards

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Dreaming of Making a Vat
« on: December 19, 2012, 09:55:55 PM »
A colleague of mine pointed out to me that our machine shop in the lab at work has all the equipment (and folks with expertise to help) I would need to fabricate my own cheese vat.  While for now it's just a dream (I'd like to be able to produce consistently good 4 lb cheeses before I start making bigger ones...), I have been trying to think of what a well designed vat would look like and include. 

A cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons.  I have been thinking about a vat that would accommodate 20 gallons.  A vat that's 2 feet x 2 feet and 10 inches tall (would hold about 25 gallons filled to the brim) would work.  I could do deeper and not so much area, but shallow seems better to me for heat transfer and for curd cutting.  I'd like to have it be a water-bath type, so the milk would sit in a pan that sits in another water-filled pan.

I'd like to include a drain because siphoning whey from my 4 gallon turkey roaster seems messy enough.

My questions at this point are:

How would you heat the water?
direct heat:
- electric heaters in the water (but if I'm limited by 110V, heating would be really slow)
- gas burner underneath the vat
indirect heat:
- pull hot water from a separate water heater

What do you think of the 2'x2'x10" shape?

How do you prevent the drain from getting clogged?  I envision milk going to the valve and then coagulating after rennet is added.  Just put a plug in it and pull the plug when it's time to drain?  Put a filter over the drain after you've cut the curd, so the curds don't escape, too?

If one day I were to decide to sell cheese I made in this vat, what concerns of the inspector should I take into consideration before making it?

What else should I be thinking about?

Finally, people who have gone from making smaller batches of cheese to bigger ones, what surprised you/didn't you anticipate?

Long post, thanks for reading...
If only I could make cheese as well as I grow a mustache...


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Offline bbracken677

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2012, 07:15:53 AM »
I have often wondered about how best to drain whey from a vat, and a siphon/hose system seems best to me, since you could, once the curds are settled, hold the end of the hose above the curd and control it's position. Either that or perhaps, the ability to tip the vat....but that opens other issues with control and flow as well as what to drain into?

Offline Tomer1

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2012, 07:54:21 AM »
I would look into a small selfpriming mechanical pump (look at beer or winemaking shops, such as this
http://morewinemaking.com/view_product/17305//Self-Priming_Diaphragm_Pump).

I would go with two equally spaced electric heaters or perhaps one electric heater and an adjutator\mixer to circulate the water and not have warm and cold spots.

Instead of complete SS (both water tub and vat) you can use HDPE or PP for the water tank and SS for the vat.  this can also reduce your overall wight (depends on the shape your build it which will determine the wall thickness of the plastic tube) and cost, as SS is more expenssive.
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Offline Mike Richards

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2012, 10:41:41 AM »
bbracken--I've considered having a slight slant to the bottom of the vat so that it would drain effectively.  My problem with siphoning is that once I get down to the last 1/2 of whey, it's difficult to not take in air (mess up the siphon) or suck up curds .  With a drain, assuming I put a cage filter over it, I wouldn't have that problem.

Tomer--a self-priming pump would eliminate the problem with siphoning out the last 1/2 of whey.  I'll have to look into using plastic for the water tank.  Cheaper and lighter are both good things. :)
If only I could make cheese as well as I grow a mustache...

Offline HOPOIL

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2013, 08:35:52 AM »
Near where I live is Northland Sheep Dairy.  The cheesemaker there uses a commercial soup kettle for her vat.  It is either a 30 or 40 gallon capacity kettle that has a water jacket which she heats from below with a propane burner ring.  The kettle tilts so she can pour off the whey.

Check out this video: 
Northland Sheep Dairy - Cheese Making.mov

(also several others video clips about Small Farms in NY done by Cornell U.)

Her cheeses are great and she took time give me a tour of her farm, cheese room and cave.



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Offline Tiarella

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2013, 07:11:33 PM »
hey Mike,  There's a cool blog post about a guy making cheese in Pakistan and he's rigged himself some cool stuff like his vat and curd stirring thingy.  I think if you go here www.cheesemakinghelp.blogspot.com   That you'll find it.  I think it's the most recent post and should be right there.  pretty cool.  nice pizza oven in kitchen also.

Offline xyztal

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2013, 11:27:03 AM »
I have heard a few commercial cheesemakers make cheese using a used soup kettle.  I am looking for a refurbished one right now in my area...

The vat and stirrer that the Pakistani guy made is VERY COOL!!!!  Time to show the picture to my handy husband... :)

Offline Tiarella

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2013, 12:25:32 PM »
I have heard a few commercial cheesemakers make cheese using a used soup kettle.  I am looking for a refurbished one right now in my area...

The vat and stirrer that the Pakistani guy made is VERY COOL!!!!  Time to show the picture to my handy husband... :)

Or maybe Mike will make 2 and sell one.   :D  I love watching what other people are figuring out.  Do keep us posted on how you make out.  Have you checked on Craig's List for used restaurant stuff?  In my area there are a few guys who have a business selling all this stuff.  Haven't looked for soup kettles but that's just because I had my sink blinders on.

Offline Mike Richards

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2013, 05:28:36 PM »
It is amazing what other people come up with.  Hopefully my current scheme will prove workable.  While I'm confident there are a lot of things I could make work for myself, the bigger challenge now is to get things to work and be able to satisfy an inspector if I one day am able to sell cheese.  My initial intention to just make my own vat from sheet metal will not work--the bending and grinding curved surfaces is too much work.  The new plan is NSF certified sinks.  I'll let you know how that works out...
If only I could make cheese as well as I grow a mustache...

Offline stratocasterdave

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2013, 06:45:59 PM »
Not exactly the size you're looking for but a sanke beer keg is 16 gallons. I used to used them for boiling kettles and mash tuns when I used to brew beer.  They are stainless steel so you need some good equipment to cut the top open. The existing hand holds are great for lifting and carrying. Homebrew supply companies sell false bottoms. You cold but a spigot on the side wall under the false bottom for the drain.


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Offline Sailor Con Queso

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2013, 12:32:36 PM »
While I'm confident there are a lot of things I could make work for myself, the bigger challenge now is to get things to work and be able to satisfy an inspector if I one day am able to sell cheese.

If you have any intentions of satisfying an inspector, you should discuss your ideas with them before doing anything. Developing a relationship early on makes the process go much smoother.
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Offline Mike Richards

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2013, 04:04:43 PM »
Thanks for the advice, Sailor.  Unfortunately I have no idea where (which state) I'll end up doing this--my plan still puts this a good 10+ years out and there's no place I consider home (I'd be interested if people have good suggestions of where to start up an artisan cheese making facility).  When I do figure out where I'm going to be, I'll be sure to start developing a relationship with the inspector right away.

For now, I've spoken with the public health and environment department folks here in Colorado a bit.  The milk program coordinator sent me some guidance that I'm trying to follow.  I figure even if the stuff I come up with now, turns out to be insufficient to satisfy a future inspector, the process of thinking through the guidance/requirements and trying to fit my design within them will be beneficial.
If only I could make cheese as well as I grow a mustache...

Offline mdmoore00

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2013, 02:55:38 PM »
Many home brewers use a RIMS tube to heat their mash and sparge water. The temp can be controlled with at PID controller, or a micro-controller like an Arduino. I am in the process of making a RIMS tube with an Arduino controlling the temp. The water will be circulated in a tub around my 8 gallon vat. I am having a few snags (inexperience) with programing the controller but there are amazing forums for that too.

Offline Tom Turophile / CheeseStud

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2013, 03:19:02 PM »
That's the same idea that I'm going to pursue -- using a double-boiler method, but I'll be using a DIY sous vide machine.  This one uses three heaters so that it should be much quicker and able to heat larger amounts of water.

http://makeprojects.com/Project/Sous+Vide+Immersion+Cooker/471/1#.UTUPlaJkxBl

Oh, and of course I can use it for sous vide:)
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Offline Mike Richards

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Re: Dreaming of Making a Vat
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2013, 03:27:27 PM »
My experiment right now skips the double boiler idea.  I have heating pads, producing 10 watts/sq in, attached directly to the vat.  I've made 1 cheese in it and didn't notice any overheating/scalding.  The heating was quick and and there seemd to be little little heat loss (though more than I want) to the surroundings.  If you're interested, check out my other thread: http://cheeseforum.org/forum/index.php/topic,11057.0.html
If only I could make cheese as well as I grow a mustache...