Cheesemaking 101: Learning the Process

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Cheesemaking 101: Learning the Process

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Once you have all of the ingredients and equipment available to make cheese, you’re ready to explore the cheesemaking process.

This guide will help you to transform your kitchen into a small cheesemaking factory that makes all of the varieties you love.

Before you get started on your first recipe, it is essential to clean and sterilize every surface and all of your equipment. Any unwanted bacteria or contaminants that get into your mix can influence the flavor and texture of the cheese in unintended ways.

The fastest way to clean your kitchen is to use a bleach mixture. Add about two tablespoons of the disinfectant to 4L of clean water. Spray it on each surface, allowing it to sit for about five minutes. Use a clean cloth to wipe it away.

You can sterilize your equipment by using boiling water. Maintain the hot temperatures for at least 15 minutes with all of your tools inside.

Step #1: Heat the Milk

Once your equipment is clean, you can start your first cheesemaking recipe. Begin to heat the milk slowly. The instructions will tell you what temperature it needs to be to have a successful experience.

The best way to reach the correct temperature is to increase the heat of the milk by 1°C per minute. A high-quality dairy thermometer is helpful for this step because you need to be as accurate as possible.

Having milk that is too hot or cold can significantly influence cheese quality.

Several methods of heating are available to try, although some recipes may call for a specific option.

  • Direct Heating. Place your stockpot of milk on your stovetop directly. Keep watch over the fluid to ensure it doesn’t overheat. The best equipment has a thick bottom to help with distribution.
  • Water Bath Heating. Start this process with a sink of warm water. It would be best if you had the outside temperature to be about 5°C warmer than the milk in the pot.
  • Water Jacket Heating. Place a pot inside of another one on your stovetop. Fill the larger one with water while keeping the inner equipment reserved for the milk.

Step #2: Add Your Ingredients

How you add the ingredients to your milk depends on the recipe you follow. Always use the instructions given. The processes outlined here are for general information and instruction purposes only.

You may need to include several additional ingredients to your milk to create the desired cheese.

  • Cheese Coloring. Most recipes call for adding 20-50 drops for every 4L of milk used. It helps to dilute this ingredient in 1/4-cup of cool water to create even dispersion.
  • Calcium Chloride. Any non-stretch cheese may benefit from this ingredient as it produces a thick curd. Add it to goat’s milk or any pasteurized product.
  • Lipase. This ingredient creates a sharper flavor for your cheese. It gets added before the rennet in your recipe.
  • Citric Acid. Cheese options like Ricotta or Mozzarella benefit from this ingredient because it increases the acidity of the milk.
  • Mold Powders. Some blue cheese recipes require this ingredient to produce the correct culture. White molds and red bacteria are common cheesemaking solutions.
  • Cultures. Follow the recommendations of each recipe to determine which culture to use, when to add it, and at what temperature.
  • Rennet. This ingredient works to separate the solids from the liquids in the milk.

Step #3: Cutting the Curds

You must cut the curds after they form to expel the whey. Moist cheese varieties call for larger cuts, while dry ones need smaller slices. Always follow the instructions of your recipe when considering the size.

A clean break is necessary before you start the cutting process. Insert the thermometer tip into the curd at a 90-degree angle and lift. If you see clear separation, you can proceed. If not, wait five minutes before checking again.

You can use a curd knife to create even, vertical cuts through the curd. The goal is to create a “checkerboard” of squares with this work.

Some larger curds might remain after you complete your cuts. These are called “whales.” When you spot one, trim it to the appropriate size.

Step #4: Cooking the Curds

Cheesemakers cook curds to expel more whey. The heat helps the solids to become firmer while reaching the desired acidity levels. They’ll get smaller and more solid as you keep them on the burner. Please remember to follow the recipe’s instructions for how long to stay on this step.

It helps to stir the curds while they cook to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot. A perforated ladle works well for this step.

Stir gently at first, slowly adding more agitation as the curds gain more firmness and texture.

If the recipe says that the curds must get “pitched,” that means they should rest at the bottom of the pot before you drain it.

Step #5: Draining the Curds

Cooked curds are ready to drain once they’ve reached the appropriate texture and firmness.

Soft cheese drains through butter muslin set in a colander within your sink. Ladle the curds into the container for the time recommended by your recipe. Cover them by folding the ends of cloth over each other, ensuring that the filter stays in place.

Hard cheese drains through a similar structure. Instead of placing the colander in a sink, put it over a pot. You can save the leftover whey for making ricotta or soup. It can even be a water substitute for some recipes.

Some curds go directly into a soft cheese mold. Your recipe will indicate if this step is necessary.

Step #6: Finishing Up

Once the curds are ready for processing, you can begin the molding and pressing work. Follow the instructions from your recipe and the equipment used to create a positive result.

When the cheese is of an appropriate shape, it may need a salt brine.

You can prepare the cheese for aging by applying wax or bandages before placing it in a cheese cave or a cool storage area. Different varieties follow unique processes at this stage.

Then you’re ready for it to ripen.

That’s what it takes to make your first cheese recipe! Always refer to your recipe’s instructions if you have any questions.

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