This post is exactly a week late. Because I learnt (albeit 5 minutes ago) that the USA’s National Cheese Day was the 4th of June and that cheese fanatics celebrate it internationally. Regardless, I’d like to inform whoever might care on the intricacies of bacterially cultured coagulated milk!
If you didn’t know, one kilogram of cheese is produced from nearly 10 litres of milk! The milk is pasteurised (like milk that you would normally drink) by heating it to 71.5 °C for 15 seconds.
Don’t panic yet! We add good bacteria. Their job is to feast on lactose and convert it into lactic acid. This stage is also really important because the type of bacteria used (the culture) determines the type of cheese you’re going to get at the end.
Straight after adding bacteria and letting them do their job, an ‘enzyme complex’ called rennet is added. Rennet is a coagulant … pretty much, it clots the milk so that you get a yoghurty mess until it completely separates into solid curds and liquid whey.
This is the point at which the curds are separated from the whey by cutting the lump of “cheese” to allow the whey to come out. If you’re trying to get a hard, dry cheese, it is cut fairly small (think surface area to volume ratios- if you’ve got small pieces, there’s lots of space for the whey to come out). Alternatively, a softer cheese is cut into larger pieces.
Yes cheese is cooked (I never knew that)! Just like above, the dry, hard cheeses are cooked at higher temperatures (up to and above 50 °C) while soft cheeses are (believe-it-or-not) cooked at lower temperatures (below 40 °C).
Now we get to dump the cheese into brine (very salty water) to enhance the flavour and preservative and anti-bacterial nature of the cheese. (That’s right, first we added bacteria and now we try to kill them!)
7- Hooping and Pressing
Hooping is simple, you’re just sticking the cheese into a hoop or mould for up to 16 hours so it can get into the right shape. Pressing is optional. Soft cheese are generally not pressed, while hard cheeses are pressed. This will further squeeze out whey and change the texture.
This can take anywhere between 3 months and 2 years. In general the cheese is stored at a fairly low temperature (although it varies between types) with high humidity as the enzymes in the cheese help bring out different flavours.
And that’s it. The main steps in the cheese-making process as a wonderful Monday morning treat!