Events:Cheese workshop class notes

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Welcome to the EcoReality Co-op Cheese Workshop

Thanks for taking this workshop. We'll be making two cheeses as examples of two very different techniques. This will give you the basic skills you need for exploring other recipes.

Like wine, cheese started out as a food preservation technique, and later grew into a "boutique" specialty product. But prior to modern refrigeration, it started out primarily as a way to stretch the lifetime of milk from a few weeks to many months or longer, just as wine stretched the useful lifetime of grape juice.

Syllabus

  1. Introductions and workshop overview.
  2. Heating and inoculating milk for raw cheese.
  3. Heating milk for acid-set cheese.
  4. Coagulating rennet-set cheese.
  5. Draining cheese.
  6. Lunch.
  7. Mixing flavours.
  8. Brining
  9. Questions and optional goat tour.

Steps of Cheese Making

The three primary steps in cheesemaking are:

  1. Inoculation
  2. Coagulation
  3. Aging or preserving

Inoculation

The first step is optional, especially with acid-coagulated cheeses.

Inoculation is the process of putting a specific strain or strains of microbe into milk, then holding it at a certain temperature until the microbe multiplies.

Inoculation serves two purposes:

  1. By saturating the milk with desirable microbes, it is less likely that pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes will be able to survive and multiply there, and
  2. To impart distinctive flavours to the cheese.

Typical microbes include:

  • Various lacto-bacteria that have evolved to consume lactase, or milk sugar, and to convert it into lactic acid, which is intolerable to many pathogenic microbes
  • Yeasts and other fungi that provide flavour or texture -- the holes in swiss cheese are from carbon dioxide provided by particular strains of yeast, and the dark veins in bleu and roquefort cheese are from a specific strain of fungi.

Cheeses that are flavoured with herbs, spices, and other flavourings may or may not be inoculated, depending on the desired end flavour. "Farmer cheese" or "queso blanco" are non-inoculated cheeses. These typically have short shelf-life -- a couple weeks or less -- because they are subject to growth of pathogenic microbes.

The following charts come from Glengarry Cheesemaking (Ontario). These are for students who are curious about the topic, but don't let them intimidate you! You can get by with just one culture, and still make a variety of cheese.

Lactic starters Abiasa.gif

Ripening cultures from Abiassa (Canada)

Ripening cultures Abiasa.gif

Mesophilic starters from Danisco (France)

Mesophilic starters Danisco.gif

Thermophilic starters from Danisco (France)

Thermophilic starters Danisco.gif

Ripening cultures from Danisco (France)

Ripening cultures Danisco.gif

Lactic starters Sacco Clerici.gif

Coagulation

Cheese is formed by coagulating milk to separate out most of the milk solids, which are mostly protein and fat. There are two primary ways of coagulating cheese:

  1. by using an acid, or
  2. by using an enzyme or chemical.

In the simplest case, raw milk can be left at a cool room temperature for several days. The naturally occurring beneficial acidophilus bacteria in raw milk multiplies and consumes the milk sugar, or lactose, and changes it into lactic acid, which then curdles the milk. Then the curds are scooped and strained to make a soft "farmer cheese," similar to yoghurt, only much thicker. Such simple cheeses are typically bland and have a limited shelf life.

Most long-lasting cheese is coagulated using rennet, an enzyme or chemical that causes the milk solids to separate. Conventionally, rennet comes from the stomach lining of calves.

Vegetable or microbial rennet can come from particular vegetable substances or from certain fungi, although some of these have been genetically engineered to enhance their milk curdling qualities.

Aging and Preserving

As a way to lengthen the lifetime of milk, cheese generally receives further treatment for preservation. This is typically done by one or both of the following methods, in addition to inoculation, as mentioned earlier.

  1. Treating cheese with salt, or
  2. Coating cheese to protect it from wild fungi and bacteria.

Firm cheeses are often soaked in brine, or their outside "rind" is rubbed with salt. This stops bacterial activity and some fungal activity. Some cheeses soaked in brine can be stored for a year or more when refrigerated.

In addition to brine soaking or rubbing, some cheeses are often coated with some substance to further inhibit infection by undesired bacteria and fungi. This can be:

  1. Food-grade wax, often done with cheddar, gouda, and other firm cheeses,
  2. Food-grade ash, often done with softer cheeses,
  3. Desirable bacteria, such as Brevibacterium linens,
  4. Desirable fungi, which then out-compete undesirable fungi, often done with brie and other very soft cheeses.

Recipes

Vinegar Cheese

This is a simple example of an acid coagulated cheese. It is:

  • Simple to make,
  • Relatively forgiving of ingredient measure, temperature, and timing,
  • Very bland, but therefore suitable to flavouring,
  • Pasteurized, so it does not have enzymes found in raw dairy, and
  • Has a limited shelf life. (So eat it up quickly -- usually not a problem!)

Ingredients

  • 8 litres of milk, pasteurized or raw
  • 125 milliliters of vinegar, distilled or apple cider

Procedure

  1. With frequent stirring, heat the milk to 85°C (185°F). A double-boiler is desirable to avoid burning the milk.
  2. Stir in the vinegar, continue to stir briefly until mixing is complete
  3. Hold at temperature for about 10 minutes, until milk curdles
    1. If milk does not seem to curdle, add more vinegar, a few tablespoons at a time, until the milk curdles
    2. Different vinegars may have different amounts of acetic acid, and may require as much as two or three times as much.
    3. Other factors, such as age of milk, whether it has been pasteurized or homogenized, what animal it came from, etc. may change the amount of vinegar needed.
  4. Drain through a cheesecloth-lined colander
  5. Hang to drain to desired consistency
  6. Work in herbs, spices, or other flavourings by hand or mixer

Feta Cheese

This is a simple example of an "inoculated, rennet coagulated" cheese. It is:

  • Simple to make,
  • Relatively forgiving of ingredient measure, temperature, and timing,
  • Flavoured by innoculation,
  • Preserved with salt, and thus less suitable to other flavouring,
  • Raw, thus preserving natural enzymes, and
  • Has a very long shelf life (multiple months), if kept refrigerated and covered with whey brine.

Ingredients

  • 8 litres of raw milk,
  • Inoculant Choosit MA-4001 or equivalent (Lactococcus lactis, Lactococcus cremoris, and Streptococcus thermophilus),
  • 1/4 vegetable rennet tablet or 1/2 tsp liquid rennet,
  • 400 grams non-iodized salt,
    Iodized salt will kill the inoculant!
  • 4 litres of water

Procedure

  1. Heat the milk in a water bath to about 40°C (108°F)
  2. Sprinkle inoculant on surface, wait 5 minutes, then stir in
  3. Wait one hour
  4. Break up 1/4 rennet tablet into about 1/4 cup of cool water, stir to dissolve, or
    1. add 1/2 tsp liquid rennet to about 1/2 cup cool water
  5. Stir in water with rennet
  6. Wait one hour, or until "clean break"
    "Clean break" is when a knife pressed sideways leaves a distinct and clear cut-out impression in the curd.
  7. Drain though a cheesecloth-lined colander
  8. Hang to drain overnight, or preferably, press with about 10 to 20 kg (20 to 40 pounds) of pressure
  9. Mix 4 litres of warm water with 400 grams of non-iodized salt
  10. Slice drained cheese to no more than 2.5 centimetres (1") thickness
  11. Immerse in brine solution
  12. Cure in brine for three days, turning cheese at least once each day
    More turning is better. It avoids stratifying the brine and keeps mould colonies from growing.
  13. Store refrigerated, covered with the resulting whey brine

Oy, Whey!

Only about 15% of the volume of milk becomes cheese. The rest is called whey. It is nutritious and has a long shelf life if refrigerated. But what do you do with it?

Larger cheese making operations call it "waste," and will often give it away or dump it. The largest, industrial operations use expensive "flash evaporators" to turn it into powder, which is used as a food additive or even as a nutritional supplement. Small farm cheese makers will feed it to pigs or chickens.

But we consume just about all the whey we produce, by substituting it for water in many recipes, including:

  • Bread making,
  • soup stock,
  • cooking beans, rice, and other grains and legumes,
  • morning oatmeal,
  • adding small amounts to fermented food, such as sauerkraut, to speed fermentation.

In addition, boiling the whey and adding vinegar (as with the vinegar cheese recipe, above), results in ricotta. The milk solids in ricotta are very small, fine particles, and will go right through cheesecloth, so strain it through "butter muslin," or even an old bed sheet. You will get more ricotta from rennet-set whey then from vinegar-set whey.

References & Supplies

Cultures for Health (Portland, OR) 
a source for all things cultured, including cheese innoculants and other ingredients
Danlac (Alberta) 
Specializing in cultures, with lots of good information on their website.
Fankhauser's Cheese Page 
A treasure of practical information about cheese making, with lots of recipes.
Glengarry Cheesemaking (Ontario) 
Good Canadian source for cheesecloth, cultures, rennet, presses, and lots of other cheesemaking supplies.
University of Guelph (Ontario) Cheesemaking Site 
An entire university-level cheese making course notes.
New England Cheesemaking Supply (Massachusetts) 
Tablet rennet, cheese kits, and other supplies.

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