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Making Cheese – Ingredients

Milk

Milk is obviously the main ingredient and may be from cows, goats or dairy sheep. There are also some who use buffalo milk. In fact, from the regulatory point of view, milk is recognised as being a product that emanates from these four animals.

Dried or frozen milk will produce perfectly good cheese, as well as milk from the milkman or supermarket, although the latter will be more expensive than having your own dairy animal or bulk source of milk.

Starter culture

This is a culture of the appropriate bacteria to ensure that milk is at the optimum level of acidity or ripeness before it is turned into curds and whey. There are several different strains available, depending on the cheese to be produced.The most common ones are Streptococcus lactis and Streptococcus cremoris. Some cultures have a range of different bacteria, making them suitable for all types of soft or pressed cheeses, while others are manufactured for specific cheeses.

Starters tend to be of two types: Thermophilic can stand higher temperatures than normal. They are used in some Italian and Swiss cheeses that require higher than usual temperatures in their production. Mesophilic starters are used at lower temperatures and are suitable for most cheeses.

Starters are available in freeze-dried form, in foil packets, from specialists who supply by mail order. They need to be stored in the freezer until used. They are generally available in one of two forms: DVI (direct vat inoculation) cultures or the traditional ‘incubated before use’; ones.

The former is the most convenient to use because it is merely a matter of opening the foil sachet and sprinkling the starter into the milk in the vat. One sachet of Ezal MA4001 or 4002, for example, will be enough for 50 litres of milk, so while suitable for the commercial dairy, may be too much for home use.

However, it is possible, although not recommended, to use some of the powder, then re-seal the sachet with tape and freeze it until next time. The general guidelines as to its usage are as follows:

  • Soft cheese: Leave to ripen for 30 minutes
  • Hard cheese: Leave for 60 minutes before adding rennet

Traditional or ‘incubated before use’ starters are those that need to be prepared before use. Some of the most common are Ezal MM100 and 101, but there are many others. The procedure for preparing them is as follows:

Heat one litre of fresh milk to 90 O C for ten minutes. Put the saucepan lid on immediately and allow the milk to cool to 20-22° C.

Sprinkle the culture from the sachet into the cooled, sterilised milk and stir well until completely mixed.

Pour the milk into a previously sterilised container such as a food-grade plastic box (an ice cream container is suitable). Place in a warm place at 20-22° C for 24 hours so that the culture is incubated.

It is then ready for use. It should smell clean and sharp and resemble yoghurt. As to how much of this starter to use, amounts obviously vary depending on the scale and type of cheese to be made.

After taking the amount needed for making the cheese, the rest of the culture can be frozen. Home users may find it useful to store the rest of the culture in a self-sealing, ice-cube freezer bag until needed. One of these cubes is approximately equivalent to one tablespoon.

Rennet

In cheesemaking, it is not always convenient to have coagulation at a very acid level; some cheeses require coagulation earlier. This is where rennet comes in.

Rennet is a curdling agent, which acts on the milk protein casein, causing separation of the milk into solid curds and liquid whey. Traditionally it was derived from a calf’s stomach, but now vegetarian rennet is also available, although more of the latter is required.

General rate of usage is 4 drops per 5 litres of milk for soft cheeses and 4 drops per 1 litre for hard cheeses, but this varies depending on the cheese. Some soft cheeses, for example, need a very small amount, with a long setting period, otherwise they go rubbery. Also, the more acidic the milk, and the more starter has been used, the shorter the setting time. Coagulation also takes place more quickly at a warm temperature, such as 30° C.

Salt

Salt enhances the flavour of a cheese, and acts as a preservative. It also helps to drain and firm the cheese. It is sprinkled on to the curds before they are put into the mould. The amounts vary, depending on the cheese, but a general guideline is as follows:

  • Dry salting : 2% per kilo of curds, ie, 20g salt per kilogram of curd.
  • 20% brine solution : 200ml (13 level tablespoons) salt per litre of water.

Herbs

Some cheeses may have chopped herbs such as parsley or sage added for extra taste, and depending on the recipe. Fresh or dried herbs can be used, and are normally added to the curd at salting. Finished soft cheeses are sometimes rolled in herbs or crushed black peppercorns. Some pressed cheeses may be marinated in beer or cider.

Colouring

Annatto, a substance from the seeds of the South American plant Bixa orellana, is sometimes used to colour cheeses, but home cheesemakers generally do not need it. It is available from specialist suppliers.

The amount used depends on the degree of colour required, and usually ranges between 5-15ml per 50 litres of milk. The colour becomes more apparent as the curds form. It is added after the starter but before the rennet.

Wax

Pressed cheeses can be bandaged or coated with wax, and cheese wax is available in different colours from specialist suppliers.

Acidity

At different stages of cheesemaking, it is necessary to know the level of acidity of the milk or curds. For example, when making a Cheshire cheese the acidity or level of lactic acid in the milk should be about 0.20% at renneting. Perfectly good cheeses can be made without as detailed a technique as this, but the ability to test the acidity is important to the commercial producer if a reasonably standard product is to be achieved. A traditional way of testing acidity is to use a Lloyd’s acidmeter. Dairying pH sticks for testing acidity are also available, as well as electronic pH gauges.

With the preparations and equipment to hand, the next stage is to start making the cheese. That’s where the fun begins! Here’s just one example:

Make Your Own Cheddar Cheese >>

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