The day has come! Time to make our very first wheel of cheddar. I can’t tell you how excited I am. The wee farmer is off helping the big farmer up at the farm, so that leaves me, the spaniel, and the cheese-to-be at home. I am about to take you through the step-by-step process (hopefully it works!)
Here’s what it looks like so far:
I’ve added my starter culture, Choozit MA 4001 this time, and we are now at the ripening stage. My culture is a mesophilic culture, which means it works best at warm temperatures. I am letting it get started at 32o C, and then I will be able to add my rennet, vegetarian in this case; from the Moorland’s Cheese Company as mentioned in my previous post. Rennet starts the process where the cheese starts to become more cheese-like. It coagulates (clots) the milk and begins the process of separating the milk into its component solids (curds) and liquid (whey). Get ready Miss Muffet!
The scientific process of cheese making fascinates me. A quick summary of what’s happening to my cheese after I added rennet: The enzymes in the rennet are breaking down specific proteins in the milk which allows the milk to clot, and thus form cheese. My recipe tells me that the goal coagulation time (the point when I am able to cut my curds) is 45 minutes from when I add the rennet. This time depends on rather a lot of different factors, so you can calculate the expected time using pre-determined flocculation factors. This sounds a bit technical, but really, all it means is when the milk starts to form small clumps. In the case of my hard cheese, the factor is 3.5. You can see in the photo below what flocculation looks like. This time it took 11 minutes, so I am expecting my curds to be ready to cut in 38.5 minutes (how specific!)
So now, we wait, and keep the temperature of the milk consistent. I am using a pretty low-tech method here, keeping my milk pot in the kitchen sink full of water. And here’s my partner-in-crime waiting in the other room.
I am using the English Cheddar-Style Cheese recipe from Gianaclis Caldwell’s excellent book Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking. This has loads of information about everything you need to know about cheesemaking, from the scientific to the artisan, and has been extremely helpful for me on my cheesemaking adventure.
Okay, so I have just been checking for the “clean break,” and we are nearly there at 40 minutes in. I’ve had the same small difficulty this time as I did when making my halloumi, in that the very top of the pot isn’t surrounded by water and so stays a bit cooler than the rest. I guess it’s a judgement call to determine when to cut the curds for optimum results. I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes! If you want a nice picture of the clean break, check out David Fankhauser’s blog post here.
I’ve taken photos of the curds before and after the rather long stirring process so that you can see how they change.
The next process after the initial draining of the curds is the “cheddaring” process. This is a method of lightly pressing whey out of the curds by stacking the cheese. It is somewhat time-consuming, as you are turning your curds every 15 minutes. Of course on a larger scale you’d have more cheese and thus more weight required and used. But here we are on my small cheese:
The cheddaring process continues until the curds reach the right acidity for making cheddar. Here I am using the texture of the cheese as a guide. In future, I plan to use a pH meter, but for now we are waiting for the cheese to reach the “cooked chicken” texture.
Now we can mill the curds and salt them prior to pressing. This is done differently on a commercial scale, where a milling device is used to grind up the curds. I am cutting mine by hand. There seems to be a wide variation on what size the milled curds should be. For now I am following my recipe.
Next the cheese is pressed at various weights to allow it to consolidate back into a mass of cheese, and to lose a bit more moisture before being aged. You can see in the cheese below that the rind has not fully closed. The milled curds are still pretty visible. In real-time, another full day of pressing occurred prior to be able to wrap my cheese.
I’ve decided to use the traditional aging method for cheddar and am going to bandage my cheese. This involves wrapping it in butter (or lard) -soaked cheese cloth and then pressing this into the cheese. This provides protection from moulds while allowing air exchange across the cheese. It means the battle to keep high humidity in the ageing space is a real one though. Commercial cheddars are often vacuum -sealed to keep moisture in, and they can also be waxed to achieve the same purpose.
So here it is: the finished wheel, bandaged and ready for ageing in my own “cheese cave.” It will be turned daily to allow for dispersal of moisture within the change and to improve air circulation around the maturing cheese. We will check back in soon!