The Art of Making Cheese

Cheesemaking is a scientific process carried out by romantic artisans.

Many aspirant cheesemakers talk about a recipe for cheesemaking but keen students, with an academic leaning, will tell you that cheese is not made from a recipe; you have to understand the chemical and bacteriological workings during every step in the cheesemaking process. Be that as it may, it might well help the inquisitive cheese lover to understand the complexity of the cheesemaking process better if it is explained in the following oversimplified way:

1. HEAT TREATMENT, OR NOT, OF THE MILK

1.1 Raw milk, which is not older than 24 hours
1.2 Pasteurisation at 72-74 degrees Celsius for 30 seconds

Artisan cheesemakers prefer raw milk for a more robust flavour but pasteurised milk is the preferred method for mass produced cheese.

2. ADDITIONS TO THE MILK

The addition of one or more, or a combination of the following is used by the cheesemaker to make a specific cheese:

2.1 A natural colourant, annatto, if a deep yellow cheese is required
2.2 Ripening enzymes if the maturing process needs to be speeded up
2.3 Calcium chloride to improve the coagulating process
2.4 Nitrates to inhibit the activities of contaminating bacteria
2.5 Mould spores for blue cheeses
2.6 Bacteria, such as Bacterium linens, for washed rind cheeses
2.7 Propionic bacteria for eye formation
2.8 A starter culture to facilitate the fermentation process

Only the addition of a starter culture is imperative, all others are to assist the cheesemaker in his quest to produce a specific cheese.

3. COAGULATION OF THE MILK

The cheesemaker’s preference and cheese type dictate which one of the following methods is to be used:

3.1 Lactic acid coagulation through the bacteria in the starter culture
3.2 With rennet, an enzyme derived from the fourth stomach of a calf
3.3 Microbial enzymes produced by non-animal micro-organisms

4. COAGULUM AND CURD TREATMENT

The coagulum of most soft cheeses is not cut but simply ladled into moulds after which the whey is drained and the cheese salted. In the case of all other cheeses the coagulum is cut into small pieces of curd which will undergo a combination of the following processes to be shaped into a specific cheese:

4.1 Stirred
4.2 Heated
4.3 Washed
4.4 Texturised
4.5 Milled
4.6 Salted
4.7 Hooped
4.8 Pressed

5. PACKING AND RIPENING

Although packing and ripening are not glamorous processes it must not be underrated. The type of cheese decides which packaging method, ripening period and temperature of between 4 – 15 degrees Centigrade. One or more of the following processes, depending of the type of cheese, will be followed.

5.1 No ripening – packed tubs and consumed as a fresh cheese
5.2 Ripened with mould or bacterial growth on the surface
5.3 Ripened with the surface covered with oil
5.4 Washing of the rind with brine during ripening
5.5 Wrapped in cloth, film or foil
5.6 Waxed
5.7 Vacuum packed in film