Bob's Cheese and Wine Blog

My world of cheese and wine

Posts Tagged ‘Cheesemaking’


Posted by fromagebob on December 26, 2010

Rennet is the generic name for the family of enzymes used to coagulate milk in the cheesemaking process. Rennet is derived from one of three sources: Animal, microbial, or vegetable. All introduce similar action in the milk; the enzyme causes a chemical reaction that separates the milk proteins, separating the milk into curd and whey. Once the initial action of the enzyme is completed, the traces of the enzyme remaining in the milk play a role in the aging process, and the creation of various aromatic and flavor profiles.

Animal rennet is derived from the fourth stomach (abomasa) of an unweaned ruminant. The stomachs are dried and either powdered, or cut into pieces for later use. The enzymes found in animal rennet are chymosin (80%) and pepsin. The young animal uses the enzymes to coagulate the milk in the stomach for better digestion.

There is no clear indication of when cheesemaking started; the earliest evidence dates back about 5,000 years, but it is very likely that the use of milk as a nutritional component extends much farther back in time, to the period when man moved from a hunter-gatherer (nature-provided) form of food generation to an agricultural / pastoral form.  Evidence of herding dates back some 30,000 – 40,000 years, so it is likely that the use of milk in the diet extends back almost as far.

Milk, when left to sour, naturally separates into solid and liquid, as the acid level of the milk increases. Given that the origins of man place us in the Middle East, and that the climate there was quite arid, it is likely that the souring of milk, and the use of the liquid and solid was common. It is not much of a stretch to imagine man figuring out that draining the liquid extended the life of the solid material, and then to using some form of pressure to force more liquid out.

When rennet came to be used as a coagulant is not known. The popular “creation myth” for rennet is that of a nomad galloping across the desert, his milk ration hanging from the saddle in a stomach being used as a container. Although that has a nice, romantic “ah-ha!” feel, it is far more likely that the discovery of rennet’s coagulating properties was a mundane accident. Given that early man would have made use of all of the parts of the animal, cooking stomach (tripe) in milk is the more likely source of the discovery. It is likely that the realization that combining milk and stomach took some time, as it had to be the perfect storm of events: the correct stomach, in milk, at the (reasonably) correct temperature. Speculation would say that the use of rennet as a coagulant probably occurred over several thousand years. I checked on-line for recipes using tripe and milk, and found quite a few. Here’s one from Gordon Ramsey…

In addition to coagulating the milk, rennet also plays an important part in the development of the flavor of the cheese. The biggest difference in the impact of rennet on flavor is found in cheeses made from thistle, or Cardoon, rennet, especially those from Portugal. Thistle-rennet cheeses often have more pronounced vegetal aromas and flavors, and are not as prone to the “piquant” or peppery feel of animal or microbial rennet cheeses.

When looking at the ingredients list of cheese, it is sometimes difficult to discern which rennet was used in the making of the cheese. For vegetarians, this is an important consideration. The obvious labeling shows the cheese as being vegetarian, but if that is not included, you must look at the ingredients list. Clues are “microbial rennet”, “vegetable rennet”, and “thistle rennet.” If the labeling is “animal rennet or “traditional rennet” then animal rennet was used. The problem comes in when the labeling simply says “enzymes” with no reference to the type used. Some manufacturers will include “no animal rennet used” on the label, but for others, you would have to contact the cheesemaker directly.

Cheeses made in Europe use mainly animal rennet, while cheeses made in the US use mainly microbial. Most Portuguese cheeses are made with vegetable rennet.

Sources for information in this article: American Farmstead Cheese, by Paul Kindstedt, Brined Cheeses, by A.Y. Tamime, and The Wisconsin Center for  Dairy Research publication, Dairy Pipeline, October 2000, Volume 12, Number 3.


Posted in Cheese Basics, Cheese Education | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor

Posted by fromagebob on June 20, 2010

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor

The Complete Guide to Building and Running a Small, Farm-Based Cheese Business

by Gianaclis Caldwell

As a confirmed turophile (translation: cheese nut), I am quite voracious in the information I devour regarding cheese (in addition to making bad puns about cheese…). One of my recent reads that was quite interesting was The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, by Gianaclis Caldwell, owner of Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon. The book is a how-to guide for those desirous of (and insane enough) to want to make cheese on a commercial level.

To answer the obvious question: no, I don’t intend to start my own operation; eating and writing about cheese more than sates my desire. In today’s green, locavore, back-to-the-farm focused movement, though, this is a great book for anyone considering that undertaking.

The book has the tremendous advantage of not only being a “how-to”, but also an “I did” given that Caldwell and her husband started up and still run a successful cheese-making operation. You can tell by the content of the book that she’s included not only a substantial amount of textbook-type information, but also the often-omitted hands-on experience that comes more from the failure and recovery that lead to success than just shooting for the success part on its own.

Personally, I’ve run a number of small businesses (some successful, some not), so I can appreciate the detail she provides regarding the scope of the cheese undertaking, starting with “Analyzing your suitability for the career,” which translates into “are you sure you want to do this?” and going through business plans, day-to-day operations, and all of the pitfalls that await, from simple issues like cleanliness up to the complexity of government regulations that can (and often do) derail the most well-planned operation.

The other question is: why would I read this book that is not about cheese, and why give it such a glowing recommendation? Well, as the opening paragraph indicates, I read anything and everything I can about cheese – even if it’s not actually about cheese. Learning about cheese itself – terroir, milk types, cheese types, and so on – is the foundation of understanding the topic. It’s also fascinating to learn about the technique of cheese making – aging, turning, serving, and pairing. But Caldwell’s book takes this to a different level,  helping me to understand the cheesemaker, and the incredible amount of commitment to the craft that anyone who is in this profession must have in order to succeed. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few cheese makers, and visiting a few cheese making operations, but even then, I didn’t quite understand what lies behind the livestock and stables. Now, I do.

So if you’re thinking of going into the cheese making profession, this is a fantastic book for planning and running the operation. If you’re simply a cheese nut like me, this is certainly the book to read to increase both the depth and breadth of your understanding of cheese, and all that surrounds it.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book, it’s widely available on most online stores, and can be ordered through your local bookstore. Here’s a link to

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Cheddar Cheese

Posted by fromagebob on March 21, 2010

Cheddar cheese originated in the English town of Cheddar, and although it is no longer produced there, the name remains. In reality, the word “cheddar” is both a noun and a verb; Cheddar is the type of cheese, while “cheddar” or “cheddaring” refers to the process of making the cheese, which diverges from the traditional methods of cheese production (see Cheese 101: How Cheese is made for information on the basic process).

After the milk is curdled, cheddar curd is cut into cubes of about 3/8 of an inch, and then heated to 100 degrees to further extract whey from the curd. After the whey is drained, the curd is gathered together to the sides of the cheese vat, and allowed to start knitting together (fusing) into mats. Once the mats are formed, they are then cut into slabs about 12″ long and about 6″ high. The slabs are turned over about every 15 minutes to facilitate draining and further matting, until the proper level of moisture and acidity is reached. The slabs are then stacked on top of each other, allowing the weight of the curd to further drain the whey. The curd is restacked (top slab to the bottom, next slab on top, and so on) periodically, until the moisture content and the acidity level of the curd has reached the point desired by the cheesemaker. The cheese blocks are then milled into pieces the size of french fries, and salted. The size of the milled curd depends on the cheesemaker’s desired end product.

After the curd is milled and salted, it is packed into cheesecloth-lined cheese molds. The curd is pressed in the mold to force out more whey, and to compact the curd. The cheese is kept in the press for time varying from several hours to several days, depending on what the cheesemaker is trying to accomplish. Once the pressing is done, the cheese is removed from the mold and set to age. Cheeses can lose about half their weight in the molds. It takes about 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese.

Aging Cheddar

After being removed from the molds, cheddar cheese is sealed in some type of enclosure to prevent mold or bacteria from reaching the cheese. The flavors that develop in cheddar come from the microbials that were in the milk (especially raw milk cheeses) or that were introduced by the cheesemaker. Unlike cheeses that use mold or bacteria as part of their flavor development (like brie or Muenster), cheddar flavor relies on the biological changes that occur in the natural components of the milk. The common methods for sealing the cheese are to vacuum pack the cheese in plastic, coat the cheese in wax, or to wrap it in cloth, then seal the cloth with fat.

Mild cheddar is aged for 2-3 months before being packaged to sell. Premium cheddar is typically aged for 12-24 months, but can age for much longer. Some reserve cheeses are aged for 3-4 years; recently, a Wisconsin cheesemaker reportedly sold a quantity of cheddar that had been aged for 15 years. During the aging process, the cheeses are turned periodically – several times a week in the beginning – to ensure proper flavor development.

Once aged, the cheeses are then ready for market. Large blocks of cheese that are destined for products such as pre-packaged shredded cheese, processed cheese products, or to be incorporated into foods such as Cheez-its, are shipped in large blocks to manufacturers. For consumer use (such as what you purchase from the supermarket), the blocks are cut down to smaller sizes, vacuumed packed, then shipped for distribution.

Clothbound cheddars are often the most flavorful, and are the most representative of the original craft of cheddar-making. Clothbound cheddars are large wheels of cheese that range from 20-80 pounds per wheel. After pressing, clothbound cheeses are wrapped in cheesecloth or linen, then covered with fat – this can be lard, butter, or other fat – which seals the cheese and contributes to the development of the flavor profile. For those who keep a Kosher or Halal diet, it is very important to identify what was used to seal clothbound cheeses. This is sometimes included in the ingredients list, but to be certain, contact the cheese producer directly.

The term “cheddar” is not a protected term. Any cheese that is manufactured using the cheddaring process can be labeled as cheddar cheese. The European Union has recognized one designation for Cheddar Cheese, called West Country Farmhouse Cheese. Cheese carrying this designation must be produced in one of four English counties: Somerset, Dorset, Devon, or Cornwall. Three excellent cheddars from this area are Quickes, Keen’s, and Montgomery’s. Another cheddar-type cheese that is quite good is Lincolnshire Poacher, made in Lincolnshire, UK.

Cheddars are widely available locally, including the four excellent cheeses just noted. Other cheddars to try are Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, and Jasper Hills Clothbound Cheddar, Grafton Village Clothbound cheddar (the previous three from Vermont), and Beechers Flagship Reserve, from Washington State.

Cheddar-type cheeses that are worth trying are Dubliner and Dubliner with Irish Stout, from Kerrygold, and Chevre Noir, a goat cheddar from Canada.

You can find these cheeses at Sunset Corners in South Miami, Whole Foods in Coral Gables and Pinecrest, and at the Cheese Course, with various locations in South Florida.

Here’s a series of videos from the Welburn Cheese museum that give a pretty detailed look at how Cheddar cheese is made:

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