The Artisan Cheesemaker.

Acidity Control (3)

The Makings - Milk: Starter: Rennet: Salt.

Milk: Poor milk will make poor cheese; however, good milk will not necessarily make good cheese. It is the diligent cheese-maker who makes good cheese.

Good milk is that which is hygienically drawn from healthy animals.

Every pasture will present a different array of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, acids, bacteria and enzymes.
The more natural the pasture the more diverse the basic ingredients which the cheese-maker has to work with. Consequently, the more complex are the flavour and aroma compounds available to the cheese-maker.

Every animal will add it's own system to the chain and produce milk that is distinct from another's. The possible variations are limitless but will produce a unique consistency throughout a herd or flock.

Sheep's milk will contain between 60% and 100% higher total solids than will cows milk

Goat's milk will generally contain 1 or 2 percent lower total solids than cow's milk.

Therefore, a recipe designed for cows milk cheese will need to be quite drastically re-vamped in order to produce a similar cheese using either sheep or goat's milk.

Starter: There are many possible natural variations of bacterial mixes.

The bacteria naturally occurring in the milk from one area, or farm, are likely to be quite distinct from those found in milk from another site.
If you were to rely purely on these bacteria then you would be rather more restricted in what type of cheese you could produce.

There are many species and sub-species of lactic acid producing bacteria and some will have very distinct optimums for growth.
Some of these will produce other things aside from lactic acid. They will produce other acids, at various rates, gases (useful for Emmental, Gouda, Blues etc.) and, different enzymes - which all serves to create distinct reactions in the cheese-making and cheese ripening.
You also need to consider the temperature range of your cheese-making - for example - the Gruyere, Emmental and Italico types are taken to high temperatures during the making (Gruyere will be taken to around 55c) and this calls for the use of a "thermophilic" (high temperature) starter, whereas the majority of cheese-making uses "mesophilic" (lower temperature) starters, these will be damaged or killed at temperatures above 40c.

Whatever system of starter you may use the even distribution of the organisms throughout the milk is vital to good cheese-making. In other words, don't skimp on the stirring when adding starter.

If you were to propagate the lactic acid producing bacteria naturally occurring in your own milk you would have a starter which was unique.
If you use a frozen or freeze-dried starter then this may be either propagated or, inoculated directly into your milk.
It makes no difference to the quality of your cheese whether you propagate this daily or use it for direct inoculation, provided you stick to one method.
However; a propagated starter will be already active, and we shall see as we progress how this will affect the cheese-making recipe.

If you are not intending to produce your own natural starter then you need to take advice on which commercial mix to use. This will depend on the style of cheese that you hope to make.

If you take pot luck with your neighbour's starter you will be restricted within a range of styles. This doesn't mean you can't make a cheese that is very different to your neighbour's, simply that there will be cheeses that you can't make.

In Britain it is still possible to buy what are known as "frozen pints"; these should be historical mixes which originated on the farm and have been propagated and maintained as pure for many years; however, these mixes were developed only as a basis for hard Cheddar-type cheeses and would be quite unsuitable in many other styles of cheese-making which are now practised by our Artisan cheese-makers. Just as the Dutch Gouda equivalent or the Swiss Gruyere would be unsuitable for Cheddar making.

Whatever type, or method of starter addition you employ you must treat your starters with as much respect as you should the rest of your cheese-making..... I mean absolutely must!. So many silly problems stem from starter ill-treatment.

  I have a French cheese-maker friend who does produce his own, natural starter, as do many European cheese-makers ( though I know of none in the U.K. who do so except on the odd experimental basis).

This calls for the hand milking of a prime animal, which has not been treated with any anti-bacterial teat applications, and allowing the milk to acidify naturally from the effects of the endemic teat bacteria.
After splitting and propagating this milk for the first few days in order to detect any obvious problems, one uses a percentage of it to produce the required acidity in the required time in a specific amount of milk (easy aye?). This can then be used to start the cheese-making, whilst the required amount is propagated in more milk for the next day, and so on. (A common-sense follow-up would be to have the early "starter" tested for possible contaminants).

Another method is to allow the evening milk to acidify naturally and mix it with the fresh morning milk. It requires a cheese-maker of great experience to make cheese in this fashion, and even then will produce extremely variable cheese, requiring intensive care in the maturing room.

Another method is to "start" your milk with a specific amount of live whey from the previous day's make. This method is usually only employed where the cheese-making involves overnight coagulation and fresh whey is directly available to inoculate the fresh new milk, as with much Goat cheese-making.

"Natural" starter production is a practice that is frowned upon nowadays since during propagation the milk is highly susceptible to contamination.
These starters will gradually become less active and knowing when to change them is almost pure art. Natural propagation should only be employed by a very experienced producer.
Animal health, milk and hygiene have to be immaculate and it would be most unsound to even consider producing a starter from bought in milk. Experience is the main factor - and this doesn't come without a price.

If you intend to make cheese commercially on even a small-scale basis then it is unrealistic to consider producing your own starter. Unless you have two or three generations of experience to call upon in your cheese-making ,

Changing from your own, natural, starter to a commercial one would change the characteristics of your cheese and would necessitate changes in the recipe, which would still result in a noticeably different cheese.

It is for this reason that many small-scale makers in Europe have the benefit of derogations under E.C law, from the T.b.c standards for raw milk for cheese-making.
(In Britain our own Ministry of Agriculture decided that the small-scale makers should not be granted these derogations, which, effectively, makes it illegal in Britain to produce many of the traditional Goat-milk cheese styles). ( fu )

The D.V.I. starters (direct vat inoculation) are pretty consistent, and variations are minimal.
If you don't use a whole sachet the rest must be stored in an airtight container and kept dry, cold and dark, or discarded; folded over is not good.

The average Dairy microbiologist will tell you that you should never split sachets but discard any unused culture. This is purely academic hygiene since, for your culture to become contaminated in the dairy, conditions would need to be such that your milk would be already contaminated.
The least intrusion of moisture from the atmosphere will weaken the culture (it will get lumpy) and in this case it should indeed be discarded.
Ultra-violet light will kill bacteria in seconds, so sunlight and fly-zappers are particularly to be avoided.
This applies to rennet as well. Phenolphalien, which you use with your acidometer, is also affected by light. You should store it cool and dark.

Wearing my "purist" hat I would like to see more use of natural starters; however, my realist's hat tells me that this is not a something which I should encourage.
The reasons for this are numerous, and are based neither on legislative nor on hygiene considerations.
Someday I may get around to explaining the reasoning on paper but, as I said, it is extremely complex and involves every aspect of cheese-making from pasture to maturing.

Rennet: We have pretty well covered, unless anyone is considering treating their own vells. The effects of rennet will be discussed later. The amount of rennet you use will affect the final cheese so this will depend on the type, or style of cheese you intend to produce. You must measure the quantity accurately for each make.

Salt. Salt restricts bacterial growth.
For the starter bacterium to obtain lactose it must absorb it through its cell wall. If you could block its pores it would starve to death. This is more or less what salt does.

Different bacteria have different tolerances to salt. Starter bacteria are (in general) restricted by around 5% salt. That is salt percentage in moisture, not in the whole cheese (this would be around 2% in a 40% moisture cheese).

Salting too soon can produce a low acid cheese and leave residual lactose available as an energy source to many undesirable organisms.

In British territorial cheese-making (Cheddar, Cheshire etc.) the salting stage is reached in just a few hours, and salt is deliberately used as a bacterial control.
Fast acid production is employed and the lactose level is further reduced by cooking, stacking, cheddaring, salting, and milling the curd and then subjecting it to high pressure.
Stilton is the exception and still retains ties to its French origins, as did Wensleydale cheese until the early years of this century when the process became heavily mechanized and the recipe was bastardized.

In most cheese-making styles salt is applied much later, usually from 1 to 3 days after moulding, and the salt is applied either on the outside of the fresh cheese or by immersion in a salt (brine) bath.
In such cases the cheese-maker relies on control of the starter bacteria for the job of lactose removal since these types are rarely heavily pressed, and many are not pressed at all.

Camembert cheese is not pressed at.
Stilton is not pressed.
Parmesan is very lightly pressed for about an hour, if at all.
Manchego is lightly pressed by stacking one mold on top of the other and inverting them frequently.
Most Tomme type cheese is pressed simply by hand pressure, or a weight of less than the cheese.
(In all cases we are talking of traditionally made cheese).

Remember, the starter bacteria are still functioning since these cheeses have yet to be salted so, pressure, or the lack of it, is an important part of the acidity control.


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