Cheese making, from cow to table

We cheese lovers know a myriad of cheeses, and we all have our favourites. But do we know how cheese is made?

How the cheese is made

1.The basis of quality cheese – cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk

The first step in making cheese is to collect the milk, which can be the well-known cow’s milk, sheep’s milk with a slightly sourish side flavour, or the distinctively aromatic, herbaceous goat’s milk. Cow’s milk is the most commonly used, as more than 50 types of cow’s milk are suitable for cheese making. The milk collected from dairy farmers is heat-treated.

Did you know?
The taste of cow’s milk reflects the changing seasons! While in the spring the milk is more sweet and fresh, in the summer it is less flavoursome. In autumn, the rains bring fresh flavours, while in winter, the hay harvest ensures consistent quality and taste.

2. Curdling the cheese

The next step in the cheese-making process is the curdling process, where the milk is broken down into curd and whey using rennet. The optimal temperature for this is 28-32°C, at which point casein, or milk protein, is precipitated. The curd is mixed with a so-called cheese harp, which makes the curd paste chunky and similar in consistency to the curd cheese. The hardness of the cheese is largely determined by the particle size of the curd: the smaller the curd, the harder the cheese.

3. Pre-pressing, post-pressing, post-heating

After the milk has curdled, the following steps are pre-pressing, post-heating and post-pressing, where the whey leakage, i.n. the moisture remaining in the cheese, is controlled. The pre-pressing process goes from the chopping of the curd to the post-heating, where the curd is first cut into larger cubes and then, after the cut cubes have solidified, the curd is further chopped. The purpose of the post-heating is to solidify the curd lumps and speed up the removal of whey. In the post-pressing stage, the curd clumps are further chopped in order to facilitate whey drainage. In the case of soft cheeses, shaping takes place after the pre-pressing stage, so that post-heating and post-pressing are omitted.

Cheese making source: Wikimedia

4. Typical shapes of cheeses

After the coagulation processes, the cheese is shaped, when the different cheeses take on their typical shape and size. Depending on the type of cheese you are making, different shaping methods are used. When moulding lumpy cheeses, the aim is to prevent the curd clumps from sticking together completely, the easiest way to do this is to mould them in a tub. The curd is settled, the whey is drained off, the curd clumps are separated by hand mixing or stirring, and the curd is then poured into moulds. During moulding, irregular gaps are formed between the curd clumps, unlike in the case of cheeses with fermentation holes and closed dough, where the moulding process must be carried out with the aim of achieving the most perfect compression of the clumps without gaps. Moulding is a two-stage process: pre-compression and moulding.

5. Pressing the cheese

Once the cheeses have been “shaped”, they are pressed to remove the whey from the clumps, form the rind and give the cheese the desired shape. Basically, the type of cheese determines the duration of the pressing, which can last up to 24 hours. Soft cheeses are pressed only by their own weight, but semi-hard and hard cheeses are pressed with additional pressure, which is gradually increased. During the pressing, the cheeses are rotated, initially very frequently and later every 1 to 2 hours, depending on the duration of the pressing.

Did you know?
Pressing pressure is 3-4 times the weight of the cheese for fresh cheeses, 20-25 times for Ementhal, and up to 80 times the weight of the cheese for Cheddar.

6. Salting the cheese

The cheeses are then salted, both to further dehydrate them and to promote rind formation and ripening, as well as preservation and, of course, to ensure the desired salty flavour.

Soaking in brine is a common practice, whereby the cheeses are left to soak in a brine bath for a period of time determined according to their type. After the brine soak, the rind of the blocks is treated with various processes, as if they were just in a “cheese-wellness”. The treatment consists of lubricating the bark, washing it and turning the cheese. The rinds of larger cheeses are salted with dry salt and, after the salt particles have dissolved, the resulting brine is rubbed into the rind, while smaller cheeses are lubricated with brine or acid to promote the proliferation of surface microflora.

7. Maturing the cheese

The last step is the maturation, which can be uncoated or coated. This is the process that gives each cheese its specific taste, aroma and texture. Depending on the type of cheese, the maturing process takes place at 5-25 °C and the relative humidity of the maturing chamber is also of paramount importance.

The length of the maturing period depends on whether the cheese is young, fresh, medium-mature, well-matured or very mature. Maturation can last from a few hours (e.g. mascarpone) to a few days (e.g. mozzarella), months or even years. Coated ripening can be called shrink-wrap ripening. The cheeses are placed in plastic bags or sacks after siccation and sealed after the air has been sucked out. The sealed cheeses are immersed in water at a temperature of 90-95 °C, which causes the film to shrink and adhere tightly to the surface of the cheese. Other common methods are wax maturing and cheese maturing with cheese dye.

Did you know?
Parmigiano Reggiano, also known as Parmesan, is matured for a minimum of 2 years to make it last up to 20 years.

So the next time you eat your favourite cheese, think about how far it has come from the pasture to your table to become as tasty and full of character as we like it.

Find out more about the diverse world of cheese HERE.

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