Left my cheese aging after only 10 days, Right Mt. Townsend Seastack
When Annette and I started talking about cheesemaking, it didn’t take much time for us to share the woe that many, if not all, cheesemakers experience: cheese failures. For those who have made cheese before, you probably know what I mean.
That gouda that smelled like fresh creamy goodness out of the mold, but has since developed enough hairy mold colonies that it was actually used as a prop in a chia pet commercial, and you’re afraid to come near it because you think it might bite off your kneecap.
Or that fresh chevre or crottin that dried up in the fridge to resemble a pre-historic hockey puck that survived Mt Vesuvius. It’s serious business and serious disappointment when that happens, even if the chickens are happy about it.
From there we wondered if it was possible for those disappointments to not happen—to develop a make process that resulted in an aged cheese style suitable for anyone using any type of milk that required little expertise, little ongoing effort, and produced wonderful results. Annette wanted something easy that didn’t keep her up until 3 in the morning. We established the following criteria for the cheese characteristics:
• Must be an aged cheese that keeps for at least 3 months without requiring much intervention or care
• Preferably a cheese that’s ready to eat in 45-60 days
• Make process does not tie up the kitchen for more than 2-3 hours with molds, pots, weights, and other associated cheese paraphernalia
• Must be organic and not use synthetic or chemical preservatives
• Preferably a great snacking cheese without being high in fat
• Must have a rind that requires little maintenance
• Must be as universally applicable as possible (translation: kids would eat it)
• Must be possible to make using old-world technology and techniques
• Must be easy for normal people without extensive experience or tools to make in the kitchen
This was a tall order, and I’m not a novice cheesemaker. I’ve reverse engineered many cheeses, have helped dairies fine tune their processes and business operations, have spent more money over the years than I care to admit on textbooks, supplies, and failures, and manage to fit in teaching cheese classes, but I was stumped at first. Whenever I thought of a family of cheeses that might fit, it wouldn’t fit all criteria. A very basic cheese that’s acid-coagulated or acid-coagulated with a little rennet, like boulette d’avesnes, chevre, or labneh doesn’t fit because rind maintenance was not a set-it-and-forget-it affair.
One of the simplest of aged cheeses, a tomme, doesn’t fit because it either takes too long, or requires too much rind maintenance, or an herb/spice rub on the rind that not everyone likes, or similar challenges. A classic brie or camembert doesn’t fit because it takes too long to wait for the acid to develop, and the curd must be ladled at the right time, which ties up the kitchen, and unless done well can develop issues like slip skin, or too rapid paste development. Some French goat cheeses, like crottin, picodon, pelardon, rocamandour, etc seemed like a decent fit, but which one?
As I thought about the possibilities some trends emerged that eliminated most cheese families, such as rind issues, time to maturity, make time, etc. Hard cheeses were out because they require rind maintenance or treatment, and that is too much work. Most soft cheeses were also out because although the rind maintenance can be easy, most did not fit all criteria. Specialty cheeses, like suluguni preserved in brine, or bocconcini in a pickle didn’t exactly fit because pasta filata cheeses are notorious for not stretching correctly, or take too long to make. In short, we had to overcome the following challenges:
• Natural mold control on the cheese rind without resorting to natamycin, PVA cheese paint, vacuum sealing, or waxing
• Flexible make process that accommodates variable times in the steps of the process
• Aged taste in a short period of time
• Some shelf stability for a ~90 day shelf life
There were many ways to overcome the challenges. The table below covers some common approaches for commercial producers and artisan producers.
|Challenge||Commercial Plant Approach*||Artisan Approach*|
|Natural mold control||• Stainless and plastic that’s thoroughly cleaned to minimize contamination• Plastic, wax, or natamycin/sorbate
• Basically, prevent mold, and then kill it if it occurs, or maintain it through labor-intensive work such as brushing and washing
|• Leave in brine (like for feta)• Inoculate cheese with penicillin mold like p candidum or p roqueforti that kills other molds.|
|Flexible make process||• Standardize milk to create flexibility up front• Pasteurize milk and inoculate with specific amount and culture with defined acidification curve||• Use lactic coagulation or semi-lactic whose time to set varies with starter amount and temperature.|
|Aged taste||• Use flavor distillates• Use flavor adjuncts
• Specific mold and culture blend targeted to mature in defined timeframe
|• Use molds and bacteria that produce enzymes leading to flavor development|
|Shelf stability||• Use preservatives• Reformulate recipes to use stabilized mix (meso+thermo cultures)
• Age and store cold
|• Age at a cooler temperature to prolong natural cycle of maturation, and store cold.|
*Not all plants are the same, and some artisan practices are common in commercial practice, and vice versa.
Of course, I knew Annette wanted to be as organic, old world, and natural as possible, making artisan approaches the obvious choice. So taking from the list of possibilities, the following cheese type emerged: one that had a lactic or semi-lactic set, like chevre, one that uses either a bloomy white rind or blue marbling, like blues or French goat cheeses, and one that was aged on the cooler side for slower flavor development. From there, I crafted a make process that would try to address all the goals we originally set, to create the following bloomy rind, chevre-based aged cheese I call “Annette”.
Left curd set wheeping whey, right molds over a mesh dehydrator screen used as plastic drain mesh placed over a jelly roll pan
Annette – The Cheese
This recipe makes approximately 2, 8-ounce wheels that are 4” in diameter and 1.25-1.5” high. It features the following deliberate make choices:
• DVI culture for repeatable results
• Ash coating to help with rind moisture control and prevent slip-skin
• Direct molding with no predraining for ease of cleanup and smoother more delicate paste
• Direct inoculation of mold culture into milk
• Mold combination is Geo candidum and P Candidum for a more traditional taste and additional mushroomy notes. This is not traditionally French because lactic styles often use just Geo, or will use a P. Candidum along with Kluyveromyces yeasts, or Micrococci like S. xylosus or even strains of B linens. Those are all valid options to produce a different type of cheese or to add nuances and layers to Annette.
• Whole milk that is approximately 3.4-3.6% fat. The proper PF ratio is about .9
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1/8 tsp Flora Danica DVI. Commercial rate is 1 DCU per 50 lbs of milk.
- 1 drop (.05 ml) single strength liquid rennet, or 1 drop double strength rennet
- 1/32 tsp P. candidum DVI, such as VS. Commercial rate is 1 unit per 450 lbs milk.
- 1/160 tsp Geo candidum DVI, the mild form of Geo, like Geo 13/15. This is a miniscule pinch, 1/5 the amount of p. candidum. Use very sparingly, it is just for additional flavor nuances. If using liquid Geo, it’s less than a drop per gallon of milk.
- 1/160 tsp (optional) Kl71. If you want to bring out some earthy and hay notes, add Kluyveromyces. Same rate as Geo.
- 1/160 tsp (optional) B linens with milky oligopeptide sensory characteristics, like Chr Hansen’s BC
- 2 tsp Salt, noniodized
- 1-2 TBsp Ash.
Equipment and Supplies
- Pot big enough to contain milk: ~5-6 quarts
- Thermometer, 0-212 F.
- LadleAging chamber (plastic container)
- Small spoons to measure out culture, or gram scale that goes to thousands place.
- Plastic drain mesh, base for the mesh that lets liquid through, and catch basin, like a baking pan, for the liquid.
- White mold paper or crumpled aluminum foil pieces (10x10”) with pin holes poked in them
|Step||Step time||Time from Step 1||pH Target|
• Slip skin. Most likely, surface not dry enough, or humidity too high in curing chamber too early. Humidity should be about 90% to start, and then increase after day 4-5 to ensure a thick bloom of P Candidum. Check on it once a day to air it out, or take out to let it breathe.