Cheese Making

    Cheese Making (8)

    Monday, 02 August 2021 13:51

    Brie Rind Macro Photography

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    I don't know if this is of interest to anyone, but have you ever looked at the white mould on a Brie? Ok, maybe you have. But have you looked at it through a microscope?

     

    I've been making cheese lately, and this is a particularly good coat of Penicillium Candidum (white mould) on a nearly-ready batch of Brie. I apologise, but my extreme macro setup wasn't exactly perfect this afternoon. But here's a 20x macro shot of my mould, looking 35o downward at the top of a wheel...

    Enjoy!
    Ham

    Wednesday, 14 July 2021 04:00

    Brie-cotta cheese.... a misadventure in cheese making.

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    It might seem weird. Ricotta is typically a soft, salty, cheese that's made in a few days. So you might be asking: "Where does the Brie come into it?". Well, this was meant to be a few wheels of Brie. Obviously... things didn't go to plan. <Insert sheepish grin here>. When your curds don't firm up like a Brie, you could just ditch the batch, or try to salvage it as a "fresh" cheese. Like most fresh cheeses, the "firmness" of the cheese is often determined by the amount of time the cheese is allowed to drain. This is the cheese after two days. However, it will start to develop the white mould as it continues to age, and that will soften up a cheese that is already pretty soft.

    Oh how I wish that I could tell you that my cheese making is perfect.... but it's not. Stuff happens. Frankly, I haven't been doing well, as the last three makes have had increasing levels of problems.

     

    First erroneous make - Parmesan make 16 - June 2021 - Wrong Salt:

    Even cheeses that I've made many times before can go wrong. I accidentally rubbed the wrong salt onto my cheese. You see I recycled an old table salt container for a convenient cheese salting experience. So I had two containers, one had cheese salt, and the other, regular iodised salt. Which is not good, since iodine is a pretty effective antiseptic.... and will probably kill, or at least slow down the ageing process. The down side? It's Parmesan.... I won't know what the effect will be until 2022, perhaps even 2023! Good or bad.

     

    Second erroneous make - Parmesan make 17- "Das Über Vat" Test Run - July 2021 - Alarming Over-Salting:

    This time, I was excited to try my newly acquired 58L stainless steel pot for making larger quantities of really hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino. Their yields are notoriously low, so making three times the usual amount of cheese per make, using all four burners on the stove and constant stirring (to avoid burning milk on the bottom) whenever heating was required (curd setting did not need heat to be on, as the heat retention of this much milk meant I only lost 0.4oC with the burners off.  The larger pot actually reduced the actual make time considerably, despite the large milk volume. I have dubbed my large pot as "Das Über Vat", as it sounds better (and often efficient) in pseudo German.

    I made three large wheels of Parmesan (fearing the worst from make one). Ok, so the salt is the right type.... but.... one of my wheels was considerably smaller than my other two. I set my alarm to pull the small wheel out of the brine solution at the right time... but... I forgot to check whether that was set to am/pm. So the time went way over... and the salt drew too much moisture from the curds. Those curds not only cracked, but effectively crumbled apart into a Chunky Parmesan Brine Soup. (The two other wheels are fine, but I now have a "wheel's worth of pre-grated cheese"). So what do you do with barely started, immature, over salted Parmesan curds? Well I decided to drown them in olive oil, marinading them like Fetta, and despite the tiny parts, I'm going to give it a couple of months to age (hopefully the salt will only slow the ageing process, and then I'll throw some onto pasta dishes or pizza).

    Which brings me to my Briecotta....

     

    Third erroneous make - Brie make 11 - July 2021:

    So I attempted to make a smallish batch of Brie, only 9L of milk with 600ml of cream. I calculated the amount of cultures, rennet, and calcium chloride. Heated up my milk and added the cultures as described. At least, I think I did. The milk cultured for a while, no probs. I added the rennet at the appointed time, and the recalcitrant thing wouldn't set. At 40 minutes, it was still milk. At 120 mins is was a very soft curd indeed. I did my calculations again, and 1.3mL of 200 IMCU rennet seemed fine for 10L or so.... and I was confused.

    What should have been a 2 hour, 20 minute make (max) was much, much longer. The milk smelled and tasted ok before the make, the rennet I used without issue only days ago.... but this was not happy.

    So I reached a point where the curds were scoop-able, but they just weren't right. I moulded the curds and left them to drain as normal. Hours passed, and there was very little improvement. Any attempt to flip the curds resulted in a cream cheese like splat.

    My two current theories are:

    1. When I cleaned the pot in the dishwasher, it left some sort of anti-microbial residue that hindered the curdling. When I checked the pH, it was a modest 6.2 after hours, so the acidification wasn't where it needed to be, causing the excessively soft curd. Now, please note that I usually re-boil the pots and drain prior to starting a make... but perhaps it required a better "scrubbing" than I gave it.
    2. My rennet has been out of date for a long time, it's possible (although not likely) that the rennet has finally given up the ghost. More likely, I may have accidentally contaminated the container with the syringe I was using. This would explain the sudden failure. Considering that I am down to the dregs anyway, it's time I got some more.

    So what's happening with the Brie-cotta? Well since I can't unmould the wheels as I intended, I've placed the curd in a cheese cloth and drained it like I would a fresh cheese. After two days, I've been adding salt, and putting it on my toast. However, I don't expect the white mould to develop before I eat much of the cheese....

    As an experiment, I've put some cheese into the "cheese cave" to see if it will grow the white mould, but I don't expect that it'll work very well.

     

    Brie-cotta update. Day 3.

    Well the cheese in my ageing fridge (set to 10 degrees Celsius) hasn't shown any signs of growing mould. Meanwhile, the cheese in the cloth and my proofing fridge (set to 25oC) has shown strong while mould growth. This is odd, as I've been taught that it's too warm for a mouldy rind to develop. Clearly that's not entirely true.

     

    I had no idea that the mould would grow so quickly in the warmer space. The mould has grown into the fabric and attached itself. This is not good, as it has clearly ripped a chunk of the cheese away from the main body as I unwrapped the cheese from the fabric.
    Here is the main body of "Briecotta", note the non-mouldy (furry) bits that have been torn away from the ball of curds. I have since removed as much cheese from the fabric, washed the cloth out (that took a while) and am now re-growing the torn areas. Interestingly, some of the curds that were stuck to the fabric were already tasting a lot like a young Brie (I guess that is to be expected) but other parts were really pungent. At this point, I've been eating the undeveloped curds as a fresh cheese (always better with salt) and we'll see how this experiment goes.

    What can I draw from these lessons?

    Well, a lot of it comes down to simple mistakes, that... in fairness have happened due to a lack of attention to small, but important details. Using identical containers for non-iodised and iodised salt, not checking the alarm, and imperfect cleaning strategies/out of date cultures can have a huge impact, even if they're seemingly small issues by themselves.

    Now, I am starting to conclude that there are definitely times that you should not be making cheese. If you're busy, or stressed, or tired, or just can't give the cheese the attention it needs, then perhaps postponing a day is a significant advantage. That said, if you suddenly have a huge delivery of milk descend on you, and you can't store the milk.. then you don't really have much choice. In that situation, choosing an easier, less involved recipe like Quark to use up some cheese, then going to the other extreme of hard cheeses, that use a lot of milk and relatively simple affinage process (at least compared to Brie/Camembert) and wide use window (depending on how long you age it for)

    Steps taken to avoid these issues:

    I've since changed the container for my cheese salts to avoid confusion. I'm ordering new cultures for the rennet issues. I've switched to using a countdown timer for brining instead of alarms, and I've given my pots another hand wash with less persistent detergents. I'll rinse them again, then boil just prior to the next make.

     

    Anyway, it's always the little things that get me. I hope this help fellow cheese makers to learn from my mistakes!

    Stay safe, and have fun!

    Ham.

     

     

     

    Friday, 09 April 2021 14:31

    A Cheesey Easter. Brie Pancakes & other Faux Pas

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    About four weeks ago, a friend of mine dropped by to learn how to make cheese. So for that lesson, I chose to make Brie from 18L of store bought milk and some cream.

    It sounds simple enough, but I learned that in cheese making (aside from sanitation), there really aren't any real rules that can't be bent, perhaps, even broken. Let me explain.

    So Brie is famous for the white bloomy rind that grows on the surface. This is usually a combination of Penicillium Candidum (a mould) and Geotrichium Candidum (a yeast). It's this surface that makes aging Brie difficult, not the make itself. The make is actually at the easier end of the scale. It's just the conditions have to be right for it to grow.

    Most home cheese makers put their "Candidums" (Penicillium/Geotrichium) in the milk during the make and this is called the "inoculation" method. However, it is also possible to add it after the make using the "spray on" method. This method is popular in industrial cheese making because you can get away with using less culture for similar results. Running from the Brie recipe supplied from my course, I started up the make as I do every time, and got to the point of adding the cultures. Only to discover that I had used up my Penicillium Candidum. <cue panic stations here>.

    So I did the only thing I could do, and that was adjust my Geotrichium Candidum to replace the Penicillium Candidum culture and carry on about my business. Continuing on unabated until the wheels were drying for 24 hours, and my friend had well and truly gone home for the day.

    However, in the division of attention between teaching and actually doing, I had scooped curds into a variety of cheese moulds/baskets, then ran out of curds. Some wheels drained more whey than I anticipated, so I had a 250mm wide, 10mm high wheel of Brie that I called "the pancake". The two small 10cm wheels and one 160mm wheel were fine, but the 250mm ones were a little short... so I shamelessly stacked thin ones onto others to build up the height. 

    During that relatively quiet time of drying wheels, I was flipping through the instructions and the supplementary materials. In it, the recipe clearly stated:

    "Keep the Geotrichium Candidum to an absolute minimum...."

    It was at this point, I actually stated "Oh poop". I said it again, when I found an unused container of the Penicillium Candidum, right after dry rubbing salt onto my cheeses.

    Bring on the spray solution!

    So using one of my other cheese making books, I made a solution of distilled water and Penicillium Candidum culture, put it in a "spritzing" bottle, and started spraying it onto the wheels so that they were damp, but not wet.

    Keeping the wheels on mats inside tupperware containers, inside the wine fridge at 10 degrees actually worked quite well, although the mould development was a little slow at 14 days, flipping once every day.

    Normally, this is where people would wrap the wheels in "cheese paper" and then put the wheels in a regular fridge for the second stage of ageing. However, I didn't have paper that big, so I just continued to flip them in the container, once a day, and kept the wheels at 10 or so degrees.

    This is a dangerous thing... for thicker wheels. However, the "pancake" was ready in just two weeks.... and it was amazing.

    Larger wheels take longer to age, and Brie ages from the outside of the wheel and slowly softens the internal paste into a ripened "goo" called the "Cream line". However, you can't make a wheel too big since there's a point where the cheese starts to disintegrate on the outside before the inside is done. For this reason, you'll find most Brie and Camembert styled cheeses in wheels only 1-1.5 inches high.

    As the larger wheels became ripe, the mid sized wheels were ready in 4 weeks or so, and the largest was ready in 5. Unfortunately, I was all "Bried out" by that time, and none of my friends wanted any more either.

    Here's my "Brie Pacman". This wheel was finished earlier than the other big ones (but after the pancake) due to the thin 2cm height. This wheel was probably about 20cm wide. This cheese is fully ripened, as the cream line has replaced any paste that was in the middle. This cheese was almost a Brie soup, delicious and ran everywhere.

     So this is probably going to be our new "Easter Tradition" (at least, that's what I want). If Easter is about new beginnings and a new lease on on life, surely cheese is a better metaphor than chocolate?

    Good luck with your Easter and cheese making endeavours, whether you are a person of faith or not.

    Ham.

    Sunday, 24 May 2020 11:01

    Making some Quark

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    A sous vide machine is something that may seem excessive or complicated at first but well worth the investment. I honestly think is one of the greatest things to have for a reasonably serious cheese maker. If you make cheese, you don't want to over shoot, or drop below desired temperatures, frantically adjust, then forget an important step, all because you're stuck trying to control the temperature of your milk. Imagine how much more time consuming it gets when you make two or even three types of cheeses all at once. With sous vide devices in place, you simply set it up, turn it on, and get on with the actual cheese making.

    Star Wars and bad puns...

    I don't know if anyone particularly cares about "Star Wars Day" (which for people who haven't a clue, is "May 4th"). It comes from the Star Wars quote:

    "May the force be with you" (just exchange the word "force" for "fourth")


    However, being a bit of a nerd myself, with that pesky I.T./Scientific Instruments/Drone company career, years upon years working in academia, and living on campus for over a decade (as a staff member) I really didn't have much chance in nerdiness stakes.

    So how do I celebrate a fictional holiday for a fictional story? No, not buy buying a light sabre. Although, I decided I'd buy something that's shiny, somewhat cylindrical, and capable of burning flesh, and that is....

    By literally buying my fourth, sous vide machine on May 4th. To increase my functional cheese making capacity (factually) by a third over my previous capability.

    Sounds almost like a tongue twister, doesn't it?

    Sous Vide Explained:

    It has come to my attention that I really haven't given much explanation about what a sous vide is. Sous vide is a french term (Pronounced "Sue-veed") that translates as "under vacuum". It's a rather unusual way to cook things, that is becoming very popular of late.

    The general gist is this. You stick a piece of raw meat (maybe with some herbs, spices and/or butter) in a vacuum sealed bag. Then put that bag in a bath of water and cook it in extra low temperatures (generally somewhere between 51-90C (or 125-199F) for a very long time.

    If barbecuing "low and slow" (low temperatures for a long time) produces a more tender meat at 110-120 degrees Celsius, (compared to higher temperatures), then sous vide takes this to a whole new level. In some ways, it goes beyond slow cooking. So if you want your meat to disintegrate into flavoursome tenderness on contact with your tongue, this is probably the way to go.

    While the meat is cooked to delicate perfection, the down side of this is that you don't get that browned "bark" in your meat, so sous vide steaks are often seared with a hot pan for a few seconds after cooking to get that delicious, almost charred effect. Also, you won't get any "smokey" flavour.. because nothing really got that hot in the first place.

    If you're wondering... "Aren't we in the cheese making section?"

    Well I use my sous vide machines somewhat differently, in that I use them to control the temperature when making cheeses.

    When I first learned to make cheese, the instructor assumed that everyone would have a very basic setup. Namely, a boiling pot full of water. If you are managing your temperature manually, when the bath water cooled down, you'd scoop water from the boiling pot into the bath to increase the temperature, and then scoop some of the cold water and put it back into the pot to minimise waste/stop overflowing.

    It works, but it requires constant monitoring. You'll literally spend all day, scooping water from the pot, to the bath, and back again. If you've got several cheeses to make, you really can't manage several vat temperatures all at once and still make that many cheeses without help.

    By using a sous vide machine, I can just set the temperature I want for each bath, and let it do the rest. Once you have one machine, you'll never want to go back to the manual control method.

    Sometimes I like to make a few different cheeses (each needing a different temperature) I'll run several vats with their corresponding sous vide machine controlling that temperature. Other times, I want to make a lot of the same cheese, then I need to run multiple vats with multiple machines at the same temperature to ferment an appropriate amount of milk.

    Other times, if the stove is busy, I'll stick 2 or even 3 sous vide machines into the one vat to rapidly increase the temperature of my water bath. This can be very handy when making cheeses that involve cooking the curds. You need the milk temperature to rise by roughly 1-2 degrees Celsius per minute, and that gets hard for larger vats of milk. However, the stove and a very large saucepan/stock pot is still going to be a better method for rapid heating.

    Anyway, when this fourth one arrived at my door step, I was a little surprised when I opened it. The plug was clearly not designed for Australia. This particular one was a 220V model, but came with a European plug. You can get an adaptor, but when I have so many fluids around, I prefer to use an appropriate power plug, so my plan for May 6th or for another Star Wars pun, "Revenge of the Sixth" I got the plug converted "to the dark side" (white adaptor to black Australian plug).

    Now it works really well!

    So if I use four, 12L vats to culture my cheeses, heated by four sous vide machines. I can handle up to 48L of milk in any given session. Depending on the type of cheese(s) made, I can get a yield of 3.5-5Kg of a low-yield cheese like Parmesan, or up to 7Kg of Brie, perhaps somewhere around 10-12Kg of "fresh" cheeses like cottage or cream cheese.

    I have no idea what I would do with 10+Kg of cottage cheese... I'm more likely to make Parmesan, Halloumi, Cheddar and a small amount of Quark all at once. Simply because they stagger the finished time well, and can be used in a variety of differing meals.

    Anyway, I hope you are safe and well out there! I think I need to plan my next cheese making session!

    Ham.

    Saturday, 02 May 2020 01:11

    Dimensional Dramas of Cheese Making.

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    It might be something that only hits the hobbyist cheese maker at the last possible minute. You spend hours, even days making one type of cheese, so you want to get the best 'bang for buck' ratio you can. Looking at all those huge 200Kg wheels of cheese waiting patiently to be cut up at the local delicatessen/cheese monger/fancy food establishment, a cheese making hobbyist might just think a seemingly simple little thought "I could go bigger too", and dream of somewhat more impressive 2Kg, or 5Kg, or even larger wheels.

    What a journey that innocuous thought has created....

    Dear reader, in this self-isolating time, I may have gone a little more nuts than is probably warranted. In the past two months, I've made:

    • 20L of milk into two small Parmesan wheels.
    • Another 20L of milk into Pepato, (one medium wheel)
    • 10L of milk into Swiss. (medium)
    • Another 20L into Parmesan. (one bigger wheel)
    • 20L into Jarlsberg (Two medium wheels)
    • 22L into Gruyere infused with black garlic. (an even bigger single wheel, weighing in at just under 2.9Kg).

    Looking at the general trends, I'm definitely getting bigger, and there are definite advantages:

    1. Making bigger batches means I can make twice, three times, even four times the amount of cheese with only modest amounts of extra time and effort (well... there's extra cleaning.. and a corresponding amount of time will be needed when brining, but not much else).
    2. Making bigger wheels are more space-efficient in the wine fridge.
    3. Bigger wheels may take longer to age or allow the cheeses to be aged longer, allowing greater flexibility on the consumption date.
    4. Surface problems like unwanted moulds are far less likely to reach the bulk of the cheese internally.
    5. It's generally harder to excessively dry a large wheel. This prevents cracking/crumbling... unless you put it in a dry environment for particularly long periods of time. Still not recommended though.

    However, there are down sides, which I've mentioned before in other articles. But the one that brings this particular blog post to life is the dimension of my last cheese. The 2.9Kg Gruyere.

    While I'd love to tell you that I love waxing my cheeses. The truth is that waxing only suits the harder cheeses. While Gruyere fits into this category, I used a particular recipe which incorporates "Propionic Shermanii" culture, the culture which creates the bubbles or "eyes" in Swiss style cheeses.

    Cheeses made with Propionic Shermanii will swell up during the first phase of the aging process. As such, wax is likely to crack and not work very well as a moisture and microbe barrier. To make matters a little more interesting, I've infused black garlic throughout the cheese, and during the pressing phase, this has breached the surface all over the place. In short, the rind has many breaches. To stop unwanted mould from growing, I need to basically spray the entire surface of the cheese with vinegar, remove as much air as possible from the surface, and seal it up while providing the cheese enough room to expand.

    It is for this reason, despite my general abhorrence toward the excessive use of plastic, that I break down and use vacuum sealed plastic for this sort of case. Ok, so that's the solution, why bring this up as a separate post?

    My larger wheel is too wide to fit in the standard 28cm wide roll of plastic that my Food Saver can handle. Interestingly, it's extremely difficult to get a wider vacuum seal bags/rolls. When the bag is wider, the length is often significantly shorter. So when you need something that's 35cm x 40cm... or more on each dimension, you're not going to find that outside of industrial machines. Even if you could, many of the commercial sized bags will only work on commercial machines. You see most home-sized vacuum sealers need a textured bag, and the commercial machines use smooth bags, and use other means (usually higher temperatures) to melt the bag closed.

    Ham's cheap-ish attempt at an improvised solution.

    At present the cheese is in a large, dry-curing bag that I'd normally use in my more meat-oriented endeavours, but I used a sous vide trick of submerging most of the bag (except a small opening in the zip lock seal) to use the water pressure to squeeze a decent amount of the air out. This was then sealed it up. However, I don't think this is going to work long term.

    The longer term, but still improvised solution:

    Now I could just buy an industrial sized machine, and buy the bags to fit. Obviously that would work, but that is a very expensive way to go. Some of these vacuum sealers cost thousands. I don't make enough large cheeses to justify that kind of expense, so my solution:

     

    Buy the home-sealer-friendly, but larger 45cm x 6M roll, and use my existing machine.

     

    Before you ask: "How will that fit in a 28cm wide Food Saver?" 

    Ham's plan to use a wide roll in a standard vacuum sealer

    By sticking 28cm or so in at a time. Using the vertical (grey) image, depicting a wide section of plastic roll. The procedure is as follows:

    By using the seal-only function (not vacuum then seal function) on the vacuum sealer:

    1. Sealing the corners somewhat diagonally. You may need to cut off the corners first (indicated in blue), so the machine will allow it.
    2. If the corner seals don't cross over in the middle, (like the top edge in the diagram) trimming the corners off (if not done already) and sealing the middle (like the bottom edge of the diagram) may be done.
    3. Put the large piece of meat/cheese/whatever inside the bag using the unsealed end now! (It won't go in afterwards).
    4. Seal the bottom corners, cutting off if needed. Important, leave a gap between the sealed corners for the final sealing (marked red on the image)
    5. Again, trim the bottom corners off (still marked blue) to allow the sealer to finish with a "suck and seal" as normal.

    Using the "vacuum then seal" function:

    1. Stick the (now skinny enough) unsealed end (still marked red) into the food saver, allow it to suck the air out, and then melt the final seal in place. All done!

    It's obviously a more involved process, but I think it'll work. I'm waiting for the delivery of the new rolls, and I'll update this when I give it a go.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Post delivery update:

    Well it actually worked! However, I must warn you that this is a very fiddly way to do this. It took me nearly 20 minutes to convince the machine to do this. Oh, and you know how I put that step 3 in bold... Yeah I missed that the first time. The good news was that I remembered it as the very next seal was still hot, so I just peeled it back open.

    Here I'm about to do the final seal. (Open end is on the right) So this bag is upside-down, relative to my drawn diagram above. The bag looks like a really wonky heptagon in real life. At the left, you can see the cross over of seals that would be at the top of the diagram above. At the top-right, you can see the double seal where I undid and redid the seal there.
    Here's the final, vacuumed sealed roll. In this image, the last seal is at the left. I went around resealing with a second line of sealing, to be safe. It took a very long time to suck all the air out, perhaps leaving the opening a little wider would have facilitated that.

    So now you know how to seal a 450mm wide roll in a 280mm wide sealer. Sounds like a square peg really does fit in a round hole, doesn't it?

    In case you're wondering where I got the wider rolls from, (because I couldn't find it on eBay, or the usual haunts). I ordered them from from a Aussie supplier over in Western Australia called La-va. They sell higher-end vacuum sealers and accessories. You can find the link to the rolls here:

    https://la-va.com.au/product-page/e-vac-structured-standard-vacuum-seal-rolls/

    Note: Just remember that most household vacuum sealers need the textured/structured kind of bags. If they are just clear plastic, they are for commercial sealers, and won't work in your machine.

    Stay safe and have fun!

    Ham.

     

    Sunday, 12 April 2020 02:18

    Cheese making in self isolation

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    Isn't it fun when you can't go to work? Some people may disagree. Unfortunately, my workplace has entirely shut down "Until further notice" because our clients have all shut down. In short, there's literally no one to support, and so I put my efforts into staying positive and creating delicious cheese.

    I recently found a dairy that will:

    1. Offer me milk at discounted prices.
    2. Allows me to get the large quantities of milk without running into numerous item limits at the local supermarkets.
    3. Deliver to my door.
    4. Offers a surprisingly high number of people who want to talk to me in these self-isolating times. I think I've spoken to everyone but the guy who actually milked the cows, had deep philosophical conversations with their sales rep, and actually kept more in contact with them than many of my friends and family. But that's a whole other story that I won't bore you with here.

    This has been an amazing relief to my cheese making endeavours.

    Shameless product placement
    Am I heating up the milk or encouraging shameless product placement. (Why choose, I can multitask too!) I suppose I was offered a free sample, so technically this is sponsored. But they don't know I run a web site.
    In this case, these are two 10L batches, both making a somewhat experimental variety of Parmesan.
    Cooking the Parmesan curds
    Cooking the Parmesan curds. This is best done using direct heat because this would take all day using the water bath method.. and time is critical here.

    Moving onto the moulding, pressing, brining and drying, you eventually end up with... <cue drum roll here>

    A wheel of Parmesan, roughly 875g from 10L
    A wheel of Parmesan, roughly 875g from 10L of milk (5L full cream, and 5L skim)

    I still had some milk left over, so I decided to make something close to Parmesan, but with a couple of twists:

    1. It used nothing but full cream milk... and
    2. It had a bit of "kick" into it.

    So the answer is Pepato. Pepato is a Sicilian cheese... sometimes made with sheep milk. However, it's effectively a Romano cheese (full cream milk Parmesan) with whole peppercorns added. Remember: when adding things to cheese, you need to sterilize them first. So I literally boiled some peppercorns in a saucepan for 30 mins, then used the resulting sterile peppercorns, and boiled.. err.. peppery reduction to the curds prior to the moulding stage.

    This is the result:

    Pepato!
    Pepato!

    Pepato is close in recipe to Romano and Parmesan in some ways, however, it has a higher moisture content, so it won't age as long as Parmesan. Valerie Pearson's book "Home Cheese Making in Australia" suggests aging it for 2-10 months at 10-12oC in the "cheese cave". I've actually already crossed the 1 month point... so I'm thinking I'll let it age "as is" for another month, then cut it up and vacuum seal the pieces so I can age varying pieces to different degrees, and see which I prefer.

    I hope you're all safe and well. Try to have some fun too. Take care!

    Ham.

    Wednesday, 09 January 2019 04:16

    Cheese Cave Upgrade

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    It finally arrived. Now I may be an odd guy when one gets excited about a fridge, but when my new cheese cave (or wine fridge, if you prefer) arrived, I was practically salivating at the options for all the cheeses that I could make.

    My old cheese cave... wasn't even mine really. :-) I had re-purposed Wren's old fridge with a temperature and humidity controller to run at cheese maturing conditions. You see, most house fridges operate at 3-4 degrees Celsius, with very low humidity. The ideal conditions for cheese maturation is 10-18 degrees (depending on the cheese) at high (75-85%) humidity. So there's a bit of difference there. A difference which can ruin cheeses... especially over longer aging periods.

    Merits of the old fridge with controllers:

    Low cost of setup!

    Now, not everyone can splurge serious cash on a dedicated wine fridge, and many people already have an old fridge, or can buy a cheap second hand fridge. With the fridge easily covered, that leaves the controllers. The controllers aren't necessarily cheap, and if you can get a cheap wine fridge, then that may be a serious option to ponder. Originally, I bought my controllers in a twin pack, (temperature, and humidity) set. Which I bought on eBay for $200 Australian. Also, if you go down this route, I strongly recommend that you buy yourself some separate humidity/temperature monitoring equipment (thermometers and hygrometers, perhaps combination devices will work too), just so you have a second opinion, as the controllers do drift in their accuracy,  and need to be calibrated from time to time.

    Then all you need is a humidifier for the humidity controller to err... control. They can be bought/made relatively cheaply. In fact, I actually recommend you make your own. See my humidity control section under the "Downsides of the fridge with controllers" for issues and how to avoid them.

    Versatility

    Having a normal fridge, with additional controllers means that if you only make cheese intermittently, you can easily switch it back to a normal fridge for food or drinks when not used for cheese making.

    Freezer compartment still works!

    If you have a fridge with a separate freezer compartment, it's easy to focus on the fridge.

    A temperature controller simply runs the fridge less often to maintain a higher temperature. To do this, you plug the controller into the wall, and the fridge plugs into the controller. The temperature controller is a lot like a timer control for a lamp, only it's temperature based. However, while the fridge may be operating at 10-12 degrees most of the time, the freezer is still likely to be cold enough to freeze things. Sure, it may not be -16 degrees, and be only -12 (as in my case) but that's still cold enough for ice blocks, most ice creams, and many frozen foods. (Obviously check which foods are suitable, for your safety and piece of mind).

    Control of both humidity and temperature.

    It might sound weird, that a more expensive option has less control, wine fridges come with in-built temperature control, but little in the way of humidity control. That said, the humidity is much closer to what you need in a wine fridge than any conventional model. If you use a fridge with two controllers instead, and some sort of humidifier, you can set the ranges of both without any problems.

    Downsides of the fridge with controllers:

    Some areas won't be useful in certain fridges.

    If you are using a fridge with the standard crisper (fruit/vegetable drawer) and freezer built-in, then these areas aren't very useful for your cheese making. A crisper modifies the humidity in that area, and the freezer is obviously not useful for cheese maturation.. and I'm not convinced that a slightly warmer freezer is ideal for storing your cheese cultures. So you need another freezer space for that. However, the normal fridge area can be perfectly suitable for cheese maturation, and this has worked quite well for me, but I was frankly running out of room. Hence my upgrade.

    Let's talk about humidity control.... you need a humidifier, and they aren't all created equal.

    The humidity controller, does NOT, let's be clear... NOT, have the ability to produce humidity itself. So while the fridge has an inbuilt cooling mechanism (obviously), humidity control can't take advantage of any such in-built feature of your everyday fridge. So you need both a humidity controller, and a humidifier. Now many people are aware of off-the-shelf humidifiers, but be warned, many are designed to be used in a room, not a fridge! I found my first one (an off-the-shelf model) started to rust inside the adjustment knob within two weeks of setting it up. Not good.

    Important note: If you are using an ultrasonic diffuser/humidifier. Moving the unit while it is operational can destroy the ultrasonic components. So do not put it in the door of your fridge... unless you want to unplug your humidifier every time you want to open the fridge.

    The rust-proof humidifier.

    A humidifier just vaporizes water. Nothing more. Sure, you can get fancy, and expensive models with brand names, but you can build a good one with few parts using an ultrasonic pond fogger, (eBay is your friend here) and a deep tupperware container, and maybe a computer fan for dispersal.... in the end I just ditched the fan and ran the ultrasonic fogger, submersed in a tupperware container of water. But I wouldn't always recommend that.

    Ugly wiring, and electronics everywhere.

    Ok, so your temperature controller may be between the fridge and the wall socket, but you have a temperature probe running into the fridge. Couple this with the humidity probe from the humidity controller, the power cord(s) for your humidifier, another couple of probes for temp/humidity to keep the controllers honest, and all of a sudden you have 4-6 cables running into your fridge, and your temperature controllers have glowing red numbers illuminating your living room late at night, and if the temperature or humidity goes out of acceptable range, the whole house is alerted by high-pitched alarms. Yuck! So your better half complains about all these things affecting the aesthetics, Feng Shui, sleeping patterns, and your cat has played with the cable, and now the humidifier's fan has failed.... you see the point. This isn't a viable option for those with stylish homes, inquisitive children or pets, or can't put their fridge somewhere safe but approachable.

    Merits of a Wine Fridge:

    Appropriate temperature and humidity control.

    A wine fridge incorporates both temperature and humidity control at the right temperatures for cheese maturation. They don't have quite the fluctuations in temperature as they're designed to hold a temperature as stable as possible for the best aging of wines. Interestingly, despite the increasing prevalence of screw-top and plastic cork alternatives, many wine fridges still need to provide high humidity. They have this to stop wine corks from drying out and spoiling the wine. You may not have the fine detail control over humidity, but it's usually considered high enough for cheese making. If it isn't, placing a bowl of water in the fridge (replaced daily) will help. Some wine fridges even have the ability to create multiple zones, each with a different temperature simultaneously, which can help when making different types of cheeses... however they are considerably more expensive than the single zone options. If you've got the room, buy two wine fridges for multiple zones, and save a ton of cash.

    No wasted space.

    With no crisper or freezer to worry about, you get to use the entire fridge. Isn't that nice!

    Glass doors are a way to making things easier:

    Let's face it, the glass door means you can see your cheeses (and wine if you have it) at a glance. This offers an immeasurable benefit for keeping an eye on things. Cracked wax seals can be fixed, surface moulds can be grown and monitored (if desirable) and removed (if needed). What cheese fanatic wouldn't want a display fridge full of cheese?

    Putting your cheese cave somewhere in view reminds you to check, turn, and manage your cheeses more often than if it's locked in a basement somewhere.

    Soooooo pretty:

    Nice Beech wood shelves, nice LED display lights, and UV blocking glass means shelves covered with waxed, natural rind, and vacuum sealed wheels of cheese, look fantastic without the mess of cables everywhere, the ability to turn the internal light on without opening the door means you can age cheeses in style.

    Lockable:

    The sad fact is that some guests, children, cheese-nabbing-partners just can't be trusted not to help themselves to cheese if it's there for the taking. Having the ability to lock the door is at least a deterrent that says.. "Leave my cheese alone". A secondary defence could be to grow some particularly pungent cheeses that only the most dedicated cheese fanatic will be able to handle... and everyone else will have uncontrollable nausea. Mwahahaha.

    So there you have it, a wine fridge is a stylish way to do things. If you need higher humidity, then it's quite easy to add wheels in tupperware containers with a drip tray, and a couple of teaspoons of water in the bottom.

     

     I hope this helps you to decide which way you want to age your cheeses.

     

     

     

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