Cheese

Cheesemaking

The high-quality and efficient production of Australian milk makes it ideal for making cheese. Made predominantly from cows’ milk (with some from goats, sheep and even buffaloes), full-fat and partly or fully skimmed milk is used depending on the style of cheese being produced.

Cheesemaking relies on good-quality milk with a minimum seasonal variation. The composition and quality of the milk is influenced by such factors as:

  • the breed of cow - for example Jerseys produce richer, creamier milk than Holsteins;
  • the stage of the cow's lactation cycle;
  • the cows' feed, which changes with the seasons;
  • weather conditions; and,
  • the individuality of each cow in the herd!

Good quality base ingredients like milk are key to making cheese, but that’s just the beginning. Cheesemaking is a process that demands considerable care and patience. The cheese must be observed and handled with skills that machines just don’t have. Every cheese is individual - prepared and consumed with passion! While each cheese is quite different in its recipes, here is a general overview of the cheesemaking process.

Standardisation

Standardisation is a process that gives a more consistent or ‘standard’ composition to milk. Most cheese made in Australia is made from standardised milk. During standardisation the ratio of proteins and fats in the milk are adjusted to a preset value to ensure the cheese composition is uniform. This value depends on the style of cheese being made. Some small cheesemakers may not standardise their milk as they milk their own animals and do not buy milk from other farms.

Standardised milk gives a more consistent quality product with less wastage.

Pasteurisation

Before being used in cheese making, milk is pasteurised by being quickly heated to 72°C for 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled.

This process destroys pathogenic (disease producing) microorganisms, provides a more consistently safe cheese product and improves the keeping quality of the cheese.

Hard cheeses which are matured for more than three months may be made from unpasteurised milk providing strict rules are followed.

Adding the cheese starter cultures

The type and quantity of starter culture varies for each style of cheese. Almost all cheeses have acidifying starters, which produce lactic acid from the milk sugar (lactose). Some cheeses have additional cultures to assist during maturing.
The cheese starter cultures are specially selected bacteria that assist in developing the cheese's texture and flavour. Each type of starter gives the cheese its unique characteristics. Mould spores are sometimes used in cheesemaking, depending on the type of cheese being made.
For example:

  • Penicillium candidum grows as a white mould on brie and camembert.
  • Penicillium roqueforti are the blue mould spores that promote blue mould growth in blue vein cheese.
  • Gas-producing starter or Propionibacterium shermanii known as 'Props' bacteria create the eye formation in Swiss cheese types.
  • Aroma cultures or Brevibacterium linens are used for rubbing the surface of washed rind cheeses to produce colour and flavour effects.
  • Geotrichum candidum is used on several surface-ripened cheeses to modify the flavour, aroma and colour of the cheese.

Coagulation of the milk

Coagulation of the milk is the first step in converting liquid milk to a solid cheese.
Milk for fresh cheese is coagulated by the lactic acid from the starter cultures. For matured cheese an enzyme known as chymosin, found in rennet, is added to the milk used to form the curd. More recent technology has enabled cheese makers to use rennet from non-animal sources such as yeasts and fungi.
When the milk is set the curd releases whey, thereby concentrating the curd.

Cutting the curd

Syneresis, the release of moisture from the curd, occurs after the curd has been cut.

A finely cut curd has a large surface area and thus releases more whey to produce a drier cheese. For example, the curd for parmesan (low moisture) is cut the size of rice grains while the curd for a brie or camembert (high moisture cheeses) is usually cut to about 2 cm cubes.

Stirring the curd

Stirring keeps the cut curds apart and helps to release more whey. The type of cheese being made will influence the length of stirring required. Generally soft cheeses require less stirring than harder cheeses.

Cooking the curd

Cooking the curds is a gentle heating process that helps remove more whey.
Most fresh cheeses are not cooked whereas drier matured cheeses are. Cheddar is heated to 38°C, romano to 46°C and parmesan and gruyere to 54°C.

Salting the cheese

Salt enhances the flavour and preserves the cheese. It also helps reduce the moisture level and can restrict the growth of undesirable bacteria. Except for cheddar types, which are dry salted by adding salt to curd chips prior to hooping, most other cheeses are brine salted.

The cheese is placed into a brine solution of 20-26% salt for a fixed time. The time in the brine depends on the cheese size and desired salt level. Some cheeses also have their surface (rind) washed with a brine solution during maturation. This helps restrict mould growth and aids the development of the rind.

Hooping the cheese

Once the curds have achieved the correct firmness and acidity they are placed into hoops or moulds to form the shape of the cheese.
The cheese stays in the hoops for up to 16 hours.

Pressing the cheese

Most semi-hard to hard cheeses are pressed in mechanical presses while most soft cheeses are not pressed.

Pressing assists curd fusion, closes the texture and helps remove more whey.

Maturing cheese

Maturation of rind-less cheeses usually takes place in temperature-controlled cool rooms. For example, cheddar requires 8–10°C for 3–24 months. Rinded cheeses require humidity as well as temperature control. For example, white mould cheeses require 95% humidity and 11–14°C.

During maturation the enzymes in the cheese break down the fats and proteins, allowing textural and flavour characteristics of the cheese to develop. The main enzyme sources are the milk, starter and rennet, while hard Italian-style cheeses may also have lipase added to accelerate fat breakdown and contribute to their unique flavour.

Wrapping cheese

The style of cheese dictates how and when the cheese is wrapped. Fresh cheese is packaged soon after it is made. As it’s generally soft, it’s often placed in a sturdy outer box to prevent damage during transportation. White mould cheese must be able to breathe through its wrapping as it continues to ripen. The wrapping therefore plays a big part in the successful maturation process.

Blue cheese is generally wrapped in laminated foil to prevent the rind from drying out. Cheddar is most commonly wrapped in a vacuum-packed bag. More traditional methods such as waxing and wrapping in cloth are used for specialty cheddar.

Prior to cutting the curd, the cheesemaker checks to ensure the consistency is correct. This task demands an understanding and feel for the cheese that only years of experience can provide.

Storing cheese

Correctly storing cheese will ensure it stays fresh for you to enjoy for as long as possible. Here are some handy tips to keep in mind.

  • Place in original wrapper, where possible.
  • Cheese may be stored by placing a damp cloth over it. The cloth must be kept consistently damp otherwise the cloth will draw moisture from the cheese, causing it to dry out twice as fast.
  • We like to cover the exposed surfaces of the cheese with waxed or baking paper and then loosely wrap in plastic wrap, allowing some air circulation around the cheese.  
  • Tightly wrapping cheese in plastic wrap is only suitable for short periods of time as it can cause the cheese to sweat and deteriorate.
  • Avoid using domestic foil for wrapping blue cheese for more than two weeks as it will react with the cheese. Cheese makers use a foil wrap that is laminated so no such reaction occurs.
  • Refrigerate at around 4°C to 6°C.
  • Keep fresh cheese in a covered container.
  • Cover only the cut surface of a cheese so the natural rind is allowed to breathe.
  • Ensure cheese is protected from other strong smelling foods.
  • Store each cheese separately with the use-by date visible.
  • Store robust cheeses such as blue vein or washed rind cheese in an airtight container separate to other foods.
  • When taken from the outer box, do not stack cheese on top of each other. The rind may be damaged, misshaping the cheese and hindering its further maturation.
  • Purchase only the quantity of cheese that can be consumed within one to two weeks, noting the keeping qualities of each style of cheese.

What's in a name?

Here we explain the difference between farmhouse cheese, artisan cheese and specialty cheese or what makes a low fat or reduced fat cheese.

Farmhouse Cheese

Cheese made on the farm using milk produced only on that farm.

Farmhouse-Style Cheese or Artisan Cheese

This denotes cheese made on the farm or smaller factories using their own milk and other local milk. The cheese is generally handmade.

Specialty Cheese

Specialty cheese refers to all cheeses other than bulk Cheddar, Mozzarella or Processed cheese.

Reduced-Fat Cheese

In Australia this label indicates the cheese has at least 25% less fat than the regular cheese of the same variety.

Low-Fat Cheese

A low-fat cheese typically has no more than 3% fat content.

Processed Cheese

Processed cheese is a blend of natural Cheddar cheese of different ages, melted and cooked with emulsifying salts and water. The hot molten cheese is then extruded, packaged and cooled.

Processed cheese slices are cooled rapidly and thus have a shorter shelf life and require refrigerated storage.

Block processed cheese is allowed to cool slowly over 24 hours. As it remains hot for several hours, it has a longer shelf life and is stored without refrigeration.

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