How cheese is made
Cheesemaking is a patient, respectful art, and must chime with the rhythms of nature. It is a vocation first, a business second, whether you are milking sheep in County Waterford or, in the newest innovation in the farmhouse cheese world, you are making cheese from the milk of water buffalo in North Cork. Artisan cheesemaking remains an art and a craft which is practised on the farm, and it is learnt on the farm.
Here you will find the basic steps in cheesemaking…
The first step in the cheesemaking process is of course milking. Already some of the qualities of the final product have been determined; the type of milk, be it goat, cow or ewe, the pasture where the animal has been grazing, the time of year, the climate and even the time of milking. All of these elements come together to give us our raw material.
2. INTO THE VAT
The fresh milk is poured into a large vat where the cheesemaker begins to apply their craft, using their own particular method to begin turning this milk into cheese. The general process involves adding a culture to ripen the milk and then a rennet, which causes the milk to coagulate into a jelly-like mass of curds and whey.
3. SEPARATING WHEY FROM CURD
This solid mass is then cut. The more it is cut the more whey is lost and so the dryer the cheese, for some soft cheeses the curd is not cut at all.
4. FILLING THE MOULDS.
The curds are then piled into moulds. This is done by various means depending on the cheese. For an extra large cheese the masses of cut curd has to be lifted by a pulley system into its enormous mould. For some smaller cheeses the curd is ladled from the vat to the mould.
5. TURNING AND SALTING.
The curd filled moulds are turned repeatedly to form the shape of the cheese and to release more whey. The cheeses are turned at intervals throughout the day. If the final cheese is to be a hard one then the cheeses are put under a press to compact the curds and squeeze out even more whey. That evening or the following day the now recognisable cheeses are salted. This is done by either rubbing dry salt into the rinds or bathing the cheeses in a brine bath.
6. INTO THE CELLAR.
At this point each cheese can have a very different story. Almost all cheeses ripen for some time, from a couple of days up to a few years. Some cellars are damp and warm, others are dry and cool. Some are washed every day with a mix of cultures, others are given a waxed skin, some grow fabulous moulds and some are just brushed and turned. Every cheesemaker has their own way of transforming the young curd into the complex delicious cheese we eat.
7. TO THE SHOP.
When the cheesemaker believes the cheeses are ready they are packed and sent to the shops. Sometimes they need a little more time to develop and this secondary ripening is done either by a specialist cheese shop or a wholesaler. This can be an important time for some cheeses and will often mean the difference between a good cheese and a great one.
8. AT HOME.
At last. And now all we need to do is enjoy.