Making cheese « Recipes and cooking tips for classic dishes and ingredients (2024)

Cheese is made worldwide in countless different ways.

What all cheeses have in common is that milk is used, which is processed into a solid (the cheese) by, among other things, removing moisture from it.
Depending on the type of cheese made, one liter of milk yields approximately 100 to 200 grams of cheese.
Most cheeses undergo a short or long ripening period before they are marketed, but there are also 'fresh' cheeses that can be eaten immediately after being made.
Lactic acid and rennet are usually used in cheese making (explanation will follow later), but this is not necessary.
Additives: Seasonings such as herbs (cumin, mustard seeds, etc.) can be added to cheese during preparation.
The cheese milk or cheese can also be inoculated with a mold culture after preparation, this creates the (usually blue) veined cheeses.
Salt can prevent cheese from spoiling due to its preservative effect. That is why salt is sometimes mixed into the cheese curd (explanation will follow later) during the preparation of the cheese (such as with Cheddar). Other cheeses are placed in a brine bath (a salt solution) for some time after preparation or sprinkled with salt.
To protect the cheeses that are undergoing ripening from harmful external influences, they are often provided with a rind.
Such a crust can be made in different ways:
*By applying a (benign) fungal or bacterial culture to the outside of the cheese that overgrows the cheese. Because this accelerates the ripening of the cheese, this method is mainly used for (soft and semi-soft) cheeses that are not stored for too long. Examples are: Brie and Camembert (with a fungal culture) and Herve and Kernhem (with bacteria).
*By pressing the cheese – this gives a firm crust. Some pressed cheeses go into storage (often after brining) without further treatment, while others first receive an extra protective layer on the rind (formerly beef fat or paraffin, nowadays usually a (latex) cheese coating). This method is often used for (semi-hard and hard) cheeses that are stored for a long time. Examples are: Parmesan cheese (pressed only) and Gouda cheese (pressed and coated).

Lactic acid
Milk – which is exposed to air for long enough – will eventually turn sour. This is because lactic acid bacteria naturally occur in the air that convert the (small amount of) sugar in milk into acid. (Sour milk produced in this way is almost always spoiled because, in addition to good, harmful bacteria have been at work).
If certain selected lactic acid bacteria are added to milk under controlled conditions, a fresh sour milk product is created that is known in technical terms as starter culture.
Lactic acid is used for the preparation of various dairy products.

There are two groups of starter cultures:
Starter with (mesophilic) lactic acid bacteria, which grow optimally at temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. This type is used in the preparation of buttermilk, cottage cheese, butter and cheeses (of the rennet type).
Starter with (thermophilic) lactic acid bacteria, which grow optimally at temperatures between 30 and 45ºC. This type is used in the preparation of yoghurt and cheeses (of the starter type).

Rennet causes certain proteins in the milk to clump together.

The most commonly used rennet is animal rennet. It is made from enzymes that come from the abomasum of (butchered) calves.
Because vegetarians do not eat dairy products that contain animal rennet, vegetable rennet is used - especially for fresh organic and biodynamic cheese - (based on plant extracts of mallow, cardoon flowers and yellow bedstraw). This rennet gives a slightly bitter taste to the dairy that is prepared with it.
In addition, there is also rennet from genetically modified micro-organisms (bacteria into which a gene from a calf has been inserted). This rennet is also considered non-animal.
(Most) Muslims are allowed to eat cheese and other dairy products prepared with rennet from calves that have not been slaughtered 'halal' (= according to the laws of the Koran).
Rennet rennet is - despite the incorrect slaughter method - 'halal' because it is not meat, milk or blood.

Fresh cheese(preparation)
Fresh cheese – in Belgium this product is called flat cheese – is made from milk, cream or whey ****(see the green part below)
Fresh cheese is white, mild in taste and has no rind. Fresh cheese is soft, the thickness and firmness (consistency) can vary (from spoonable, spreadable to (just) sliceable).
Fresh cheese - as the name suggests - does not undergo a ripening process after preparation and therefore spoils quite quickly and must be kept in the refrigerator.
Fresh cheese can be prepared with or without rennet, so there are two types of fresh cheese:

The rennet type:
For this purpose, milk or cream – with or without lactic acid – is heated to lukewarm (usually around 30, at most 40 degrees Celsius). Then a small amount of (usually animal rennet) rennet is stirred in.
The milk or cream becomes thick (curds) and a thick white jelly (= curd***) is formed from which moisture (= whey) is automatically released after some time.
Various types of fresh cheese are made by various further processing of the curd - (such as cutting / stirring / kneading / centrifuging / draining (in porous molds or cheesecloth)) -.
The simplest form of this type of fresh cheese is cottage cheese, other examples are fresh cream cheese, Mozzarella, Feta and Hüttenkäse.

The starter type:
For this purpose, milk, cream or whey is heated to a high temperature (ranging from 85 degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius (the boiling point of water)).
A small amount of starter (often yoghurt but sometimes also lemon juice or a chemical acid) is stirred into the heated milk or cream; usually nothing is added to whey.
A spongy mass (the curd) is formed that floats on a watery liquid.
The curd is transferred to porous molds or cheesecloth to drain. Once the drained curd has the desired thickness, the cheese can be further processed (possibly stirring/cutting) or packaged if desired.
Examples of this type of fresh cheese are Ricotta and Mascarpone.
More information about the aforementioned fresh cheese types can be found at: Fresh cheese types

Curd comes in different forms. It is milk (or cream) that has become thick because the cheese proteins have clumped together.

1: curd (the first stage – curdled milk)
2: curd after cutting
3: curd after various operations (this is 'ready' for Gouda cheese).
4: curd of the 'starter type' cheese (this is for Ricotta)

Curd made for rennet type cheese can have different shapes depending on how the curd is processed.
The first stage of such curds – the curd – can best be described as a thick, slippery, white jelly, see photo 1 (left).
Moisture (whey) naturally comes out of this curd, causing the curd to slowly shrink. By cutting the curd into blocks, the surface area of ​​the curd is increased and the whey is released more quickly, see photo 2.
By stirring and adding hot water, the blocks of curd shrink even faster and the curd becomes irregular in shape, see photo 3.
Accelerated separation of whey changes the structure of the curd. The curd becomes drier and more resilient.
Curd made for starter type cheese – is different from curd made with rennet.
The milk, cream or whey – used for this type of curd – first becomes frothy by adding an acid and heating and then flakes (curdles). The flakes of milk clump together to form curd that floats on the whey as a spongy mass, see photo 4.

Whey is a byproduct of cheese making.
It is a watery, slightly cloudy, yellow or yellow-green liquid that contains, in addition to water, vitamins (especially from the B group), whey protein, milk sugar, minerals and (very little) fat (the precise composition depends on the cheese used milk (or cream).
Whey is used in the food industry, including as a raw material for soft drinks (Rivella, Taksi) and - in concentrated form (powder/pills) - is also popular in naturopathy, fitness and strength sports).

Cheese (matured)– division into 'types'

For cheeses that undergo ripening before consumption, curd is first made from (usually acidified) milk, cream or whey (as described above under Fresh cheese (preparation)).

There are a number of different ways in which the curd can be further processed into cheese and on this basis cheese can be divided into groups - according to preparation method.

Because consumers have little or no interest in the preparation method of cheese, cheese is classified differently in the trade. For example, there is a distinction according to consistency in fresh, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheese and according to taste in mild and strong (sharp) tasting cheese. In addition, cheese is also classified according to origin (usually the country, but French cheese often also according to the region).

Unfortunately, the classification by preparation method and the commercial classification (from soft to hard) do not correspond. Roughly speaking, they do overlap, but cheese is a living product and simply because a cheese ages, it sometimes falls into a different (trade) category.

To clarify: All cheeses – regardless of the preparation method – start out as fresh cheese.

Cheese preparation methods

Cheese based on unprocessed curd:
The curd is scooped (carefully) into porous molds without further processing and leaks out until the cheese has reached the desired thickness. The mold is then removed and the cheese can be rolled in something (herbs, nuts) or provided with a (mould) crust.
Most cheeses made in this way are 'soft cheeses': They are soft and sliceable, and often creamy after ripening.
Examples of this type of cheese are Brie and Camembert (both soft) and (fresh) cream cheese.

Based on processed – but not further heated – curd
The curd is divided into small pieces and the whey and curd are often stirred for some time. After stirring, the curd settles. The whey can be drained and the curd can then be placed in porous molds (or cheesecloth).
After draining (or - for large-scale preparation - pressing lightly), the cheese molds can be removed.
Cheeses made in this way are usually 'semi-soft', which - when it comes to cheese - is quite firm and sometimes slightly crumbly in structure.
Examples of this type of cheese are Roquefort, Danish Blue (both semi-soft) and Feta (fresh cheese).

Cheese based on processed and heated curd
The curd is cut and – after ripening – transferred into rotating hot water. This creates long threads of cheese that quickly clump together. Once the correct structure has been achieved, the cheese is kneaded and divided into pieces that are shaped.
The cheese is brined and/or hung to ripen and can be sold at various stages of ripeness. Sometimes the cheese is also smoked.
Cheeses made in this way have a springy and elastic structure, they melt easily and then form long threads.
Examples of this type of cheese are Provolone (soft to semi-hard) and Mozzarella (fresh).

Pressed cheeses based on processed and heated curd
It is of course possible - as described above - to transfer the curd to hot water, but the reverse process is more common: After the curd has been cut, hot water is added to the whey and curd while stirring*.

Another method is to heat the whey and sliced ​​curd while stirring without adding hot water.
How far the curd is heated varies per type of cheese and varies from approximately 35 - 55 degrees Celsius. Gouda cheese is heated to approximately 37 degrees Celsius, Emmental to 50 - 52 degrees Celsius.
The above methods produce a fairly firm, springy curd, which is necessary for 'semi-hard' and 'hard' cheeses because such cheeses are pressed.
* The hot water is sometimes added in steps and part of the (relatively cold) whey is often drained first.
Examples of this type of cheese are: Gruyere (semi-hard - without added hot water), Farmer's cheese, most factory cheeses and Maaslander (semi-hard - with added hot water), Frisian Nagelkaas and Parmesan cheese (hard).

Cheese products

If grated or finely ground cheese is heated above 70 degrees Celsius, the cheese will melt. If the melted cheese were to cool afterwards, a tough mass would be created, but this can be prevented by adding water and melting salts*. Depending on the amount of water in the mixture, this creates processed cheese (with little water) (which is just as firm as mature Gouda cheese) or (spreadable) cheese spread (with more water).

Processed cheese is available plain (and sometimes with cumin). Cheese spread can have anything added to it (cumin, sambal, ham, shrimp, herbs, etc.). Both products are always delivered packaged by the manufacturer. Because they are heated during production, they are pasteurized, which means they have a long shelf life and do not ripen during storage (like regular cheese does).

Cheese spread is packaged in tubs. Processed cheese is available in various packaging. For consumers, there are round boxes with small dots of processed cheese (in various flavors - which can be eaten as they are) and blocks of processed cheese in vacuum plastic (natural and sometimes with cumin) that are very suitable for applications where cheese needs to melt (gratinating, in sauces, on pizza).

For export, processed cheese is packaged in cans and (especially for the Middle East) even in glass jars. For the food industry there are large blocks that can weigh up to 20 kilos (for pizzas, cheese soufflés, etc.).

*Melting salts (including polyphosphates and citrates) ensure that the cheese mass becomes hom*ogeneous (even) (they cause the proteins to swell, they emulsify the fat and regulate the acidity).

Walter Gerber (1879 -1942) and Fritz Stettler (?-?), two Swiss dairy experts, invented processed cheese in 1911 after various attempts to extend the shelf life of Emmentaler cheese (without refrigeration).

Fritz Stettler was later also the inventor of 'the butter cannon', see: Butter preparation

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Making cheese « Recipes and cooking tips for classic dishes and ingredients (2024)


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