Adventures in Cheesmaking

This all started out as a curiosity. Like most stuff we eat there is a rich history behind it. Centuries of experimentation. Cheese is just another example.

From the horse back tribes of the Asian Steppes to the Silk Road camel caravans to Romans Legions to European Monks to today, milk was a great source of nutrition but spoiled quickly and was heavy to transport.

The answer was cheese.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


So this is going to be a 12 month labor of love - the result I hope will be close to a Le Gruyére Premier Cru - the 12 month cave aged classic.

A little about this excellent cheese and its brother and sisters in the "Swiss Cheese" family.

Three things set these cheeses apart

- The curds are broken into small pieces and slowly heated and then "scalded" at 120F. This causes significant dewatering of the curd.
- While the rinds are salted and washed with brine during ageing salt is not added to the curd
- The contain a Propionic bacteria and thermophilic lactic acid bacteria. The lactic bacteria convert the lactose sugars into lactic acid and then after a few weeks of 55F  ageing the cheese is aged at room temperature, 70F. The Propionic bacteria consumed the lactic acid from the first stage and produce acetate, propionic acid and carbon dioxide. The first two give the cheese its characteristic nutty flavor and the latter the holes. If you would like to read more about the chemistry of propionic acid and acetal, two widely found chemicals in natural and fermented foods have a look at these wikipedia links

Taken together we get a wonderfully flavored family of cheese, complex and nutty. A strong aroma. An excellent melting cheese used in fondues and the very best grilled cheese sandwiches you ever had.

The most widely know are Emmentaler and Gruyere. Each come from their own unique small Swiss valley. Emmentaler is made from  partially skimmed cows milk with a protein fat ration of 0.8 while Gruyere uses higher milk fat, around a P:F of 1, closer to the full cream milk we know. In the US, Baby Swiss is made with full cream milk but has a shorter ageing time. Just FYI - the Swiss Raclette so well know as a melting cheese where the cheese is melted and scraped onto break and charcuterie, is made with partially skimmed milk like Emmentaler but at a lower scald temperature and without propionic bacteria - so no holes and a milder flavor and aroma.

Gruyere can be found as a mild 4 months, medium 8 months and Premier Cru at 12 months + cave ageing. The extended ageing and higher fat content compared to Emmental, results in very small and at time no "eye" or gas bubbles in Gruyere. Historically the cheese would be made from milk collected  from cows in their high summer pasture eating grass, wild herbs and flowers giving the cheese debts of flavor and aroma.

I have chosen to make a Gruyere style. I adjusted the full cream milk with some skim - I was trying for a little more like Emmentaler, a bit firmer than Gruyere perhaps, we will see.


1 gallon organic homogenized full cream milk
1.5 cups skimmed homogenized milk

Curd Production
Adjusted to give a Protein : Fat ratio of 0.95
Heat to 88 F
Add Thermophilic Starter
Add 1/16 tsp Propionic Shermanii
Add 20 drops Calcium Chloride in non 1/4 cup chlorinated water
Stir and mature for 10 minutes
Add 20 drops double strength vegetable rennet in 1/4 cup non chlorinated water
NOTE: The pH was 6.5
Mix and allow to set covered for about 30 minutes until a "clean break" is achieved
Cut curd to 1/4 inch cubes
Stir and hold at 90 for 40 minutes of "fore-working" to start to dehydrate the curds
Using a wish reduce curd to the size of rice grains
Drain 1/3 whey and replace with hot water at 140F
Raise temperature with mixing 1 F per minute
Hold at 120F for 40 minutes to "scald the curds" with frequent stirring and complete dehydration
Test for completeness and a "proper break" buy taking a palm full of curds and squeeze into a ball. The curds should crumble when rubbed.

Cheese Production
Drain the whey to the curd level
Drain the curds in a strainer lined with cheese cloth
Transfer to the cheese press and press for 10 minutes at 5 lbs
Remove from press, unwrap, flip, rewrap and press for 30 minutes at 10 lbs
Remove from press, unwrap, flip, rewrap in cheese cloth soaked in saturated brine for 2 hours at 15 lbs
Remove from press, unwrap, flip, rewrap in cheese cloth soaked in saturated brine for 12 hours at 15 lbs

Remove and unwrap and float in a tub of saturated brine for 24 hours turning 4 times

Remove and pat dry. Age in cheese cave at 50-55 F 85-95% humidity for 14 days - turn every few days and wipe rind with damp cheese cloth soaked in brine.

Remove and age at 70-75 F for 2-3 weeks. Daily turn the cheese and wipe rind with damp cheese cloth soaked in brine. The cheese should swell as the propionic bacteria develop rapidly at room temperature and produce carbon dioxide.

Place back in cheese cave and age at 45F 80-85% humidity for 6-12 month. Turn weekly. Wipe any mold from surface with brine dampened cloth. The rind will form a dull red color.

Thermophilic starter
Propionic shermanii
After 10 minutes with starter added pH is 6.5

Cut the curds

After  40 minutes settle curds and remove 1/3 whey, replace with 140F water

Wisk curds to the size of rice grains

Remove whey

Drain curds in cheese cloth

Place in press

Complete press cycle

Place in brine

After 10 days at 55F and daily brine wash place at 70F for 10 days to allow  Propionic bacteria to do their thing.

After 7 days at 72F you can see the swelling from  the CO2 production.  I washed it down with salt and placed it in the cave at 50F

After 18 Months - well mixed results. It is too dry. My guess the humidity was  not high enough. The
rind was very had and the body was almost chewy. It tasted ok but was not what you would want.

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