Last week my Wüsthoff German knife cut my finger. It is not a small cut either, quarter of my nail and a big chunk of meat is gone. After washing, Betadine and careful wrapping, I immediately thought, I am not going to be able to make cheese the next day. So milk went into the freezer. If I get milk again next Saturday, it will be about 40 Liters of milk. Good amount for a large wheel of hard cheese particularly Comte. Comte is a cheese that I have tried before probably four or five times but aging this cheese is always a problem.
The story of me deciding to make this cheese is, a while ago, me and my lovely wife were trying some shop bought cheeses and one them were Comte. It was an original Comte imported from France. My wife said, “why don’t you make cheeses like this one” and I go like, does this mean I can buy a montbeliarde as a house cow?
Jokes aside, if you are making cheese at home, and worried that the costs and effort are outweighing the shop prices, try making the expensive cheeses. And do not forget that, if you are using raw or organic milk, your cheese will be a lot more nutritious than the supermarket cheeses.
When I dig the internet for a recipe and our glorious cheeseforum.org, there wasn’t one. So I decided to use the wisdom of the crowd particularly Pav AKA Linuxboy. The entire discussion is here. I must admit, it is easy to make this cheese but the affinage is a big problem. If you don’t have a proper cheese cave where the humidity and temperature controlled precisely, your cheese may turn into granite and requires a jack hammer to crack or a stinky gooey mass where only an old French guy can eat.
Also make sure you have all the starters and aging cultures for morge.
What Wikipedia says about Comte cheese is:
“The cheese is made in flat circular discs, each between 40 centimeters (16 in) and 70 centimeters (28 in) in diameter, and around 10 centimeters (4 in) in height. Each disc weighs up to 50 kilograms (110 lb) with an FDM around 45%. The rind is usually a dusty-brown color, and the internal pâte is a pale creamy yellow. The texture is relatively hard and flexible, and the taste is strong and slightly sweet.”
Of course, whatever milk and culture you use, your cheese will not be a Comte without the terroir qualities of the Jura mountains and its characteristic grazing areas providing a diverse salad bar to the Montbeliarde cows. The milk and its features, the bacterias, morge cultures and other local ingredients that make their way into the milk and make are the true terroir features that makes this cheese a unique experience. Buy some Comte cheese and educate your palate first so that you can tell if your cheese is close or not.
I have started with 40L of milk in two 20L boilers. It will be hard to measure and control the acidity with these 2 separate boilers but this is what I have. Later in the milk ripening stage, I mixed the milks with my measuring cup. Also close checking of the pH gives me the accuracy I need.
Heat milk to 32°C to 33°C.
Streptococcus Salivarius Thermophilus (20 DCU – per 100 litres) (TA60)
Lactobacillus Helveticus (5 DCU – per 100 litres) (LH100 from Danisco but one more different bacteria comes in with it which actually might help as it is Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis)
Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. shermanii (0,05 – 0,1 unit – per 100 litres)
And LD Type starter, that is Flora Danica
Inoculate your milk with the above concoction and wait about an hour.
Add rennet, mix well. Place the floc bowl.
Target flocculation is 12 to 15 minutes minutes. Multiply this 2 or 3 to find the cutting time.
Cut to 4mm pieces (or rice size), rest and heal 10 min.
Stir and find the big pieces of curd, cut them.
First phase: Stir gently to help firm up the curd and start syneresis. This is before scalding. Do this for 10-15 min.
Second phase: Start scalding to 51°C, or a tad higher, to 53-55°C over 30 min.
Third phase: This is post scalding, where you are targeting the right curd moisture at the right acidity. Meaning, this is the artisan skill. If you have over dry curds, but your acidity is not there, you barely stir, and let it settle. If the curd is moist, too moist, you stir and try to get that moisture down. If the acidity is running away, you try and wrap it up and press as soon as you can. But the point is that you turn off the heat and get the curds down to the right point over the next 15-45 min. Wide range is because of variability.
Let the curd settle at the bottom. Press under whey to make PS work better. Draining acidity is about pH 6.45.
Transfer the curds in to press and press with 10-15 psi till the pH becomes 5.4. Flipping and gradually increasing the weight is necessary here.
Remove from the press once you reach to pH 5.4 and into saturated brine. Your brine should be at 14°C and pH4.7 to 5 and with a time calculation of 12 hours per 1000Gram of cheese. Prepare the brine from whey and add some CaCl2 and rock salt. This creates a good crust so you can start with the morge and have it penetrate slowly over time.
First phase: at 10-13°C, for 20-30 days. Usually 3 weeks, or a few days over. This is to get the curd to have that initial fuse and prep it for warm room.
Second phase: at around 18°C, for 40-55 days. This is when you move to the warm room for propionic action, and where you can also start the morge. By this time, there should be a decent rind on the cheese, and you can start the wash with B. Linen and Microccocci.
Third phase: back to 10-13°C, keep washing with morge.
Overall, you want humidity to be pretty high when you first start with the morge. And after, there’s no single right answer. During extended aging, you are really trying to balance the rate of moisture loss, so the wheels do not dry out. 85% will work. Somewhere around 90% is better. But in a small cave like you will use, do the best you can. The dynamics are different anyway, so 85% vs 90% doesn’t make a dramatic difference. Keep it dry enough so it doesn’t turn into a Limburger or have a wet rind.
Affinage is about a year. After the first 6 months you can vacuum pack the cheese to prevent over drying.