Veg-rennet cheese with Artichoke Flowers

It has been talked about a lot but there is no real recipe in cheesemaking forum using vegetable coagulants. While I wouldn’t change my real calf rennet to anything, I am interested to develop a recipe that works with a vegetable coagulant agent as it involves research, reading and bit of engineering.

I have read a good research which I am linking here. Basically it will be a thermophilic cheese with higher than usual acidity with added calcium chloride for better coagulation. If anybody knows a Porteguese, Spanish or Algerian artisanal cheesemaker who uses plant coagulants, please try to get some information from them and send me a comment.

The plants that are talked about listed below though I am only going to try globe artichoke as I have only this one growing in the garden. I can also use fig sap but research linked above says a strong odour and browning happens with the cheese that is not desired. I am sure there is a way to use this properly as even Bill Mollison said it is one of the most efficient coagulant for cheesemaking.

Galium verum – Lady’s Bedstraw

Cynara cardunculus – Wild arthichoke

Cynara scolymus L. – Globe artichoke

Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle

Ficus – Fig sap

The process to prepare the artichoke flowers that I am following is entirely experimental. I collect about 10g of purple stems from the plant, dry them under shade, ground them in a clean, sterile mortar and add them to 250ml of slightly salty whey to release the enzymes. I am not sure which enzyme works here exactly. I will keep the whey solution at room temperature in a sterile jar for a day.

The starter amount is slightly higher about 3% of the total milk. Artichoke coagulant works best around pH 5 but that is too high acidity. With some less activity, between 6 to 6.3 will work too. Adding about 3% percent mother starter with CaCl2 will help with the acidity and better coagulation (according to the research I linked above).

The curd may not be as strong as calf rennet curd so very gentle cutting and stirring is required. I will follow the flocculation technique to watch the coagulation, I can than determine the cutting time. Also with the 250ml artichoke rennet, if the floc happens before or after 15 minutes, I can then adjust the amount of veg-rennet.

This cheese will be a hard cheese with cooked curd till I get some shiny texture and pressed only half the weight of the curd like a Tomme style. As I am starting with a higher acidity, I need to closely watch the development during the cooking stage.

The yield is expected to be less than that off the calf rennet but I am hoping the texture and aroma will be different with this one to compensate. If I hit a sweet spot with a nice aroma and texture, I can live with that. I can always do ricotta with the remaining whey to compensate as well so it is not a complete loss.

The quality of the milk is also important. Rich milks like sheep and water buffalo works best. Prefarably raw cow’s milk also works. Goat’s milk with some losses also works but it is too delicate to work with.

Now the recipe:

  • 8 Litres of raw milk
  • 240 ml mother thermo starter
  • 3 drops of CaCl2
  • Artichoke rennet
  • Add CaCl2 and starter to cold milk

Heat the milk to 28C to 30C and keep it for about an hour. Depending on the starter activity, we are aiming a pH value of less than 6.3 in an hour or hour and a half including the time to heat.

Once pH achieved strain the artichoke rennet through a sterile muslin to remove the stems and add it to the milk by sitirring up and down to distribute the rennet evenly.

Put your floc cup on the milk and start the chronometer. Floc multiplier is 3.5 (Tomme style).

Cut to half centimeter cubes and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Start cooking the curd by taking the temperature to 35 in about half an hour. When the curd pieces are shrinked to quarter the beginning size and have a shiny appearance, you can stop.

Drain the whey to the level of the curd and let the curd to stick together in the bottom.

Take it to the muslin covered draining basket, put a water bottle with a weight equal to quarter of the curd.

After 15 minutes, remove the cheese, unwrap, turn it over, wrap and press again with the same weight for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove the cheese, unwrap, turn it over, wrap and press again with the half weight of the curd.

After 15 minutes, remove the cheese, unwrap, turn it over, wrap and press again with the half weight of the curd for another 15 minutes.

With this delicate pressing, the curd will not shatter and drain from the holes.

Now you can continue pressing with a weight equal to the half the weight of the curd.

Brine salting as usual; 1 hour per 500 g of the cheese. This is saturated brine with a pH of 4.7 to 5 at around 14C

Affinage is in the cheese cave for about 3 months and at 85% humidity with 10C.

Getting Consistency in Cheesemaking

The seasonal differences in the milk flora sometimes create unwanted results in the end product. There are things you can implement other than changing the name of the cheese by dancing around the cheesemaking steps. A good artisanal cheesemaker should always be on top of the recipe but also react to the sudden unforeseen changes and adjust along the way. It is like continues improvement and risk mitigation process for the engineer minded cheesemakers out there. It is mindfulness for Zen minded people too. (Hi James)

First of all, our parameters to measure the quality of the end product is slightly wider than the commercial production. Your customers should have already learnt that. And to be honest, I would prefer slightly different aroma and texture rather than buying a factory cheese that is consistently sh**ty. Excuse the French but they have good cheeses.

Every time you take your milk in the vat, there are certain amounts of lactic bacteria, mould and yeast already exist in it. As you are the master of this vat, you conduct your orchestra to play a tune that you want by controlling the acidity, time, moisture levels etc.

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If you have developed a strong starter culture and trust that it will give you the acidity curve you wanted, heat your milk gently to 67C and keep it at that for 30 minutes. This gentle pasteurization technique kills many of the bacteria while keeping the enzymes mostly intact and opens up space for your local and strong starter culture. Cool it down quickly to desired temperature and pitch your culture.

If pasteurization is not your cup of tea, than add some starter culture to your milking bucket. At the milking temperatures they will thrive and out win the local guys. They will increase the acidity creating a hostile environment for E.coli. If you are not making cheese soon after milking, store it at a cool room or a fridge but not freeze it. Ideally, you should be making cheese immediately after milking with this technique.

Flocculation technique is one to be mastered if you want to hit consistent moisture levels at every make. Combined with mother culture preparation, you will get your consistency.

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Flocculation determines when the milk is starting to coagulate after adding the rennet. Prepare your chronometer and a sterilized little cup to float on the milk. Add the rennet at a desired pH level and start the chronometer. Put the little cup on the milk. Nudge the cup every minute once and you will notice it will glide across the milk without any friction. At around 15 minutes mark, the cup will not glide easily and you will see a stopping action like the cup is on brakes. Check the chronometer and note the time, do not stop the chronometer. That is your flocculation time. Based on the cheese you are making, find the floc multiplier and multiply the floc time with it. Let say 15 minutes passed till you added the rennet and flocculation happened. You are making feta so floc multiplier is 4. 15X4=60 minutes. At 60 minutes mark, you should cut the curd. You didn’t stop the chronometer which is a good thing because the 60 minutes cutting time starts when you add the rennet to the milk.

I usually leave the cup on the milk and that is why I have this circle indentation mark on the curd photos from time to time.

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Legendary floc mark

Patience. Acidity is not developing, temperatures are not rising, curd is looking sad or acidity going haywire and you are worrying. Should you increase temperature just a little on the stove? Should you remove some whey and add hot water? Should you fill the sink with icy water and dunk the vat in it? Should you go into draining the curds and press quickly? All these methods will have some effect on the cheese for sure. Have patience young Skywalker. Just watch the curd. Take notes. Learn from your mistakes. Before taking any action, think about why it happened and what mitigation strategies you can implement now. What you should do or shouldn’t do next time to end up at the same crossroad.

If you are using store bought pasteurized, homogenized milk there are things you can do as well. First of all I hope your milk is unhomogenized. If you can’t find unhomogenized and if your only option is P/H milk then do this:

  • Add Calcium Chloride to the milk when it is cold.
  • Add some butter milk or cream. Make sure you write down how much you’ve added.
  • Heat to slightly higher then rennetting temperature. Note the temp in your notebook.
  • Transfer it from bucket to bucket from up high by splashing a little. Do this about 10 times. Make sure buckets are sterile.

This procedure will reduce the water just a little (evaporation), it will mix the cream with milk, it will oxygenate the milk and it will get the broken protein chains to fix with the CaCl2 action. And your cheese will have a better texture and aroma at the end.

Preparing mother culture also gives you consistency and makes sure that your cultures are still alive. If you are buying sachets of cultures or prepared your own and froze it, you can still do this. Just buy a good organic goat’s milk. Pasteurize it in the boiler in its original packaging. Cool it quickly in ice water and pitch your desired thermo or meso cultures at their working temperature. Incubate it overnight and start making cheese the next day. Some of my cultures are in the freezer and way passed their expiry date. If I don’t prepare mother culture like this, I have no idea if they are working or not. Also using active, live cultures at their peak gives you the best results and reduces the milk ripening times about 15 minutes.

Mentioned couple of times above is the note taking. It is your Dairy Diary, write as much detail as you can like pH, TA, temperatures, milk source, starter cultures, times, processes and everything. Only then you can refer back and continuously improve the recipe, notice differences and achieve success (meaning “perfect cheese” and following that is “happy customers” if you are selling).

Happy Cheesemaking

Natural Cheesemaking

We spend money on sachets of cultures for different types of cheeses and moulds for aroma and washing, rennet and other ingredients. Sometimes it feels like I am spending unnecessary amounts of money on these things. But maybe there is a way to go natural on these ingredients and replace them with alternatives.

The key point in natural cheesemaking is to work with local flora of the environment you are in and supporting these microbiological lives throughout the make. Only then you will achieve the desired aroma and texture ın your cheese.

The basic ingredients we use are milk, salt and rennet in cheesemaking. These should be coming from natural sources. Milk should be raw, salt should be either lake or rock salt and rennet is from the abomasum you harvested, salted and dried. You are already a criminal by doing two of these things in some countries but anyway. Only then you can call your cheesemaking natural. If milk is bought from supermarket that is homogenized and pasteurized, salt is table salt with anti-caking agents and additives, and the rennet is store bought microbial rennet; that cheese would have a premature start to life with an off aroma and strange texture.

When you use quality natural ingredients, your cheese will start its life at the highest calibre it can whereas using store bought milk, table salt and vegetarian rennet will not give much chance to cheese to develop its characteristic aroma and texture.

While salt and raw milk is relatively easy to access, an abomasum is not easy to find for making rennet. Though your desire to make natural cheeses will lead you to places where you meet with people and from them you can possibly source an abomasum if you ask kindly.

When you clean and salt an abomasum and dry it by yourself, you will have your rennet and lipase in a never ending form. When you keep it in the freezer, its shelf life is more than 20 years and its strength is relatively unchanged.

Of course hygiene and sterilisation is always in the mind as we don’t want contamination to ruin our hard work. If you meticulously follow the hygiene rules from milking to consuming the cheese, your cheese will be healthy and free from pathogenic factors that make us sick. You still have to boil water in your boilers and use 1:10 ratio bleach to prevent contamination on your other equipment. We are not trying to cut corners.

Yeast, bacteria and moulds exist everywhere and human evolution depends on the interaction with these. You can’t have pickled vegetables, bread, cheese, kombucha or kefir without them. Our digestive system relies on them. Today’s soaps, shampoos, detergents, deodorants and all the myriad of germ killers are actually harming the environment and not allowing us to evolve further in this symbiotic relationship..

Where is that local flora for cheesemaking?

Let’s have a look at the yeast, bacteria and moulds that we can find around our environment to use in cheesemaking.

Kefir provides plethora of these micro-organisms. Try running the kefiran (that is strained kefir) as a thermophilic starter in your yogurt making setup. The yogurt starter I use at home is part kefir and makes the most wonderful yogurt that we love. I also distribute this starter in my yogurt making workshops. Kefir also has G. Candidum and with a mesophilic starter prepared using kefir, it is possible to make camemberts and bries.

Bee larva in its comb from an untreated hive. Just a 3 cm square comb with larva in it can be used as either mesophilic or thermophilic starter. Just incubate the whole comb in milk at your desired temperatures for meso or thermo and your starter is ready.

Ant eggs or nest soil. This is another source of probiotic as well as lactic bacteria. Again will give you lot’s of cultures to work with.

Raw milk. Making a clobber from raw milk will actually give you the local flora in its entirety. Many cheesemakers prepare their own starters this way using their own milk to carry the terroir features into their cheese. Cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s and water buffalo’s milk will produce and favour different ratios of cultures and whatever the main milk in your cheesemaking, prepare your mother cultures with it.

Dry organic raisins. Or better, from your own grapes. It has natural yeast S. cerevisiae on it and can be used to make holes in the cheese.

Your own natural wine, mead, beer can be used to wash the cheese which will contribute to the surface flora of the cheese to ripen it. Beer mash, if AG brewing can also be used to cover the cheese if you are looking for different aromas.

Natural butter should have L. Diecetylactis and watered fizzy yogurt can have other CO2 producing bacteria and yeast.

Buttermilk you made from your own cream should also have enough life to get your cheese going.

Swiss cheeses’ holes made by P. Shermanii and propionic acid can be sourced from red clovers with a warm tea.

Roqueforti mould can be made by letting a rye breadgo stale and eventually covered by blue mould. Ground and use the dust to get gorgonzola style cheeses

Your own produce of lemon can also be used to separate whey and curds.

As you see, once you know where are these microbiology is hiding, it would be easy to harvest and put them into good use.

Also purple stems of Cynara Cardunculus with its Cardosine A enzyme used to coagulate the milk. White fig sap can also be used for the same purpose. These are two real vegeterian sources of rennet.

Think about it for a second, at the top of the Jura Mountain, which cheesemaker will find a CHR Hansen culture sachet to add to the milk. It is all about the local flora and fauna that favours certain ratios of microbiological life. And this “life” will help you create some of the best cheeses around.

Also plastic baskets used in draining the curds can be replaced with rattan baskets, birch, and willow types of plant materials. Your cheese will have the unique shape and surface features that will give it a rustic characteristic to the cheese where customers learn and look for. Also 100% cotton muslins and clothes should be used rather than polyester cloths. Your cultures should be kept in glass bottles and your cheese vat is either stainless steel or untreated copper.

Of course we have to mention the cheese master who will conduct this orchestra. A master who knows the working temperatures of bacteria, yeast, mould, understands the pH when she/he looks at the curd, even fixes the mistakes throughout the making by adjusting the time and temperatures and produces a consistent cheese every make. These skills are only gained with lots of practice, reading every accessible source, note taking and mastering the moisture, pH, time and TA. You will read Kosikowski’s industrial books as well as David Asher’s Natural Cheesemaking book. Knowledge and skill are two concepts that go in parallel and becomes “wisdom”. The more reading and practice will make you a better, wiser cheese master than the cheese maker who doesn’t read or experiment as much as you do. Also remember that the equipment and freeze dried cultures does not make good cheese. It is the cheesemaker who makes this happen. You have to follow your passion, you should put yourself in it 110% to produce the best quality cheese. Only then you will feel happy and complete. Happy cheesemaking.