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.