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.

A Fresh cheese recipe

This recipe has no name. My aim is to show what sort of equipment you will need during the cheese making at your kitchen.

This cheese will be close to Turkish Beyaz Peynir or Greek Feta. It would be a nice cheese to eat at breakfast table, in salads, or as a present in olive oil.

We will use 8 liters of milk which will give you about 1 Kg of cheese. If your milk is unhomogenised you may even get close to 1.5 Kg. You may mix 6 liters of cow’s and 2 liters of goat’s milk for this recipe. Preferably organic milk and most importantly unhomogenised. Additional goat’s milk will give a little tangy flavor and character to the cheese which I like. You can alternatively buy lipase enzyme powder from the online shops I have listed in my Resources page.

You will be using starter culture to acidify the milk be it mesophilic (buttermilk) or thermophilic (yogurt). A fresh home made yogurt (never touched by a spoon yet) or buttermilk opened and kept on kitchen bench for 24 hours and curdled will be our starter culture.

Firstly, you will need a 8 liters capacity stainless steel (aluminium does not work) boiler. And either another larger one to fit the 8 liters one into it or large enough sink to keep the 8 liters boiler in a water jacket. You need to sterilize the boiler by boiling water in them for 1 minute and using it straight away.

Double boiler bain-marrie method heating
Double boiler bain-marie method heating
Boilers in the sink covered by a hot water jacket.
Boilers in the sink covered by a hot water jacket.

The biggest problem for new starters is to keep the temperature constant for long periods. I strongly think bain-marie method is the best for cheese making situations. Also as you on both pictures; temperature is measured by thermometers. I recommend getting at least 2 thermometers with a range of 0 to 100 C. It is important to have a good thermometer for cheese making purposes as even the 1 degree changes will end up with a different cheese.

Make sure the boiler comes with a lid. As we will be leaving the milk in there for long periods, we don’t want dust and other things to get mixed with the milk.

Mix your milks in the boiler and add starter culture of your choice and optionally lipase powder diluted with water.

If you used mesophilic type culture, keep the temperature around 24 to 27 C degrees.

If you used thermophilic culture, somewhere between 31 to 37 C degrees will do.

No matter what starter culture and temperature you are using; make sure you are recording every details.

After adding starter culture and keeping the temperature constant, wait about an hour. This “waiting” will acidify the milk giving the bacteria chance to develop, consume the lactose in the milk and creating lactic acid. If you have pH meter, measure the pH before adding the culture and after 1 hour to see if there is a drop in pH which indicates the starter culture is working.

After 1 hour add rennet to the milk and mix for a minute. Rennet should be measured according to the manufacturers instructions and diluted with 60 ml unchlorinated water. Use a baby feeding bottle for measuring.

bottles
Feeding bottles to measure the rennet and to dilute lipase

The temperature should be kept constant through out the waiting an hour after adding the rennet. As the acidity increased with the starter culture, rennet can now work better in the milk to curdle it. In 1 hour time, you should get a custard like gel formed and may be separating from the sides of the boiler.

We need to test the curd for its readiness to go to the cutting phase. To do this, dip a knife into the curd vertically and lift it up horizontally.

Clean break test
Clean break test

Or use your finger as a knife.

Clean break test with finger
Clean break test with finger

The idea here is to see the curd breaks cleanly without leaving any smudge on the knife or your finger. A fairly hard and stable curd is an indication of a good cheese making start. If you are not getting the clean break, make sure your starter is working and rennet is not expired. You can increase the rennet by half a milliliter next time. You should get a nice curd at the end of 1 hour after adding the rennet.

If curd is still runny like yogurt, wait another 15 minutes and est again. Make sure temperature is constant since the beginning.

Once you get a clean break, you can now cut the curd. Cutting the curd increases the surface area of the curd causing it to release whey faster. As they release whey, they get smaller. The idea is to cut them in cubes or close to cubes about 1 cm cube will do for this cheese. You need a knife that can go all the way to the bottom of the boiler.

Long slicing or filleting knife
Long slicing or filleting knife
Cutting long strips first
Cut long strips first

Put the knife in the middle of the boiler all the way to the bottom and draw in a straight line. Remove and move 1 cm to the side and do the same.

Top view of cutting
Top view of cutting

Once you finish cutting on way, turn the boiler 90 degrees and do the same cutting.

Cutting the other way
Cutting the other way

When you finish you will have 1 cm thick strips to the bottom of the boiler. Get your slotted spoon and try to break them at 1 cm intervals.

Breaking the long strips of curd
Breaking the long strips of curd

The slotted spoon should be a one piece metal spoon to prevent getting the bacteria in between the handle and the spoon’s metal part. Break the curds into 1 cm pieces and do not bash them around too much as we want to preserve the milk fats in the curd. If you handle them too much, the milk fat will be released resulting less aroma compounds in your final cheese.

Once sufficiently broken, let it heal for 10 minutes. The temperature still the same. After 10 minutes stir it once every 15 minutes 4 times.

At the end, the curd pieces will be shrunken and whey separated a lot. As almost 80% of milk is water, there are more water then the curds.

Transfer the curds into colander lined with chux cloth. Wet the chux with vinegar and water to prevent the cheese sticking to it. Do not throw away the whey.

Draining the curd
Draining the curd

Drain the curds overnight or till the drops stop. I am using the boiler with a dough roller and tying the corners of the chux like a bag.  Hang the chux inside the boiler so that dripping whey can be collected. Draining the curd has done at room temperature or colder.

Draining the curds overnight
Draining the curds overnight

Now the curd is nicely knitted and drained and can stand as a one solid piece on the cutting board.

Very close to cheese now
Very close to cheese now

While the cheese draining, we need to prepare the brine to store and age the cheese so that the flavor can develop. Take 900 g of whey and 100 g of salt. Stir and make sure all the salt is melted away. This is a 10% brine. You may reduce it down to 8% if you feel this is too salty on your second make. Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to increase the acidity so that your cheese does not melt in the whey. Cool your brine in the fridge.

Cut your cheese into pieces and place in cold brine. Check once everyday for the signs of melting. The cheese may go slimy in the brine, which is not good. Still edible but not to its perfection. It should keep its shape. Add more vinegar if you see slimy skin on the cheese. If everything is going okay, in about 2 weeks time, it should suck up enough salt and develop some flavor.

Cheese in brine
Cheese in brine

Keep the container in the fridge. You can consume whenever you want. There are no rules. The longer you wait, the better aroma it gets.

I hope you have got an idea of what sort of equipment you need with this recipe.

Enjoy the cheese.