Making Camembert at Home

As I am preparing to give the Camembert workshop in Canberra on 16th of November, I thought it would be good to put down some basics.

When I first tried to make Camembert (Cam for short) couple years back, I was reading horrible results like slip-skin, ammonia smell, pungent aroma, contamination during the aging etc and was thinking that, this must be one of the hardest recipes (don’t get me wrong, the hardest was Comte) I was going to try. After much reading and trying to put together a recipe with floc, pH and correct ripening requirements, I realized that, it wouldn’t be so hard to make this cheese.

As I am an engineer, technicality of making this cheese; once written down to every details, didn’t scare me much. Once I have got the confidence, I started gathering necessary cultures.

There are 2 cultures that will grow that white musroomy skin on the cheese. These are Geotrichum candidum and Penicillium candidum. While it is possible to harvest these cultures from shop bought cams or bries, I recommend buying the actual culture from cheesemaking suppliers. I will explain why.

Image
Cambozola ripening

Most slip skin problems occurring during the aging are the result of too much moisture left in the cheese that give lactic acid bacteria more food as lactose and before PC or GC takes over. Availability of lactic acid overworks the P and G Candidum. Also ripening temperatures during the warmer months will accelerate this process.

There are two ways of attacking this problem to solve. First of all get your temp and humidity controlled environment for ripening into a stable level. And the second is to use a good culture strain to prevent slip skin. As this cheese is a fresh and high moisture cheese, contamination problems are also very prominent among the artisan cheesemakers. If you are trying to harvest white mould from shop bought cams and bries, you may be inviting other moulds and bacteria unknowingly, which will create problems with your making.

MILK
I use mixture of fresh, raw cow’s and goat’s milk for my cams. I have tried using lipase with cow’s milk only but my taste buds were not agreed. If I have the chance of using only goat’s milk, I would go for it.

Whatever the milk you use, if you don’t trust the source or getting shop bought milk, please pasteurize before use by keeping it at 65C for 25 minutes and cooling it to renneting temperature immediately in an ice bath.

I don’t add any extra cream as I don’t have a source of cream but if you want to make a double brie, you may try.

CULTURE
The starter culture for this cheese is mesophilic. Any mesophilic will do. Diacetylactis variants will give a buttery flavor and if you are trying Cambozola, I recommend a gas producing starter like Flora Danica or adding yeast specifically designed to make holes in cheese (not P. Shermanii like in Swiss cheese).

One day I used only goat’s milk for Cambozola (love child of Camembert and Gorgonzola) and the resulting cheese was one of the best aromatic cheeses I have ever made so much so that I can not eat normal cam/brie any more.

DRAINING BASKETS
Forget about bamboo mats and sandwiches. Hard to use, hard to manage and harbors unwanted bacteria. I am using a single plastic draining basket. They are cheap, works well and stack-able for extra draining. I bought 7 of these and use it for feta and cam. They are very easy to use.

Stacked baskets during Cam making
Stacked baskets during Cam making

BRINE
Most recipes on the internet will tell you to dry salt the cam with about 3% of the cheese’s weight. As I make cheese at home, I always have brine available and I always brined cams rather than dry salting. Cam is a small cheese and 2 hours of brining in a saturated brine will do. Brine bowl/bucket should be kept in the ripening fridge at about 10 to 14C and top surface of the cheese should be sprinkled with salt to prevent contamination and also should be flipped after first hour and sprinkled with salt again. Flipping is necessary to get the salt sucked in equally on both sides.

In brine
In brine

AGING CONTAINER
There are food grade plastic boxes available with half way shelves in them. The one I found in the picture takes 3 cams in it and perfectly fits in my cheese fridge. Also because the wholes are larger, it does not interfere with the P.C. development. This humidity chamber shall be kept in the cheese cave and the humidity should be contained around 95%. The box should not develop water beads on the sides and lids and during the first couple of days; it should be drained and wiped with a cloth (cloth dunked in 1:1 vinegar, methylated spirit solution to sterilize). The cheeses should be flipped everyday once or twice to assist P.C. development.

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MAKE
8 liters of milk will give you about 5 cams depending on the size of baskets you use. Only goat or half goat half cow milk will do. Make sure you also have enough ripening containers.

Mesophilic Starter either DVI (as per manufacturer’s measure) or mother culture (%2 of milk so for 8 liters, use 160ml MC)

PC or GC or mixture of these.

Rennet (as per manufacturer’s measure)

If pasteurizing your milk, cool it down to 30C in an ice bath and keep the temp constant through out the making.

Add your starter and PC or GC into the milk and stir well.

Wait about an hour or if you have a pH meter, wait till you read pH6.4.

During the milk ripening period above, stir the milk every 15 minutes to get the culture distributed evenly.

Add diluted rennet and stir well. Make sure rennet is not expired and the water used for dilution is filtered and does not contain chlorine and other nasties.

Rest the milk for an hour and keep the temp constant at 30 to 32C as much as you can. Running kids, pets should be prevented. If the temp drops, do not heat it on stove as the heat will not distribute evenly. Use a hot water bath in your sink.

After an hour, check for clean break, If the curd is breaking cleanly, it is time to cut.

Cut the curd to about 2cm cubes. Stir with a ladle from bottom to top and find those bigger curds to cut them.

Once you finish cutting, let curds “heal” for 5 minutes.

Stir every 10 minutes to break the curds (as they stick together again) gently. Check the look and feel of the curds, after a while, they should shrink, firm up and get a glossy look. If they are still big and do not shine; continue stirring every 10 minutes.

Once you get that glossy look, remove the whey to the level of curds and start filling the baskets with curds.

The baskets I am using are 8cm tall. So I fill them up to the top. When the curds drained, they come to around 3cm tall disks which look like the commercial cams.

Drain at room temperature without any weight. To be honest, I stack 2 baskets on top of each other and then flip the cheese regularly (if it can be handled easily) in the baskets as well as taking the top basket to bottom. This speeds up the draining stage.

After draining overnight and both sides are flat and uniform, take them into brine for salt infusing. Salt helps the aroma to develop. If dry salting, make sure you use about 2% or 3% salt compared to the weight of each cheese. Brine time is 2 hours with flipping after first hour.

Once they are brined or dry salted, they are ready to go into cheese cave in a humidity chamber.

Cheese cave should be adjusted to between 10 to 12C and the humidity will be kept constant by the boxes we use.

Place the cheeses in the fridge and flip them everyday. After couple of days, you will see white fury skin developing. Drain excess whey in the containers and wipe the boxes to remove water.

Once the entire cheese surface develops white mould (about end of first week), wrap them in cooking paper and aluminium wrapping. Place them in your normal fridge at 4C for further aging.

The entire aging is about 4 weeks depending on temperature and moisture level in the cheese, starts in the humidity box till it finishes in refrigerator. Test the cheese by pressing the centre gently in its wrapping. If it is soft to touch, consume.

VARIATIONS
Try washing the cheeses with unpasteurized beer or wine every second day during the mould growing period.

Make vegetable ash and cover the cheese with it as soon as they come out of brining. This helps PC development and prevents slip skin

Wash the cheese with a Brevi Linen morge every day.

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Ready to eat Cambozolas
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Holes were isolated but P. Roqueforti still grew
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Paste wasn’t gooey but very soft. You would expect this with cambozola.
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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.

Let’s make yogurt from scratch

Human digestive tract is home to a lot of bacteria and yeast. These micro-organisms are helping us to break down the food  so that mankind can get the vitamins, minerals and amino acids out of food. When these acid loving bacteria and yeast (good guys) are out of proportion with the alkaline loving bacteria (bad guys), problems start to arise. You won’t be digesting your food properly, you won’t be getting enough vitamins and minerals, you feel bloated, gas problems, cramps, feeling tired all the time etc.

You need to restore the balance. Other then giving up on commercially produced food (any ready to eat food that you pay for) and eating a more whole food diet of legumes, 3 colour vegetables, and fruits you must get lactic acid bacteria, pro-biotic bacteria, yeast and their friends into you. One way of doing this is to eat yogurt that you made at home; and I stress “home made“. Also if you are treated with heavy anti-biotic medicine for a while, you need to kick-start your intestine with good bacteria and yeast.

To make yogurt you need a mother culture and this is not the store bought yogurt. Some of my readers may be surprised by this statement and yes that is right, no commercial yogurt that is bought from shops should be used as mother culture when you are making yogurt at home. Sure it will work, sure you will get a yogurt looking product at the end but I do not support this idea.

First of all, the biggest problem of making yogurt at home is to keep the temperature consistent. Rags, blankets, oven etc. is not enough. I strongly recommend a little electric yogurt machine, something like the one below, which you can find on E-Bay, or the shops I have given on my resources page.

Electric Yogurt Maker
Electric Yogurt Maker

This 1 litre capacity yogurt maker is best to keep the temperatures at about 43C. Also with its small capacity, it will not let you sour the yogurt as the yogurt will finish before that happens. With my family of 4, we finish this 1 litre yogurt in 2 days and I prepare a new one for the next day and chuck it in the fridge in the morning. Sure you can make it in 3 litres or larger but it will continue to sour in the fridge if you are not finishing it in time. Do not forget that it is a living thing. It is better to make it in small quantities so that it will be fresh whenever you need it. Alternatively you can buy an extra inner container to make a second batch, if you are expecting yogurt eating guests.

Now let’s look into where we can get our mother culture to make yogurt. We are surrounded by the bacteria in our daily life. Yeasts, moulds, spores and all of their friends are in the air everywhere. We need to harvest  some lactic acid bacteria from a good source to make yogurt. Yogurt is a thermophilic culture as it is made around 43 to 50C temperatures. All mesophilic bacteria during the making die off as the environment is hostile for them and the resources are eaten by the thermophilic ones.

There are several sources where we can harvest these yogurt bacteria. One of them is ants nests. You now that mountain of crumbly soil around the entrances. That is the one we need to gather. Take a little tea spoon and collect about a table spoon of this soil into a sterile specimen bottle. Come on don’t be shy, do it! Oh if they are fire ants, stay away of course if it is not too late. 🙂

Ants Nest
Photo courtesy of http://geoffpark.wordpress.com/

The other source is ant eggs. If you are feeling adventurous, dig around the entrance to hunt some eggs, about a tea spoon will do.

Ant_eggs

Third source is bee larva with its food in the cell. The only problem is the hive should be organically managed. You wouldn’t want pesticides and fungicides in your yogurt.  Ask a beekeeper friend to collect you about a tea spoon in a sterile specimen bottle. The ones in the picture on the left hand side are what we are looking for.

bee larva

Also Kefiran that is strained kefir can be used as a starter. If you are already making kefir at home, strain about 30ml of kefiran and use this as a  yogurt starter. As kefir has a lot of bacteria and yeast in it, yogurt making process will kill some of these mesophilic ones and will leave you with thermophilic bacteria and some yeast only.

kefir

You only need  one of these sources of micro-organisms. If you can get only the soil, it is okay. You may try to make different starters and see how this affects the final taste of your yogurt.

Now here are the steps to a good and nutritious yogurt:

  1. Prepare your yogurt maker.
  2. Fill the inner bucket about 125ml of milk.
  3. If you are using ant’s nest soil, eggs or bee larva, put this into a little pocket of sterile cheese cloth and tie it so that they don’t mix with milk freely. You can add the kefiran directly into the milk.
  4. Add the starter to your milk and don’t stir.
  5. Put the inner bucket into your yogurt maker and replace the lid.
  6. Fill the outer bucket with warm water to create a water jacket around the inner bucket. As we are not using 1 litre of milk, we need a thermal mass to keep the heat inside.
  7. Check regularly after 5 hours and see if the mixture set. If you are using kefiran, it will be faster than 5 hours.
  8. Once your milk sets like a gel, you are good to go.
  9. Strain half of this gel making sure no residue of soil, larva or egg mixed in it.
  10. Use this mother to inoculate 1 litre of milk in your machine again. You can eat this second generation yogurt.
  11. Spread the goodness by sharing your mother culture with friends and neighbours.

Troubleshoot

  1. If the milk does not set, wait a bit longer. Check regularly.
  2. Check the machine if it is plugged and working.
  3. Check the water jacket with a thermometer to see if the temperatures are about 43C.

So, as you see dear reader, now you know an unconventional way of making yogurt. It may seem strange to you in the beginning but these practices are still applied through out Turkey, Middle East, some African countries and Asia. Once you make a yogurt this way, you will see the difference in aroma and taste. I strongly suggest you try all four methods one by one and choose the one that you like the most.

Once you go through couple of generations of your culture, the taste may change slightly as the flora gets stabilised and this is a good thing;  just like sour dough culture. Before you make your concrete decision, use the same culture at least 5 times to see how the taste and texture develops.

Happy yogurt eating.

What to do with Whey

When it comes to using the whey from your cheesemaking, there are many ways to utilise the excess water. Here are some ideas:

Ricotta

First and foremost, making ricotta. You can take out those water soluble albuminous proteins by heating the whey to 95C and adding some more milk to increase the yield. After making ricotta, there is not much goodness left, very close to water. Pour the rest to your worm farm and use it immediately.

Baking

Breads, cakes, sourdough can all be made with whey instead of water.

Sourdough starter

Start your starters with whey for 3 days and go back to normal filtered water. Acidic whey will help to yeasts to come out and will protect the environment from spoilage bacteria.

Kimchi or lacto fermentation

Especially whey coming from cheeses where Leuconostoc Mesenteroids starters used. It will jump start your lacto fermentation. Just add 2 tbsp to your jars. You can use only whey as well but some veggies may taste like cheese.

Drinking

Add salt and pepper with a bit of tomato juice, chill it and drink.

Kombucha

Try a whey kombucha with half strong black tea and half whey mixture and ferment.

Fertilizer

If the whey is fresh, pour it into your garden. Make sure it is fresh though, if the acidity is increased like pH 4.5, it will dissolve lead and aluminium in soil which is not good for living things. Dilute the old whey or add some lime to reduce acidity. Chuck it direct into your compost.

Brine

Prepare your brine for feta and halloumi from fresh whey before making ricotta. Whey has Calcium Chloride and other things as same as cheese. Once you adjust the acidity equal to that of cheese, it will be a perfect brine.

Salt Bath

As same as brine, some cheeses may have a salt bath after the press to infuse them with salt and to protect the rind during the aging. Prepare your salt bath brine from whey.

Food for pets

Give it to your chooks, dogs, goats or cows.

Cooking

Boil your pasta, make a tomato soup, use in stews, boil potato, steam veggies, boil chicken or bones and make a soup/broth.

As you see there are many ways to use whey. Do not waste any drop of it! 🙂

Planning

The biggest problem for home cheesemakers is to dedicate the time to cheesemaking without any interruption. Cheesemaking is not a single day process, it sometimes takes 3 days or even longer. When you are planning to try a new recipe there are things to do before hand for a smooth day of cheesemaking. I list those down here from my experience.

1- Write the recipe down to its details to your notebook.

You can even search/ask in the forum and see what people have to say. This will give you an idea of temperatures, time, pH, starter cultures and the other processes. If you are short of cultures, you can top them up before you start. Or may be your rennet is out of date or about to finish.

2- Draw your project plan.

This seems like an overkill but will give you an idea of how long it will take to get into the press/drain stage. I draw a vertical line in my notebook. Every horizontal line is 15 minutes and I write down the steps on this line.

Cheesemakers plan
Cheesemakers plan

3- Make sure your family knows that you are going to make cheese. Your other half may have something else planned for that weekend.

4- Prepare starter cultures in advance. If you are using commercial sachets, prepare them the night before so that you know they are active and working.

5- Lock away pets. You don’t want dog hair in your cheese. Also don’t let the kids run around and create more dust flying in the air and don’t bake bread the same day. Bread yeast will jump into your milk and multiply giving an off smell and taste.

Once your plan is ready you will see that you have everything you need and be more confident to try a new recipe.

Commercial starter cultures

You can make limited variety of cheeses with the mesophilic and thermophilic culture recipes I have given. Sooner or later you will want to be buying commercial cultures from suppliers for specific cheeses and also other cultures for ripening and washing.

The starter cultures are coming in sachets, kept in freezer and they are designed for like 500 or 1000 litres of milk. It would be impossible to measure them according to your recipe as we are using maximum 40 litres of milk in a batch. Also it would not be cost affective if you finish your culture in couple of makings. What are we going to do?

As soon as I receive the sachet, I sterilize a small scissor and the corner of sachet, cut carefully and transfer the culture to a clean and sterile specimen bottle like the one below.

Culture bottles
Culture bottles

This operation is only keeping them tight and secure. When it comes to using them, I prepare a mother culture according to the recipe given by Cheese Forum member Sailor. this method gives you an active starter culture, measuring will be easier and cost affective too. And let me tell you the real secret. Since I have started using the cultures like in the above mentioned method, the quality and consistency of my makings increased. As the culture is measured correctly and in working order, the acidity curves are getting better and consistent with the time.

The other thing is no matter how old your culture is sitting in the freezer or expired for that matter, you can revive and use it with this method. By keeping the temperatures constant and waiting to a coagulation will make sure that the population of your culture is constant.  You don’t need a pH meter, just wait till it curdles like yogurt.

For freezing and labelling your mother cultures, use clean and sterile ice trays and plastic zip lock bags with labels on them.