Mesophilic culture recipe

This simple recipe of mesophilic culture can generally be used for all recipes requiring a Mesophilic Starter. The taste of the final product will vary slightly from that of a true cheese culture.

  1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH store bought Cultured Buttermilk.
  2. Let the 2 Cups of buttermilk reach room temperature about 21°C to 24°C).
  3. Then allow the buttermilk to ripen for about 6-8 hrs. (Store bought buttermilk does not have a high enough concentration of bacteria to serve as a starter culture without ripening.)
  4. The resulting buttermilk will be much thicker and sour then what you started with. It should have the consistency of fresh yogurt, if it doesn’t let it sit a few more hours.
  5. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  6. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your thermophilic culture. And also the date of preparation will save you guessing it later.

The resulting ice cubes are each 30 ml of mesophilic starter. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month. To make more starter culture, simply thaw one cube and add into 2 cups of fresh milk. Mix thoroughly with a fork or a whisk. Allow the milk/culture to stand at room temperature for 16 to 24 hours or until the consistency of fresh yogurt. Then follow from step 5.

 

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Thermophilic culture recipe

Thermophilic starter cultures are used mostly by the pasta-filata and cooked curd cheeses. Here is a simple recipe to produce an easy thermophilic culture at home.

  1. Start with 2 cups of FRESH milk. Heat it to 85°C on the cook top or in a microwave. Be careful not to heat too high otherwise the cream will separate.
  2. Let the 2 Cups of milk cool to at least 52°C.
  3. Add one table spoon of FRESH yogurt either homemade or store bought “live and active culture” type. Probiotic yogurt can also be used.
  4. Mix the yogurt into the milk thoroughly with a fork or a whisk.
  5. Keep the mixture at 44°C for 8-10 hours until a firm yogurt has set. This can be done by using a double boiler on a low setting or by placing the inoculated milk into a small CLEAN mason jar placed in a warm water bath. The bath can be kept warm by placing it on an electric range top at the lowest possible setting (so that ‘ON’ light is just on). Monitor the temperature closely the first few times you do this and you will become a better judge of the temperature settings of your range top. This way with future cultures you can set the process up and not worry about it for 8-10 hours. Alternatively, you can use an electric yogurt maker.
  6. Pour this culture into a full sized CLEAN ice cube tray and put into your FREEZER. As with all steps of cheese making, cleanliness is next to godliness.
  7. Once frozen, remove the cubes and put into a CLEAN sealed container or plastic freezer bags. It is a good idea to label the container to distinguish it from your mesophilic culture.

The resulting ice cubes are each 30 ml of thermophilic starter. Add these cubes (thawed) to your recipes as required. The cubes will keep for about one month. To make more starter culture again simply thaw one cube and use it as the fresh yogurt used in step 3.

One another way is to use kefir as thermophilic culture (here is the discussion I’ve started on Cheese Forum) . Kefir has got a lot of bacteria and yeasts that can be used as starter culture. If you follow the thermophilic starter procedures and use Kefir instead of fresh milk, you would be getting a good and strong culture ecosystem. Strain about 1 liter of Kefir (separate the gems) and use your yogurt maker or keep the temperature about 43°C to 50°C for a day. This will eliminate most of the mesophilic cultures and some yeast. When it is curdled like yogurt (about a day or 2) separate 500 ml and mix it with 500 ml skimmed pasteurized milk. Put in your temperature controlled yogurt maker and keep it 43°C to 50°C constant till it curdles again. If you do this for 7 to 10 times, you will get a strong thermophilic ecosystem with lots of different thermo bacteria. I am using this starter for some hard cheeses and feta mainly. It does have gas producing bacteria in ti and cheese ends up with holes. Aroma and texture is also very good.

Salt

Every household has it. It is in every living thing. Life started in salty water. We don’t know much about it but we use it everywhere. It opens up our taste buds and then the aromas flow into our brain in a better way.

salt

It is called NaCl, Sodium Chloride by scientists. We call it salt, it is easier. There are many types of it, kosher salt, sea salt, Celtic sea salt, rock salt, iodized salt, Murray river salt, Tibetan pink salt, smoked salt… They are all salt of course with different properties. They have different additional minerals, microbial life, and salt content.

Cheese making and salt crossroad during the ageing, brining, rubbing, milling. Salt prevents available water to go into bacteria by holding it. That is why some cheeses aged in salty brine solution (feta), rubbed with salt (blue), added during the milling (cheddar) to enhance the flavour as well as protecting the cheese from spoilage bacteria.

The best salt you can get would be home brand rock salt. As we cheese makers use a lot of it, I buy it in bulk. A grinder or mortar and pestle will make it finer to use in cheese and you can chuck it into brine as it is. I also use sea salt from the health food shop. It is the wet stuff in plastic bags.

Normal table salt and iodized salt are not recommended in cheese making as they have additives, iodine and other things added. Iodine kills lactic acid bacteria which are the starter cultures and anti caking agent does not allow correct flavour development.

So stack up some rock salt in your cupboard and always make sure you have excess as you don’t know when you will be needing it.

Oh also protects you from daemons if you spread to window sills. 😉

Rennet

The very first ingredient in your cheese making is rennet. As you may already know, there are recipes using lemon juice, tartaric acid, citric acid but those recipes are not for real cheeses. They are usually made fresh and consumed straight away.

Rennet is an enzyme or actually couple of enzymes. It is secreted from the 4. stomach called abomasum of grazing animals. When a young grazing animal drinks milk from its mother, the milk needs to get into a solid form so that it can be digested. Otherwise it would go quickly in the digestive track and the animal can not get the beneficial vitamins, minerals, fat and proteins out of milk. The enzymes named as chymosin, bovine and pepsin and a real rennet would have all 3 in it in different ratios. These days vegetarian rennet is mostly chymosin created by injecting the DNA of chymosin into a bacteria and let the bacteria create the enzyme.

Here you see the 4. stomach
Here you see the 4. stomach of a goat

Chymosin used to be called rennin thinking that it is secreted from kidney glands but it is renamed to give a better name and to prevent confusion for the science minded people.

Rennet is available at cheese making supply stores. In Australia, you can get it from web shops like http://cheeselinks.com.auhttp://www.thecheesemaker.com.au and http://greenlivingaustralia.com.au. Only vegetarian rennet is available through these shops. Although I looked for real calf or goat rennet but could not find it. There are some in 10 litres containers which is not practical for home cheese makers. I here thank you again to Barry Lillywhite for sending me some real calf rennet.

There are also two shops in Canberra selling rennet. These are Buts and Brew in Kaleen shopping plaza and Cooking Coordinates in Belconnen Fresh Fruit Market where I have given workshops before. These two shops are selling Mad Millie cheese making kits and they supply rennet and other things.

Rennet comes in a 50 or 100 ml bottles and the usage is written on it. It is usually added to at 2 ml or 1 ml per 10 litres of milk depending on the strength of rennet.

You can not take rennet through customs, so don’t try doing this. It is an animal product and not allowed.

Rennet can be kept in the fridge (not in freezer) and will service you till it expires. Even when they are expired, you can still use it by increasing the dosage as its strength is diminishing.

Also get couple of plastic syringes from chemists as you will need these to measure the rennet correctly. Using more rennet than specified in hard cheeses results in bitter taste and defects. In fresh cheeses it is not so much important but still obey the instructions that came with it.

Cheesemaking workshop – done and dusted

When I have received a phone call from Canberra Environment Center’s Ryan, to do a cheese making workshop, I didn’t know what was I signing up for :-). When he asked “can you do a second one the same day” I said why not. Luckily, cheese making is something I love.

Apparently, there were a lot of people eager to get into cheese making and this option was one of the cheapest for them compared to other cheese making classes. There were 41 people in 2 sessions. With all the adulteration going on with our food supplies, it is becoming more and more important to produce our own food by any means.

Cheese making workshop poster
Cheese making workshop poster

It was also a learning process for me as I have never done it at this scale. I made a nice plan to cover all 4 cheeses, setup boilers and burners in advance and everything was going as planned. Truth is nothing goes as planned. I apologized from the participants and ruled out the Mozzarella. Only myself made the mozzarella and others watched as the kitchen didn’t have enough microwaves for everybody.

The Workshop Plan
The Workshop Plan

It was still a good practice for everyone to make a feta. The problem is, cheese making is not a 3 hours process. 1 day for renneting, cutting, cooking and moulding and another day for draining is required.

What I have learned from this workshop:

1- Cover only 1 or 2 cheeses. so that everyone can get to make these properly

2- Adjust milk supplied. We ended up excess, very quality milk that day.

3- Drink more water for me. At the end of the day, my throat was dry as a cardboard.

4- Turn on the camping stoves when there is no boiler on top sitting.

And the mozzarella I made is tasted by the participants with the ever beautiful sourdough bread made by Robert Guth with a glass of organic wine.

At the end of the day, I was feeling real tired and my knees weren’t holding anymore but I was feeling happy that maybe I have converted some of the participants into cheese makers.

We are planning a hard cheese workshop now. Stay tuned.

What is Cheese?

The answer should be quite straightforward: “Cheese is milk which has been concentrated and preserved.” Preservation is, in a nutshell, the slowing down of the natural progression of putrefying organisms. In natural cheese-making one uses the following scientifically and historically sound methods of preservation:

Extraction of Moisture

All organisms have a minimum required moisture intake necessary for survival. This requirement will increment relative to the energy used. Whilst a micro-organism is reproducing it will use more energy thus, by making less moisture available we restrict it’s capability to reproduce, or even to survive at all if we so wish.

Removal of Energy Sources

In milk, the main energy source comes in the form of lactose (milk sugars). The lactose is dissolved in the water content of milk. If we reduce the moisture we also reduce the available energy.
The lactose is used mainly by the acid producing “starter” bacteria so, by encouraging the growth of these we reduce the lactose available to spoilage organisms.

Acidity Balance

All organisms have an optimum acidity at which they will operate best. By controlling the acid production we, again, control the spoilage organism’s survival and reproductive capabilities. We also control the actions of desirable organisms of course.

Salting

Salt inhibits the energy uptake of bacteria. The tolerance to salt will depend on the individual species of the bacterium and will vary from one species to another. The amount of salt used in cheese-making will depend on the type of cheese and the organisms that we wish to restrict. Salt is not used simply as a flavor enhancer.

Unfortunately, the answer is nowadays not so simple. Large-scale cheese production includes the use of a mind-boggling array of additives and preservatives. In Britain today at least 75% of home production contains genetically modified material via G.M rennet. I would expect the percentage to be somewhat higher in the U.S.

Often the justification for genetically modified food production is that it helps to feed under-developed third-world countries. The other side of this argument is that it has lead to extreme unemployment in the agricultural sector. Smaller scale production would give us better quality and safer food and also a better quality of life for many.

Basic Principles of Home Cheese Making

The basic principle involved in making all natural cheese is to coagulate or curdle the milk so that it forms into curds and whey. As anyone knows who has left milk un-refrigerated for a period, milk will curdle quite naturally. The milk sours and forms into an acid curd.

Today’s methods help the curdling process by the addition of a starter (a bacterial culture which produces lactic acid) and rennet the coagulating enzyme which speeds the separation of liquids (whey) and solids (curds). There are two basic categories of starter cultures. Mesophilic starter cultures have microbes that can not survive at high temperatures and thrive at room temperatures. Examples of cheeses made with these bacteria are Cheddar and Gouda. Thermophilic starter cultures are heat-loving bacteria. They are used when the curd is cooked to as high as 55°C. Examples of cheeses made from these bacteria are Swiss and Italian cheeses.

The least sophisticated cheeses are the fresh, unripened varieties typified by Cottage Cheese. These are made by warming the milk and letting it stand, treating it with a lactic starter to help the acid development and then cutting and draining the whey from the cheese. The cheese can then be salted and eaten fresh. This is the simplest, most basic form of cheese.

Acidification

Generally, cheese making starts with acidification. This is the lowering of the pH (increasing acid content) of the milk, making it more acidic. Classically, this process is performed by bacteria. Bacteria feed on the lactose in milk and produce lactic acid as a waste product. With time, increasing amounts of lactic acid lower the pH of the milk. Acid is essential to the production of good cheese. However, if there is too much acid in the milk the cheese will be crumbly. If not enough acid is present the curd will be pasty.

Rennet

After acidification, coagulation begins. Coagulation is converting milk into curds and whey. As the pH of the milk changes, the structural nature of the casein proteins changes, leading to curd formation. Essentially, the casein proteins in the milk form a curd that entraps fat and water. Although acid alone is capable of causing coagulation, the most common method is enzyme coagulation. The physical properties of enzyme-coagulated milk are better than that coagulated purely with acid. Curds produced by enzyme coagulation achieve lower moisture content without excessive hardening.

Enzymes used to coagulate milk come from a number of sources: animals, plants, and fungi. The traditional source of enzyme is rennet. Rennet is a preparation made from the lining of the fourth stomach of suckling calves or kids. The most important enzyme in rennet is chymosin. Today, most chymosin is a recombinant product made possible by genetic engineering. Until 1990, the only source of rennin was calves. Around 1990, scientists created a system to make chymosin that doesn’t require calves. Using genetic engineering, the gene for chymosin was cut from a calf cell and inserted into the genomes of bacteria and yeast. The microbes make an exact copy of the calf chymosin. Microbes replicate and grow rapidly, and can be grown continuously. Thus, the supply of rennet is assured. Approximately 70% of the cheese made in the U.S. is coagulated using chymosin. The chymosin made by the yeast cells is the same as that made by the calf cells.

Cutting and Pressing the Curd

After the coagulation sets the curd, the curd is cut. This step is usually accompanied with heating the curd. Cutting the curd allows whey to escape, while heating increases the rate at which the curd contracts and squeezes out the whey. The purpose of this stage of the process is to make a hard curd. The term hard curd is relative; the cheese at this stage is still quite pliable. The main difference between a soft curd and a hard curd is the amount of water remaining in the curd. Hard curds have very little water left in them.

Once the curds have sufficiently hardened, salting and shaping begins. In this part of the process, salt is added to the cheese. Salt is added for flavor and to inhibit the growth of undesirable microbes. Large curds are formed as smaller curds are pressed together. This will often involve the use of a cheese press.

cut curd
Cut curd ready to stir

Ripening

The shaped cheese is allowed to ripen or age for various periods of time. During this time, bacteria continue to grow in the cheese and change its chemical composition, resulting in flavor and texture changes in the cheese. The type of bacteria active at this stage in the cheese making process and the length of time the cheese is aged determine the type and quality of cheese being made.

Sometimes an additional microbe is added to a cheese. Blue veined cheeses are inoculated with a Penicillium Roqueforti> spore which creates their aroma, flavor and bluish or greenish veining. Such cheeses are internally moulded and ripen from the inside out. On the other hand, cheeses such as Camembert and Brie have their surfaces treated with a different type of Penicillium spore which creates a downy white mould (known as a bloomy or flowery rind) this makes them surface ripened cheeses.

Many surface ripened cheeses have their surfaces smeared with a bacterial broth. With others the bacteria is in the atmosphere of the curing chambers. These cheeses are called washed rind varieties as they must be washed regularly during their ripening period (longer than for Camembert or Brie) to prevent their interiors drying out. The washings also help promote an even bacterial growth across the surfaces of the cheeses. As this washing can be done with liquids as diverse as salt water and brandy, it also plays a part in the final flavor of the cheese.

Ripening cheeses in the fridge
Ripening cheeses in the fridge

Rinds

The rinds of the cheeses are formed during the ripening process, many quite naturally. Some are created artificially. Rinds may be brushed, washed, oiled, treated with a covering of paraffin wax or simply not touched at all. Traditional Cheddars are wrapped around with a cotton bandage. The rind’s basic function is to protect the interior of the cheese and allow it to ripen harmoniously. Its presence thus affects the final flavor of the cheese. Salting plays an important role in rind formation. Heavily salted cheeses develop a thick, tough outer rind, typified by the Swiss range of cheeses. Cheddar, another natural rind cheese, is less salted than the Swiss varieties, and consequently has a much thinner rind.

Naked Rind
Naked Rind

I hope this introduction to principles of cheese making has been interesting and informative. As you begin to make home made cheese, I would advise to start with the simple quick cheese recipes. Then, move on to the soft cheeses and finally the hard cheeses. You’ll find that you learn more about the process every time you try a recipe. Your final cheese is affected by many factors. I would advise using a log book in which you can record such factors as starter type and amount, inoculation time, temperature, etc. Each recipe will have different factors you’ll need to look at. The use of a log book will help you reproduce your outstanding cheeses on command, while avoiding the many pitfalls that can ruin your hard work.