Since I started cheesemaking back in April, I have been trying to find a method that I can repeat successively to produce a good cheese. There have been many attempts, some more successful than others.
Pressing is something that I have found particularly difficult to get right. Having put the curds into the press, I would press the cheese gently, tightening the press as more whey was released. I would then turn the cheese after 12 hours and tighten the press. It was hard to gauge how hard to press and it was in this second pressing that things would go wrong. The idea behind pressing the cheese a second time was to get a more uniform shaped cheese but in the future I might not bother with this stage and I might even leave it longer in the mould for the first pressing.
My current method of making cheese is to first pasteurise the milk by heating it to 72ºC for 15 seconds. It takes quite a while for the milk to cool so that the rennet can be added, so when the temperatures are at their highest, it is best to do this in the evening and leave it overnight.
The next step is then to heat the milk to 28ºC-30ºC. I dissolve powdered rennet (possibly about 1/4 teaspoon) in water with 1 level teaspoon of salt for every 5 litres of goats’ milk. If you were using chlorinated water, it would be necessary to boil and cool this water first. You then slowly pour the rennet mixture into the milk, stirring it gently so that it is thoroughly mixed in.
The milk is then left for 30 minutes to set.
The curd is ready when you can press it gently with your finger and your finger comes away clean.
With a palette knife, cut the curd into 1cm cubes, cutting vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally. Then mix well, almost beating it until you obtain the consistency of cottage cheese.
I then heat the milk to 38ºC. It is important that to heat the milk gently or it will stick to the bottom and burn.
After 30 minutes, the curds will have sunk to the bottom of the pan. Using your hands, squeeze the curds into a ball by pressing against against the sides of the pan and transfer to the cheese mould.
I’m still not sure about what the best type of cheesecloth (if any) to use. The problem with the loose-weave cheesecloth is that it is a pain to wash if the cheese gets squeezed through the holes and dries solid but it has the advantage that it doesn’t take up much space in the mould. Alternatively, baby gauze (the type used as nappy liners) is a good idea but thicker so has the disadvantage of taking up more space around the pressing plate. I think in the future the decision whether to use cheesecloth or not will depend on the consistency of the mass of cheese that I manage to get out. If it is fairly solid, then I won’t use cheesecloth as the mould is made from stainless steel. I have cut out a circle from a coarse weave cloth which is the same size as the cheese pressing plate and this means I can see more clearly how far down the plate reaches when no pressure is applied (using the holes in the side of the press as a guide). If, on the other hand, the cheese is more crumbly, then I will use some fine gauze to line the press with.
The good thing about making cheese is that you can’t go far wrong and although some might be better than others, it is rare that you make one that is a total failure. Although having said that, that is exactly what happened the other day. We had milked the goats on three consecutive days and so had amassed about 15 litres of milk. This is what I had dreamed of and I was all set to make the mother of all cheeses. I had saved the other two containers with the unpasteurised milk in the fridge and pastuerised the 3 lots together. The next morning, however, the heat of the whey was at about 28ºC and the curds had floated to the top of the pan and expanded into a bubbly mass. I tasted the milk and it tasted off. It turns out that one of the goats was ill with a cold and a temperature and so that affected the milk. In the future, then, if any of the goats do look sick their milk should be kept apart from the others and thrown away. It would also be a good idea to pasteurise the 5 litre batches of milk we get when we milk the goats separately and this would mean too that it would take less time for the final batch to cool to the required temperature.
One of the last pieces of the puzzle was provided by our neighbour. I told him how I still got a lot of bubbles in the cheese and he said that where I was going wrong was I was not stirring it with a stick made from a fig branch. I don’t know why it has to be a fig branch but who am I to argue so the next day I made myself one. Here is a photo:
Apparently, it is also important to stir the curds in one direction only (either clockwise or anticlockwise) and not to mix the two.
Once I have taken the cheese out of the mould, I sprinkle both sides with salt. Before now, I have always rolled the edges of the cheese in salt too but according to the neighbour this is not necessary. So I think I’ll try this for the next one.
I leave the cheese to dry on a plastic cheese mat covered with a cloth to keep the flies off for a couple of days, turning every 24 hours and then finish the process in the fridge. It would be better to dry the cheese outside but the temperatures are getting too warm for this.