Cheese making- An overview

Another question I often get asked: How is cheese made?

The cheese making process is one that’s difficult to understand. Truly understanding what happens during a cheese make takes many years of practice, observation and eating lots of cheese.

The best way I have had cheesemaking explained to me is that it is the controlled method of removing water from the milk. Making cheese is not like baking a cake, where a recipe is followed. When baking a cake, ingredients are measured, combined in a certain way, poured into a mold (in this case a cake pan) and baked. The result is a cake.

In cheesemaking, you start with a vat of milk then,

  • bring that milk to the right temperature
  • add the desired bacteria
  • wait for the bacteria to multiply and start working on changing the chemistry of the milk
  • add rennet
  • wait for the milk to coagulate
  • cut the coagulated mass
  • Let the curd rest.

At this point, the cheese making process is far from done, but this is where we have achieved the start of separating the water, called whey, from the milk. The whey isn’t just water, it contains lactose, proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals. This is where the powdered whey protein comes from that is popular in sports nutrition. It is also an ingredient in countless food products. On our farm, we feed the whey to our goat kids or to our pasture raised pigs. Nothing goes to waste. Every once in awhile, I will collect this whey in the cheese plant and take a drink. The whey from certain cheese makes, is delicious.

Once the whey starts separating, the curd is manipulated to continue to remove the whey. During this phase, we are using mechanical means which we can easily control and observe. Remember those bacteria and rennet that we added to the milk? They are still working on a microscopic level we cannot see. As a cheesemaker, our goal is to control all. Do you think that’s possible? If you said NO, you’re right, we can’t, but we can try. And that’s the allure of cheesemaking for me.


Curds and whey in the vatSo…we left off with our curds and whey sitting in the vat. Next we,

  • Gently stir the curd
  • For some cheeses, cook the curd
  • Stir the curd some more.

We stir the curd constantly for the most part. Most cheese making facilities have vats with paddles that stir the curd, not at River’s Edge. We stir by hand. We do have a paddle on our vat, but I don’t like the way it handles the curd, so we stir by hand...sometimes for almost two hours, depending on which cheese we are making. That is truly a labour of love. Then we,

  • Start draining the whey from the curd
  • Put the curd into molds, often called hooping
  • Let the curd rest in the molds.


At this point, most of the whey is gone from the cheese. The curd has formed a solid mass and can be handled and flipped. We,

  • Flip the cheese
  • Let the cheese rest
  • Flip the cheese
  • Let the cheese rest
  • At some point salt is added which can be done in several ways.

This flipping of the cheese will go on until the cheese maker is satisfied the proper amount of whey has been removed from the cheese. Then the cheese is put into appropriate storage for aging (there may be more than one stage and condition for aging), we:

  • Flip the cheese
  • Let the cheese rest
  • And so on…I think you get the point. There is a lot of flipping and resting during a cheese’s life. It is basically flipped and allowed to rest until you, or I, eats it.

During the resting phase of this aging, we may feel the cheese is resting, but really millions of microbes are working their magic on the cheese. It’s now up to the microbes and how we care for those microbes (via temperature, humidity and flipping) that create the wonderful, characteristic flavours we get in any given cheese.


Even at the final product stage, there is still whey in the cheese. The key of cheesemaking is to remove the right amount of whey at the right stage of the make. Can you see how making cheese is different than baking a cake? I hope you can appreciate how four ingredients, 1. Milk 2. Bacteria culture 3. Rennet 4. Salt, can be manipulated to create and infinite number of cheeses. Any one of those bullet points can be manipulated. Quality and species of the milk, times, temperatures, the size we cut curd to, the type of bacteria we add, amount and method of salt added, the personality of the cheese maker….so many variables!!  And I haven’t even mentioned pH yet!! Achieving the correct pH is critical in a cheese make! We can discuss more at one of my cheese classes 😊

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to all who eat and enjoy our cheeses,

Katie Normet

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