A Bit of History
In France and Italy goat cheese goes back hundreds of years and it is no less popular today. In the New World it had traditionally been the furthest thing from our minds until 1980 when Laura Chenel introduced her version of fresh and sweet goat cheeses to Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
The American palette was quickly awakened to this new version of an ancient cheese and the rest was history. Soon many more small farms with just a few goats began increasing herd size and making goat cheese as well. Of course not far behind them were the larger scale goat cheese producers following the artisans lead.
Thus was born a new era in cheese making in America and a very big factor in the rise of American Artisan Cheese Making.
Up to 85 percent of American goat cheeses are mild and fresh, only a week or two old. In fact, Chevre, the French term for goat, has come to mean mild, fresh goat cheese in the United States.
Variations in Style
Besides the easily found loose packed goat cheese you may find so many other choices:
- Chevre is a white, creamy cheese made from goat milk.
- Fresh goat cheese should have a clean, acidic edge and a lemony aroma.
- It can be sharp, or it can be mild.
- It can be moist or it can be dry.
- It can be a fluffy pile of curds or it can take on a compact shape when formed in molds
- It can be very fresh or aged for a bit to develop character.
- It can be presented in its unadorned persona or dressed up with herbs/spices or even with natural surface molds for greater aging potential.
As Sister Noella the Cheese Nun points out, the steps in making soft cheeses are always basically the same and getting a different cheese is simply in the details.
Most French goat cheeses are strong-smelling and "goaty" (as in "Buck") and may be much longer aged for character.
The new American style tends to be mostly fresher and milder in both aroma and flavor, being only a week or two old. Although the term Chevre refers to all cheese made from goats milk, it is most often associated with a fresh mild cheese here.
All of the variations in this soft cheese can be due to the proper selection of milk
and changes in the process, as we will detail below.
The basic process of making these softer goats milk cheese we know of as Chevre is known as "Lactic Acid Coagulated" cheese rather than a "Rennet Coagulated" cheese (as in most hard pressed cheese).
For these particular cheeses, a curd forms when the lactose is converted to lactic acid and a lower pH of about 4.8 is reached. They will form a good curd even if the rennet is not added, but a small amount of rennet is usually added to improve the daily cycle of cheese making.
These lactic cheeses need to be formed much smaller than the rennet set types because their curd structure is weak. No pressing weight is used other than the simple weight of the curd itself when draining.
The curd can be left loose or packed into forms for a more compact shape.
A simple recipe for making 1 gallon of goats milk into Chevre
|I will begin below with the simplest recipe. Ricki has developed a special Chevre culture pack available from our website that contains both the culture and the powdered rennet to set 1 gallon of milk.
Before you begin:
You will need:
1 gallon of milk (as fresh as you can find it)
1 packet of our Chevre culture (the small dose of rennet powder is already contained in the pack)
Salt (non-iodized cheese salt)
A good thermometer
A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds (no molds are needed for the loose Chevre)
Calcium chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk or if the curds are not forming well enough
Acidifying and heating the milk:
Begin by warming the milk to 68-72F (20-22C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of warm water or, if fresh from the herd, allow the milk to cool naturally to this temp for an hour or so. Ricki suggests heating to 86F but I find that in the summertime 72F works well for me here and slows the acid production and curd formation down for a more even textured curd. In the winter time I have used the 86F as a starting point but rarely find good goats milk then.
Once the milk is at the correct temperature the Chevre culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 6-12 hours while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time. The longer the curd sets the more acid will be produced.
Draining and releasing the whey:
When a good curd has formed, you will see a thin layer of whey over the curd mass and the curd may show cracks and separation from the sides. It will also show a clean break when tested with a knife or finger.
This curd can now be transferred to a butter muslin lined colander with a ladle or slotted spoon to allow the whey to drain. The amount of time needed for draining will be about 6 hours at 68-72F but this is dependent on what you want as Chevre-less time for a sweeter and moister cheese and more time for a drier and tangier cheese. Remember that the bacteria is still working and as long as the whey is present they are able to convert the lactose (in the whey) to lactic acid.
The time of draining and the temperature of the room determine how much whey drains from the curd. The draining period regulates the body characteristics and determines the final quality of the cheese. This period can be as much as 12-36 hours at a temperature of 68-72 °F. Higher temperatures promote gas formation and excessive moisture loss; lower temperatures inhibit whey drainage and produce a very moist cheese with very short shelf life.
Salting and finishing:
Once the cheese has drained to your preference, it is time to salt the cheese and refrigerate your finished Chevre. About 1.5-2 tsp. of the cheese salt will be good. The salting will help the flavor but more importantly it will slow/stop the bacteria from producing excessive acid.
This is also the time that fresh herbs or spices (use your imagination) can be added and mixed in well with the salt.
Now your fresh Chevre needs only to be chilled ASAP to further slow the bacteria from working.
Just store this in a bowl with a cover and it is ready for eating or cooking. As with any fresh cheese it will be best consumed in a week to ten days.
Beyond the Basics with Chevre
As promised earlier I will give you plenty of options for variety in your Chevre making projects. This is truly why goat cheese is so popular and why the number of goat farms and cheese makers has increased so much in North America over the past 25 years.
These are all still the "lactic" style cheese with just a little rennet added.
Using the larger culture packs and a few drops of liquid rennet:
There are actually 2 variations in culture that can be used when making Chevre:
- The simple acid producing type such as our C101 small pack or MA011 large, provide a very close texture with the lactic flavor dominating. Use this one to focus on the milk character as it's primary function is to convert lactose to lactic acid-nothing more to get in the way of the flavor of your milk.
- The more complex buttermilk type such as the MM100 large packs providing a more buttery flavor (from the L. diacetylactis bacteria) and a small amount of CO2 gas production for a more open and lighter texture-more suited to the moister and sweeter versions of Chevre. Use this one for a lighter more complex flavor. The mixed strains also produce a buttery flavor as well as a bit of gas to lighten the texture. Best for fresh cheese.
The amount of culture per gallon to use can also be varied :
- 1/16 tsp.for coagulation in 15-20 hours.
- 1/32 tsp. for coagulation in 20-28 hours
The longer coagulation time will form a more cohesive curd and retain more moisture with draining. They should both be molded at about the same level of ripeness (acidity).
The cultures above have no rennet included so it is necessary to use a small amount of the liquid rennet. The amount for these cheese can vary from about 2 drops to as much as 10 drops (1/2 ml) per gallon. The more rennet used, the closer the texture comes to being a firm rennet coagulated cheese. You want to use the absolute minimum amount, to prevent a tough curd texture. If you get a spongy textured cheese, use less rennet next time.
Molding the Chevre
The Chevre can be molded into forms either before or after draining. There are a variety of forms that can be used for making the Chevre into wonderful compact shapes. Two hours after forming, a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt is added to the top of each cheese in its form. In the morning the cheeses can be turned and returned to the forms. Another quarter teaspoon of salt is sprinkled on top. The cheeses are then left until the late afternoon when the cheeses are removed from the forms and placed on drain matting set on open air shelving in a 60-65 °F room with a fan to move air over the cheeses.
Surface Treatment and Aging
The Chevre is finally unmolded and allowed to ripen with the added surface ripening cultures. As these cheeses age, molds will grow on the surface producing enzymes that change the pH and general curd structure from the surface inwards.
- Natural yeast and molds from the environment that will form a natural mottled surface of white and blue molds as seen in many French style farmstead cheeses.
- Adding a commercial culture of Geotrichum and P.candidum as a combo to the milk at the same time as the base culture for a velvety white surface upon aging or even Geotrichum in a solo addition for a unique moist wrinkled surface.
- An Ash coating to the cheese surface when mixed with the salt and the combo in #2 above. This forms a very beautiful jet black layer which is quickly over grown by the velvety white of the P.candidum.
The ash functions to lower the acid level and speed up the ripening of the cheese. When cut this cheese provides a very beautiful presentation. Velvety white surface with a thin black line and snow white curd becoming somewhat translucent as it ripens from the surface inwards.
- Simply rolling the surface in chopped, herbs, spices, or even flower petals for a unique appearance and flavor. Many combinations of these can produce wonderful compatible flavors.
5. If ripening cultures are added, the cheeses should be turned over the second day and then left until there is visible mold growth on the surface. This should take three to five days. When there is growth, turn the cheeses over and move them to a more humid place at 45-48 °F and 90% relative humidity with a gentle air flow. Turn the cheeses daily until they are completely covered with white mold (about ten days after forming the cheeses).
The cheeses are generally ready to eat in two to three weeks and can be ripened longer as flavor develops.
Ripened goat cheese, which represents perhaps 10 percent of America's total goat cheese production, is aged for about four weeks, just long enough for a skin to develop, as with Brie or Camembert. This brief aging evaporates moisture, giving the cheese a pleasantly chalky texture and a tangier, more concentrated flavor than that of fresh cheese.
Even lower in moisture and more concentrated in flavor is aged goat cheese. It makes up only about 5 percent of all goat cheese produced in the United States because it requires six months or so of aging.
All in all I think these options should inspire the goat cheese producers to experiment and provide many sessions of fun in making cheese.
This should be plenty to keep everyone busy until next month when I return from the Slow Foods Cheese Festival in Bra Italy and visits to cheese makers in Italy and France.