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Derby with Sage
This month we will focus on the herb garden and add a savory touch to our cheese.

One of the first herbs to come back every spring from under the snow is my sage, and since I have always been intrigued by the herb addition to the Derbyshire cheese, this is where I am going with this month's cheese.


Derby is a traditional English style cheese from the rural county of Derbyshire, located smack in the middle of England, not surprisingly called the Midlands.

It's history goes back to at least the 17th century, as you can see by the notes below from the 1728 recipe.  On special holidays, it was made with an addition of sage leaf, and often patterns of this sage flavored green cheese alternated with the plain cheese.

In many respects, Derby is similar to Cheddar, but has a softer body and slightly higher moisture content. When young, it is springy and mild but as it matures, subtle sweet flavors develop and the texture becomes firmer.


Variations in Style

Derbyshire cheese can be made with just the sweet yellow curd or, as it was specially done for holiday,s with the addition of sage. Originally, the sage was added due to its reputation as being very healthful. The sage will add a wonderful green color and a savory flavor that goes well with the base cheese, but a balance in flavor needs to be maintained.

The green coloration can occur in several ways here:

  1. The sage colorant is added to the entire curd mass after the curds have been shattered and broken. This shows as a green outline around each curd.
  2. A portion of the curd is separated from the vat as loose curd as soon as the whey is removed. To this, the sage colorant is added and then allowed to consolidate into a firm curd mass, just as the uncolored curds do. This colored curd will later be broken and added as a layer to the main cheese.
  3. A refinement of this was the 'Figure Derby,' where green ornamental designs were inserted into the white cheese like marquetry in a piece of wood. Although I have not found examples of this today, I am sure this practice continues.
The following notes from a 1728 text explain the sage additions in detail.

To make a plain Sage-Cheese.
Gather the young Tops of red Sage, and bruise them in a Mortar till you can press the Juice from them; then take Leaves of Spinach or Spinage, and bruise them likewise, and press out the Juice to mix with the Sage Juice; for the Sage Juice of it self is not of a pleasant green Colour, and the Spinach Juice is added to it to render it more bright to the Sight; it also serves to take off the bitterness of the Sage. When this Juice is prepared, put your Rennet to the Milk, and, at the same time, mix as much of your Sage and Spinach Juice with it, as will give the Milk the green Colour you desire. If you would have it strong of the Sage, you must have the greater share of Sage Juice; or weaker of the Sage, the greater share of Spinach Juice. When the Curd is come, break the Curd gently, and when it is all equally broken, put it into the Vat or Cheese Mote, and press it gently: remember that the equal and due breaking of the Curd will keep your Cheese from having Hollows or Eyes in it, and the gentle pressing of Cheese will make it eat tender and mellow. This, as well as the Marygold Cheese, must be salted, when it has been press'd about eight Hours.

To make Sage-Cheese in Figures.
Those that are willing to have figur'd Cheeses, such Cheeses as are partly green and partly otherwise, must take the following method. Provide two Cheese Vats of the same bigness, and set your Milk in two different Vessels; one part with plain Rennet only, and the other with Rennet and Sage Juice, as directed in the above Receipt; make these as you would do two distinct Cheeses, and put them into the Presses at the same time. When each of these Cheeses has been prest half an hour, take them out and cut some square Pieces, or long Slips, quite out of the plain Cheese, and lay them by upon a Plate; then cut as many Pieces out of the Sage Cheese, of the same Size and Figure of those that were cut out of the plain Cheese, and presently put the pieces of the Sage Cheese into the holes that were cut in the plain Cheese, and the pieces cutout of the plain Cheese into the holes of the Sage Cheese, contriving to make them fit exactly: for this use some have Tin Plate, made into Figures of several Shapes ( like a cookie cutter I think), with which they cut out the pieces of their Cheeses so exactly, that they fit without trouble. When this is done, return them to the Presses, and treat them like common Cheeses, so will you have one Cheese Sage, with white or plain Figures in it, and the other a white Cheese, with green Figures in it. In the making of these Cheeses you must particularly observe to break your Curd very equally, and press both your Cheeses as equally as possible before you cut out the Figures; for else when they come to be press'd for the last time, your Figures will press unequally and lose their Shapes. When these Cheeses are made, they must be frequently turn'd and shifted on the Shelf, and often rubb'd with a coarse Cloath. These Cheeses may be made about two Inches thick, for if they are thicker, it will be more difficult to make the Figures regular; these will be fit to eat in about eight Months.


A Recipe for Making Sage Derby Cheese

The following guidelines are ones that I have developed from info on the Derbyshire cheese made during the early 20th century, and is the way it continues to present times. This tends to be a moister, softer, and earlier ripening version of Cheddar.
At some time in the future, I may visit the much earlier process (going back to the 17th and 18th century) which was quite different.


Before You Begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallons of milk (Not ultra-pasturized)
  • 2/3-3/4 packet of our C101 or 3/16 tsp of MA011 for culture (a bit less culture to keep the acid low)  (Use about 25-40% less if working with raw milk.)
  • Liquid single strength rennet (1/2 tsp or 2.5 ml)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds
  • Molds - SmallMold-M3 or Stainless - 6inch
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • A cheese press or weights to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • Calcium Chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk
  • Herbs: about 6-12 leaves of both Sage and Spinach, depending on how strong you want the cheese. Sage will provide the aroma/flavor and spinach will provide the bright green. You can adjust quantity and proportions depending on what you like.

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and Heating the Milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 84F (29C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.

Once the milk is at 84F, the 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.

Preparing the Sage Addition:

While the milk is warming and ripening you should prepare the herbs:

  • Clean the leaves well in cold water and then soak them for 10-20 minutes. This tends to remove a bit of the herbal bitterness.
  • Drain the leaves well, then add about 2-4 oz. of cold water and blend the herbs to a fine puree.
  • Set this aside for later use. It should be a deep dark green once the foam subsides.


Coagulation with Rennet:

Then add the single strength liquid rennet. Stir this in for about 1 minute in a slow up and down motion.

The milk now needs to set for about 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. You will note the milk thickening at about 15-20 minutes, but wait the full time until you see a firm curd. Test the curd to see if it gives a clean break, if not wait a little longer. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period.


Cutting Curds and Releasing the Whey:

Once you have a firm curd, it can be cut into 1/2-5/8 inch pieces as evenly as possible, using a knife to make the vertical cuts and a spoon or flat bottomed draining ladle to make the horizontal cut.

Stir these gently and just enough to keep the curds separate for about 5 minutes. This will allow the curd surface to harden enough for a longer stir. Allow the curds to settle for about another 5 minutes to allow the whey to rise. They should not be allowed to consolidate and mat in the bottom though.

Next, begin a slow continuous stir for the next 15 minutes. Bring the temp back up to 84F if it has dropped.


In the beginning, the curds will be quite soft and show very little structure - the whey may be quite opaque.


Cooking the Curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 92F (33-34C). The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3-5F (2C) every 5 minutes at the beginning. The total cooking time will be 15 minutes and may be extended slightly if the curds are still soft.

The curds will become much firmer and the whey less opaque.
Compare these photos to the ones above.

The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.

When the curd is ready - a handful of curds is pressed, it should easily separate with a little pressure from the thumb.

When this point is reached, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey.


Removing the Whey:

The whey should first be removed to the curd surface in the vat. The curds can then be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. They should be allowed to drain for a few minutes, and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.

The strainer I use here is a food grade plastic washtub that I have made drainage holes in the bottom of.
This tends to provide the nice flat surface needed in the following step.

Forming the Curd Mass (Cheddaring):

Once the curds have been transferred and the free whey released, I fold the drainage cloth over and turn the cheese mass to allow it to consolidate. I then place another identical tub with no holes on top and add 1/2-3/4 gallons of water (4-6 lbs or 2-3x the curd weight).

The purpose for this is 2 fold:

  1. To keep the curd warm (water should be between 80-90F).
  2. To help in consolidating the curd mass.

This is the point where the final acidity develops and as it does, some of the calcium will be leached from the curd and flow off with the whey. The curd structure will also begin changing and is very similar to the pasta filata or Mozzarella process.

The cheese mass should be unwrapped, turned over and re-wrapped every 15-30 minutes for the next 1-2 hours while the final acid is produced (final acid pH=5.3-5.4 TA%=.45-.55) and more whey is expelled. The longer the curd develops and the more it is turned, the drier it will become.

When the curd has ripened you should see a change in structure as noted below:


The curd should now show as well consolidated but flatter
and when broken shows a much more elongated individual curd profile
.

Breaking the Curd:

At this point the curd should be torn or cut into small pieces of walnut to hazelnut size. This will allow the salt to penetrate to the center of each curd and stop the development of excess acid which is already near it's targeted development. Failing to do this may result in an over acid cheese.

Adding the Salt and Sage to the Curd:

The next step will be to add the salt to the broken curds. About 2% of the curd weight in salt should be added. The final curd weight of 2.5 lbs will need .8ozs of salt (it is always best to measure salt by weight because different salts will have different densities). Add this salt in 2-3 cycles, with time between for the salt to dissolve. A non-iodized salt must be used and a medium crystal structure is best.

Once the salt is absorbed, you can add the sage/spinach infusion to the broken curds. This should now have dropped to room temp and will be cooler than the curds. This will cause more of the sage liquid infusion to be absorbed into the curds. It is essential to add the salt before the sage infusion because the whey released from salt additions will cause some of the sage flavor to be released as well.

Stir the sage infusion well into the curds and allow them to rest for a few minutes while you prepare the mold.


Molding the Cheese:

The mold and cloth should have been sanitized at this point and the cloth now lining the mold. I am using the  Stainless-6inch mold here.
The curd can now be pressed into the mold and compacted with a firm hand (or fist) to begin its consolidation.
The cloth folded over the surface and the follower placed on top so that the press weight is on the cheese surface and not on the mold itself.


Pressing:

We should begin very lightly and slowly with the press, and increase the press weight slowly, turning and re-wrapping at each change:

  • 30 minutes at 15 lbs
  • 60 minutes at 20 lbs
  • 2 hours at 35 lbs
  • Overnight at 40-50 lbs

The rate of whey running off is simply a matter of drops and not a stream of whey being released. This is a good rate of whey removal during early pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. You should see tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops you can increase the weight slightly. The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, re-wrapped, and put back to the press at the intervals indicated above to assure an even consolidation. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.

Note the green color of the initial whey running off in the photo. This should quickly show as a less colored whey.


Aging:

When the pressing is done, the cheese mass should be well consolidated, showing no cracks or irregular spaces in the surface. If some are noted then re-wrap, return to the press and increase the press weight until the surface is closed.

When ready, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two before waxing. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.

The cheese can now be waxed for aging. For details on waxing- click here.

The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
The cheese can now be aged for 4-6 weeks and it will be ready for your table as a very young cheese, or left for 3-6 months for a more complex aged texture and flavor.

Troubleshooting:

  • Watch for pasty/sticky texture (too moist at molding) or chalky from too much acid.
  • If final cheese is chalky/crumbly/acid this is caused by high acid milk/curds.
  • If final cheese is too soft with pasty curd texture, the curds were too moist when they went into the mold, resulting in cracked rind, irregular surface, and perhaps a weeping cheese.
  • Insufficient acid will result in off flavors from bad bacteria growth. Good cheese making is always about good bacteria (the ones you add) out-competing the bad ones.
  • Low fat milk (less than 3.1%) will result in lean and chalky cheese body with little flavor.

Good luck with this one and enjoy your summer with all of those wonderful fresh garden goodies!

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