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Limburger Cheese
Yes, the cheese everyone loves to hate.
Limburger is perhaps more generally known by its aromatics (??) than by anything else ....
Whew !!!

Personally I think it's gotten a bad "rap", because the heart of this cheese really has an amazing flavor if given the chance.
We sometimes simply have to ask it to leave it's coat outside!


Limburger was once considered to be the working man's cheese, served on dark bread with onion slices accompanied by a beer. This essentially became the American version of the "Ploughman's Lunch" for the working man.

As a kid, I remember the mysterious box hidden in the back corner of the fridge and the fact that my mom never spoke fondly about it being there (to put it lightly). My Dad of coarse had VERY specific instruction on where and how it was to be opened as well as how long it was allowed to be there.

The vaudeville stage also had a lot to say about the "Limburger" situation as did the early animated cartoons.

......

So with all of this questionable history and it's fading from the store shelves during the 20th century,
why am I featuring Limburger cheese this month???

  1. ... Because Ricki asked me to do this one
  2. ... Because I am always looking for a cheese that does not have "Star" status and wondering what would happen if we moved it out of the commercial realm and back into the home/artisanal mode where good milk and attention to process detail make such a big difference.
  3. ... I really like this cheese when made well.

What is Limburger?:

Limburger is a soft, creamy cheese with a soft, inedible rind. The cheese is usually creamy to pale yellow, with a darker orange rind. It can taste very strong, spicy and aromatic, reminding some consumers of meat BUT this can be controlled by controlling moisture, the frequency of washings, and the amount of aging time. There is a hint of sweetness to this cheese as well. While it is kept cool, it does not have such a pronounced odor as when warm. It is found on the market in blocks five inches square and about two inches thick, wrapped in Manila paper and tinfoil.

This cheese is made similar to American Brick cheese but much softer when ripe. The primary difference for the Limburger is the extent of the natural rind formed by washing the surface with a light salt solution over a period of many days to several weeks. During the curing process, the mild brine solution prevents many bacteria and molds from settling in but encourages one special group of bacteria (Brevibacterium linens) to thrive on the surface of the cheese where they begin to break down the proteins inside. The ripening begins from the surface as enzymes are released and continues to the center over several weeks.

It is this rind that gives Limburger its reputation as a "Stinker." The age old solution to the aromatic problem is to keep the cheese in solitary confinement in a cold place, since it will quickly pass on it's character to the other more less aromatic foods.

Limburger needs to be made from a sweet milk (AKA ... fresh fresh fresh!). If the milk were too ripe, the rennet would expel too much moisture and a drier cheese would result.

A Bit of History:

Limburger cheese originated in northern Europe during the 19th century, having originally been created by Belgian Trappist Monks from the province of Luttick in Belgium. It then moved on to Germany where it became extremely popular and the Germans adopted it as one of their very own cheeses.
It's manufacture in America was carried on by the Swiss and German rather than by Belgian emigrants. For them, it was a nostalgic, cheap saloon food. They liked it in a sandwich, with pumpernickel, spicy mustard, raw onion, and cold beer ... in all a collection of strong tastes. By the late 20th century, most Limburger was produced in Germany and the United States, and today even the Belgians regard it as a German cheese.

In America, a Swiss immigrant named Rudolph Benkert cured the first Green County Wisconsin Limburger in his home cellar in 1867. The following year Nicholas Gerber, another Swiss immigrant, established the first Limburger factory in the area. Taverns all over the county were soon serving the potent cheese with locally-brewed beer, a combination patrons relished so much that when saloons closed during Prohibition, Limburger sales went into decline.

Limburger lost fashion during the great food migration to refrigeration, when food became ‘cleaner,’ ‘safer,’ less smelly and more sterile than ever before.

Today, a single cheese plant in Monroe, Wisconsin (Chalet Cheese Cooperative), produces all the surface-ripened Limburger made in the United States. Myron Olson of Chalet Cheese Co-op, a veteran cheese maker of 43 years and one of Wisconsin's "Master Cheese Makers" currently presides over his domain of Limburger.

Variations in Style:

Limburger has many cousins in the cheese world such as the similar but milder Herve from Belgium, Muenster from Alsace, Livarot and Epoisses from France (just ask Ricki about the latter one and our French trip), and Tilsit from Germany.

The big difference in the aroma, flavor, and texture of these cheeses is in how much moisture is retained in the final cheese, how often they are washed, and how long and at what temperature they are aged.

This is a key for the artisan/home cheese maker in that by varying and controlling these parameters you can make a range of cheeses with very different characteristics:

  • More moisture in making and extended washings will increase the "attitude" of this cheese, whereas decreasing these will make for a milder cheese.
  • Shorter ripening time and cooler temperatures will also lead to a bit milder cheese and conversely the opposite will have you looking for an "isolation chamber" for the cheese.

A Recipe for Making Limburger Cheese

More than you ever wanted to know about making Limburger cheese ...

Before you begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallons of whole milk (not ultra-pasturized)
  • Cultures:
    • 1 packet of our Buttermilk culture or 1/4 tsp MM100
    • A pinch (1/32 tsp.) each of Geotrichum and B.linens culture to add to the milk and the same amount to be added later to the wash water for the rind formation during aging
  • 1/2 tsp liquid rennet (2.5 ml)
  • Annatto is an option for color if using standardized and pasteurized milk. (Just about 1/4-1/2 tsp should move the white milk towards a creamy color.)
  • Calcium chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk (1/2 tsp)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds
  • 2 molds (Small Mold-M3) for the 2 gallon batch
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds
  • No cheese press or weights are needed for this cheese

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 88-90F (32C). 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 the proper temperature, the cultures 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 optional annatto and calcium chloride can also be added at this point.

Once the cultures and other additions are added, allow the milk to ripen at this temperature for 30 minutes. This is warmer and for a shorter time than some other semi-soft cheeses but since the milk starts out with less ripening time, the warmth will help the rennet form a curd.

Coagulation with rennet:

Once the milk has been ripened fully, add about 1/2 tsp (2.5ml) of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to set quietly for 45-60 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It should be kept at the proper temperature during this time.


Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once a firm curd has been formed (if still too soft, allow it to rest another 15 minutes) it is time to cut the curds and release the whey. The cutting needs to be slow and steady and the curd size should be about 1/2-5/8 inch in size. Here, I use a whisk with wires I have expanded but you can use a knife for the vertical cuts and a long spoon to complete the horizontal cuts.
Take about 5 minutes to complete this part. If the curds are too small the cheese will become too dry to ripen properly.

After the cut is complete, the curds should be stirred very slowly, so as not to break them for another 15 minutes.


Cooking the curds :

The curd now needs to be scalded to about 92F very slowly over 5-10 minutes and then further stirred for another 15-20 minutes until the final firmness is achieved.
This is the point that I always stress as "critical moisture" in my workshops because:

  • For a high moisture cheese, if too much moisture is removed, the cheese will be too dry to ripen well.
  • But if not dry enough, it will carry excess moisture (lactose) into the aging room and will cause late acid development on the aging shelf resulting in a harsh and over-acid cheese.

What you will be looking for here is the final curd mass.  When removed from the vat and pressed lightly in the hand, it will just barely be sticking together when a little thumb pressure is applied. This may take you a few tries to get but is a time where close observations need to be made and good notes kept.

When this point is reached, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey and the whey ladled off, leaving the curd mass and a little whey covering it in the bottom of the vat.


Molding the cheese and draining the whey:

The curds can now be transferred with the remaining whey directly to the sanitized molds placed on draining mats, as shown below.

As soon as all of the curd is transferred to the molds, another draining mat is placed on top and the form is turned with the draining mats to keep the curd mass contained.

Pressing:

There is no press or weight needed for this because we are making a high moisture cheese. The curd mass will be all the weight that is needed to consolidate the curd BUT the cheese must be turned ASAP after the curd is transferred into the mold and then turned several more times in the next hour.

By this time the surface should be very smooth and consolidated. During the next several hours turn them hourly.

The whey will continue to drain and the curds will settle in the molds as seen in the photos above. The culture is still producing acid, therefore it is important to keep them warm at 72-78F during this period. Allow this draining and acid production to continue until the next morning (about 14-18 hours in the molds). The forms can be removed and the cheese will be about 11.25-1.5 inches in height. They are now ready for salting.

Salting:

You should have a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese.
You will find all of the details you need on brining here.
A simple brine formula is:
1 gallon of water to which is added 2.25 lbs of salt, 1tbs. calcium chloride (30% solution), and 1 tsp. white vinegar.

The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 1.5 hours.
The cheese will float above the brine surface, so sprinkle another teaspoon of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and re-salt the surface about half way through the brine period.

At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface BUT DO NOT allow the cheese surface to dry (as in many other cheeses post brining) because we want a very high moisture during aging.

Jim's cheese ready for the aging room

Aging prep:

Up until this point we have been following a pretty normal profile for a semi-soft cheese. Now we will begin the adventure into "stinky cheese" territory (or not depending on how brave you are).

The key here is:

  • to prepare a moist cheese body
  • to provide it with a high moisture aging environment
  • and to keep it quite moist until the red rind begins to develop

Once the cheese is salted and dried of surface moisture, it needs to go into a plastic covered box to hold a high moisture level of about 95% and initially a temperature of 58-62F (higher than most other aging temps). The photo shows the container circled that I use for this cheese. You can see several other containers as well that I use in my cave here. Ricki does not sell these but they are readily available in many stores.
I also make sure I keep a draining mat under each cheese to allow for a little circulation of air and moisture release. I also turn the cheese every day, change the mats when they become too damp and wipe any excess moisture from the enclosure.

I usually make this cheese during the summer when my aging room is a few degrees warmer.

Washing the surface:

Now, for the next 3-4 days, there is nothing to do but wait and turn the cheese once daily while the salt penetrates the curd and the cheese surface changes to a slippery surface caused by natural yeast picked up during sitting and handling to this point. These yeast will begin preparing the surface by decreasing its acid. You have already added the small amount of geotrichum and B.linens to your milk so they are also present and ready to go as the cheese surface changes.

You are now at the point where Limburger becomes ... LIMBURGER (and this is the point where the bravery or not comes in).

It is time to begin the washing phase. This is the first step in producing a milder vs aromatic cheese and is determined by how much you wash that initial slippery (slime) coat off.

You begin by making a light brine with about a cup of water and a good tablespoon of salt . If you want a more aromatic surface add about 1/16tsp of the B.linens to this.
Now using a cloth or soft brush (the brush removes more of the initial surface) If you want a milder cheese, wash as much of this surface as possible off but if you want an aromatic and strong flavored cheese just rub it lightly with the light brine solution.
Next the cheese are moistened daily to keep them hydrated and then wiped/brushed with the light brine 2-3 times during the first 7-10 days.
NOTE: the surface should  never become "swampy" or "gooey" with free moisture nor should it become dry and flakey. The ideal surface should feel moist and perhaps a bit "tacky".
Following this they need to be kept cooler at 40-50F to allow a slow but steady ripening of the cheese body. Too high a temp will cause the cheese to ripen unevenly.
Continue to maintain the higher moisture to keep from drying out. If the surface becomes too dry, it can be moistened with a damp cloth. Wrapping the cheese with our washed rind papers will help to preserve the moisture at this point

 Aging Character:

The final aging time will really depend on your "Bravery" factor and what you want in the final cheese.
  • Less than 1 month age you will find it to be firm, crumbly, and salty with a slight acid flavor. Yes, not much Limburger here yet.
  • 1.5 months age, the cheese is a Young  Limburger and is still firm with crumbly center and soft outer edge as the bacteria works from edge to center and still has an acidic flavor.
  • 1.5-2 months the cheese is “à point” (in between) and is soft almost to center, and the flavor is becoming somewhat sweeter with a slight earthy flavor. Approaching Limburger country now.
  • 2-3 months the cheese becomes more soft and spreadable, and the cheese is sweet strong flavor approaching "barny" or "farm-like" (trying to be nice here). You are now in Limburger country.
  • 3+ months the cheese is only for the brave with an intense very strong and pungent aroma/flavor. Bitterness may now be a factor at this age. 
    • You have now entered the Capitol of Limburger country and you find yourself alone.
    • Your friends can be seen off in the distance holding their noses and pointing at you.
This will also depend on how moist the cheese is made and  how you maintain the surface as indicated above.

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The Cheese Queen is in Food and Wine and Barbara Kingsolver's
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Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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