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General     Soft Cheeses     Hard Cheeses     Seasoning     Brining

General

How the curds are handled has a great impact on the final quality of your cheese. If the curds are cut too small, your cheeses may be brittle. If the curds are overcooked, your cheeses may be dry and crumbly. Be sure to take good notes.

1. I am not getting curds. I don't know if the problem is the milk or the rennet.

The odds are very good that it is a milk problem. Check the milk or curd below the surface. Bring a spoonful up from the bottom and if it is different, you have a problem milk. (See Milk) Try your recipe again with a good local cow's milk.

2. My curds are not firm enough and there is a lot of fat coming out in the whey.

This may mean that you need to add calcium chloride to your milk. (See Milk)

We recommend using .01% calcium chloride with your raw milk and .02% if it has been pasteurized. With our calcium chloride that comes to ¼ tsp. per gallon for .01% and ½ tsp per gallon for .02%. Dilute it in ¼ cup of cool non-chlorinated water and add it when you begin heating your milk. Then, after adding your rennet, allow the milk to set 3-5 minutes longer than usual before cutting your curds.

3. My curds are shot with holes and they smell funny.

It sounds like a contamination problem, possibly either from your milk or your containers. When curds are spongy with holes in them, it is usually a coliform contamination problem. The coliform can be in anything from your milking equipment to the pot you use to make your cheese. It is usually a problem during hot dry summers but seems to also show up with excess humidity and rain.


Soft Cheeses

We have many resources available for making soft cheeses.  Many of our direct set cultures have the rennet already added, so they are very simple to make and the directions are on the packs.  Our recipe section with step-by-step directions includes most of the soft cheeses.  Our blog (www.cheesemakinghelp.blogspot.com) features many articles about making these easy cheeses, as well.

1. My soft cheeses taste different from the ones I buy at the store.

The flavor from different milks and creams is very different. Fresh cream is usually the secret to more flavor. So, a cream source that is closer to you will be fresher. Also, ripening times and temperatures increase acid production and may change the final product from sweet to tangy.

2. My yield is low.

Make sure you let the milk set long enough to get a firm curd. You should see either drops of whey or an entire layer of whey on the surface when the milk has set well. Another problem is that your milk may be too acidic because it was stored too long before using. This would make a dry cheese and low yield. As a rule, one gallon of milk will yield two pounds of cheese.

3. It took 24 hours for my soft cheese to set. Is it safe to eat?

Yes. This should be fine because the bacteria (good ones) you added were strong and able to dominate the fermentation. Always make sure to cover the milk as it sets.

4. When I put my soft cheese curds in the molds, they drained out the holes.

You should see a firm enough curd that it allows whey to form above the curd mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the pot. If you are not seeing this and have been keeping it in the 68-72F temperature range for the specified time, there is probably something wrong with the milk. There may be a low protein to calcium balance, especially if the milk is old. Depending on the type of milk you used, you might want to add calcium chloride to it. (See Milk)

Many of the soft cheeses are best drained by hanging in butter muslin.  (See our blog article- 101 Ways to Drain Cheese.)

5. I was making one of the soft cheeses, and I ended up with a firm curd on the top of the pot and not so firm on the bottom.

This may indicate that the culture (with rennet in it) was not stirred in well enough. You may stir it slowly for up to a minute.

6. I used raw milk and my soft cheese turned out dry and crumbly.

Fresh milk with a long ripening time will allow all of the cream to rise to the top, creating two separate products - sour cream on top with a fresh cheese underneath. These can be mixed together again.

If the taste is sour, the problem was too much acid production. Fresh raw milk has its own bacteria for ripening and can sometimes need much less culture to ripen properly (as well as less ripening time). Also, make sure your temperature does not get too warm or cool, because this can affect the results. If the milk is more than a day or two old, it may have developed too much acid before you even added the culture.

7. When making my goat cheese lately, the curds have been soupy.

You may be having problems with a late season lactation milk supply. Longer ripening times could help with this. The curds should not be taken from the pot until the whey begins to form on the surface and the curd sticks to the sides of the pot.

8. How can I get more flavor from my goat cheese?

The taste you are looking for is commonly referred to as buckiness.  If you like it, just keep the bucks a bit closer to the girls. You WILL get the flavor.

9. How should I store my soft cheeses? Can I use glass jars?

The soft cheeses are all high moisture so they should be stored in sealed containers. Sanitized glass or plastic jars are fine. Try to size them so as to minimize air space.

10.  Why do so many soft cheeses have ash on them?

Ash is used for several reasons, including aesthetics (it makes a lovely contrast to white goat cheese, for example.)  When applied to the outside of a soft mold ripened cheese, it facilitates the spreading of the mold.  For more information about ash, see our blog article, Using Ash on Your Cheese.

Hard Cheeses

Before you make any of the hard cheeses for the first time, be sure to check our recipe section to see if that cheese has been presented with pictures and step-by-step directions.  There are also many blog articles with pictures and recipes for a wide selection of these cheeses (www.cheesemakinghelp.blogspot.com).

Cutting the Curds

1. When I try to cut my curds, they stick to the knife and the whole mass of curds starts spinning.

Working in round pots can cause problems in cutting curds because the entire pot wants to move. Start slowly and try to get an overall large cut. Then reduce the size of the pieces. We often cut to 1-2" size with a knife, then allow the pieces to rest before using a thin wired whisk for cutting.

2. I used raw, WHOLE milk in my Parmesan recipe and the curds were varying sizes – small to ½” in diameter – when put into the mold, and I was wondering what to expect? I know it will not be as dry as it should be but is it really ruined?

A good amount of care is needed to cut curds as evenly to the same size as possible. The larger pieces will hold excess moisture and the tiny ones will be too dry, making for uneven ripening. This may still be a very enjoyable cheese but not a parma. Moister cheese will require less ripening time.

Cooking & Stirring

1. Why do I have to raise the temperature slowly?

If the curds are warmed too quickly, they will develop a skin that traps the whey inside and prevents adequate drainage. This leaves the final cheese with too much moisture.

Salting

1. Can I use Kosher salt or Celtic sea salt instead of flake salt?

Yes. Be sure to use one where the only ingredient is salt. (Iodized salt will interfere with any bacterial ripening, so we suggest using one that is not iodized.) Most canning salts qualify. (For our 30 Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta, any salt will work.)

The difference between our flake salt and any canning salt is the larger crystal size. This ensures that when dry salting, the salt doesn't dissolve too rapidly. For brines, any non-iodized salt will do.

Seasoning

1. Can I season my curds with any herbs or vegetables or will this interfere with the aging process later?

For the aged cheeses, we strongly recommend using dried herbs (like or Herbs de Provence or French Herbs) or vegetables. This is because mold is attracted to the moisture in fresh ingredients. We add the flavorings to the curds in layers while we are putting them into the molds. This way we can place them well inside the outer edges.

2. Can I make chocolate cheese?

There are many different kinds of chocolate cheeses online, but we are not exactly sure how they are made. We suspect that one way would be to add cocoa to the curds before pressing. Or, shaved chocolate could be added the same way as dried vegetables. If you come up with a good recipe, we would love to put it in our newsletter.

Brining

1. How do I brine my cheese?

After pressing, the cheese is moved to a cool area to stabilize its temperature to that of the brine. (Brining a warm cheese will increase the rate of salt absorption and cause over salting.)

Prepare your brine or, if you have been keeping a good brine, simply pour this into a non reactive pan. A simple brine formula is one gallon of water to which is added 2.25 lbs of salt, 1 Tbsp. calcium chloride (32% solution), and 1 tsp. white vinegar. This will result in a saturated brine at 5.2 pH, suitable for most cheeses. The brine should be kept as cool as possible. Most folks keep it at 52-54F and store it in the aging area to keep cool.

Fresh brine needs to have calcium added because low calcium in the brine will cause the calcium inside the cheese (responsible for binding the proteins) to be pulled into the brine. This will in time cause a weakening of the curd structure and a softening of the rind.

When you place the cheese into the brine, the density of the brine will cause the surface of the cheese to float above the brine and it will not be salted. To remedy this, simply toss a small amount of salt onto the surface of the cheese. It will form its own brine, due to the surface moisture. This extra salt will also make-up for the salt that is absorbed by the cheese.

2. How do I measure the salt content of my brine?

The short answer is to not worry about it since most cheese calls for saturated brine. Just make sure you sprinkle a bit of salt on the tops of the brining cheese and always make sure there is some un-dissolved salt in the brine. If you want something less than saturated brine then you will need a salinometer which can read the salt percentage.

Saturated brine is usually about 26% but at aging temps (55F) where brining should be done, it is more in the 21-23% range. Never let it get below 17% due to halophilic molds that will grow.

3. How long should cheese be brined?

Cheeses of various densities and shapes will require different lengths of time in the brine. A general rule is one hour, per pound, per one inch thickness of cheese. (A very dense low moisture cheese such as Parmesan will need more time than a moist, open textured cheese.)

4. How long will the brine keep?

We keep our brine here for a year or two. If it gets moldy, we simply bring it to a boil and re-filter it. We feel that it gets better with time. In Italy and France we see the recirculation and filtering of brine almost everywhere. When asked, some cheese makers say they cannot remember changing the brine!

Most people keep the brine tanks covered and filter it when it looks dirty or cloudy. Others use a system of constant recirculation through filters. We filter ours into gallon jugs using funnels with cotton balls as the filters.

5. I read that cheese made from store-bought milk won't hold up in a brine.

Store-bought milk has less calcium and thus makes a weaker curd. When you place a cheese in a fresh brine of just salt and water the curd is high in calcium (responsible for holding the curds together) and the brine has none. So, the calcium dissolves and flows into the brine leaving an unstructured curd mass behind (goo). This situation is usually aggravated by high moisture cheeses.

One easy way to correct this is by adding calcium chloride to the brine. One or two tablespoons per gallon should be enough. This way, there is a balance between brine and curd calcium and the cheese retains its structure.

6. How do we handle the cheese after brining?

Once the cheese has been brined, it should be drained and allowed to air dry while turning for a day or so. Once a dry, firm surface is observed, it is then ready for waxing or developing a natural rind.

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