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Livarot from Normandy

This month we will focus on some real history in cheese making from the maritime region of Normandy. As in those bad boy Normans/Norsemen from the north that kept raiding and occupying the north coast of France and much of the Isles.

A bold cheese for a bold crowd!

This cheese shows itself with a beautiful washed robe and traditionally holds itself together with 5 bands of natural reed to keep it from spreading as it ripens. It is often referred to as the 'Colonel' due to these five important stripes like a french military colonel.

It can announce itself to the nose as it enters the room ...
... but follows with a much more enticing flavor.

Livarot is one of the oldest and greatest cheeses of Normandy, along with Pont l'Eveque and Camembert (a much more recent cheese). Livarot began as a monastic French cheese easily distinguished by its washed rind and pungent aroma.

The cheese is noted for its soft, golden paste with little holes and springy texture. The taste is nutty and melts in the mouth to release flavors of salty citrus spiciness. The texture is creamy, smooth and quite runny at room temperature. So runny in fact, that it is wrapped with 5 bands of reed strips at salting to hold the cheese within itself during the ripening. These strips account for it being known in Normandy as "the Colonel".

On the table, Livarot cheese would be more appropriate at the meat end of the table than at the end with lighter fare. It is also commonly consumed with cider or strong beer, as well as Normandy's famous strong Calvados, distilled from apples.

In the USA, a close comparison would be Cato Corner Farm's (of CT) "Hooligan", one of my personal favorites.

A Bit of History

Due to its history of conquerors, first the Celtic Gauls in the 4th Century BC, followed by the Romans, then the Vikings and finally William the Conqueror’s invasion, farming traditions go back to France’s earliest civilization. Of course, milk and cheese became one of the most ancient products still produced in the France today.

For such a hearty history, it is no surprise that this cheese developed with a LOT of character.

Livarot is perhaps one of the oldest cheeses of Normandy. Its first appearance in Normandy goes back to the late Middle Ages, but its popularity on a broader scale began in the 17th century with more modern transportation, and it was during the mid to late 1800s that it was acclaimed throughout France.

Early on it was developed as a rather lean cheese to be made after cream was skimmed for butter. It really was a means to preserve the milk for many months. The cheeses became rather soft during ripening and this is where the wrap of reed or rush strips was put into play.

Originally, the cheese was very low in fat (10-15% DryPhase) and did not reach its modern rich fat level until after the last war. Today, the milk going into the cheese is a full 3.5% plus (40-45% DryPhase).

Also, with the current focus on certifying the regionality of cheese and other food products, much more interest has been taken on the historical aspect of quality. There had been a steady drift to commercial economies and more use of Holstein and large herds at the expense of quality.
The certification has now turned to assuring a better milk quality with a high focus on natural grazing on lower density grasslands (a minimum of 0.8 acres of grass per dairy cow).

By 2017, the Normande cows milk
must be used to certify a Livarot cheese.

My favorite herd to use here is a friends Jersey Normande mix/cross, which provides a bit more protein to help hold the high fat% of the Jersey. By snitching a bit of cream off the top it makes an amazing Livarot style cheese.

Making Livarot:

Today's making of Livarot still focuses on the milk quality and care through both the make process and the all-important aging or affinage.

It begins with milk that can be quite often held overnight for natural bacteria to develop. It normally takes slightly less than 1.5 gallons to make a single cheese (3 gallons for my double batch below). The milk held overnight and skimmed will have the full fat milk added the next morning. The indigenous bacteria that develop will also be of a mixed meso/thermo base and hence the culture choice I show below. Traditionally no additional culture was added.

The coagulation of milk to curds will be held for a longer period of time (not as long as for bloomy rind cheese or blues, but longer than a hard cheese), this will help the curds to be moister.

Next, a very gentle large cut followed by a brief and gentle stir before the whey is removed, and the curds are drained on cloth.

Finally the curds are loosely packed into molds that rest overnight for consolidation.

Next morning the dry salting begins.

Finally the washed rind surface evolves over a 2 week period which is followed by another 2-3 months (or more) of aging.

A Guideline for your cheese
in the style of Livarot:

To stay true to the original format for this cheese, which is somewhat higher and wider than a Camembert, I make a double batch from 3 gallons of milk.

You can easily reduce it to a 2 gallon batch by reducing the culture and rennet proportionately.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 86F (30C). 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. Using a store bought pasteurized milk is fine, but for this batch I used a Jersey milk at about 5% fat and skimmed it after holding overnight to about 3% fat. Traditionally, the milk was allowed to rest overnight and the cream skimmed for butter (my cream went for cream cheese).

Once the milk is at 86F the culture, geotrichum and b. linens can be added.
NOTE: The choice of the MA 4001 is more traditional due to the late ripening affects of the Thermophilic portion and thus tends to be a bit creamier than the C101 packs.

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 be kept at this target temperature until it is time to increase for cooking the curds. Hold the milk with culture added quiet for the next 60 minutes to allow the bacteria to begin doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid.

Coagulation with rennet:

Then add about 1.5ml of single strength liquid rennet. Stir in gently for 1 min.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for about 75 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd. This is longer than many of the firmer cheeses but will help to hold more moisture in the finished cheese. You should note that the milk begins to thicken at about 15-20 minutes.

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 but holding the pot of milk in a water bath will be helpful if kept at about a degree or 2 above the 86F.

During this time make sure you have sanitized and prepared the draining pan (colander) with its cloth as well as the final mold(s) to be used.

Cutting curds and releasing the initial whey:

Once the curd has been firmed sufficiently, it is time to cut and drain before molding. To maintain the higher moisture in the final cheese the cut is large at about 3/4 inch. Do the best you can and some variation in curd size is acceptable but please, neither whales nor tiny curd bits... things will not go well if that happens.

Make sure you check the firmness of the curd before the cut, but with the extra time of setting this should be just fine unless you have a rennet that is not doing its job for some reason.

Begin the cut with vertical cuts and then use the flat ladle or spoon to break these horizontally
don't forget to give the curds a rest before stirring.

Once the cut has been done, allow the curds to rest for about 5 min. for the cut surfaces to heal slightly. Following this a very gentle stir for another 5-10 minutes focusing on just keeping everything slowly moving but avoiding further size reduction is the goal. This will be a bit drier, than the curd going into molds for Camembert. If the curd temperature has dropped during coagulation and cutting they should be brought back to 86F at the start of the stir.

Once the curd has been dried slightly, allow them to settle to the bottom while you remove the whey down to just above the settled curds.

Your draining container and cloth should be ready to receive the curds. Transfer them carefully to the cloth covered container and allow the residual whey to drain for 5 minutes, but try to keep them from consolidating too much at this point.

Note the rather large cut of curds in the photo here.

Removing the whey:

For my draining container I use a coated wire kitchen drainer lined with the cloth. The larger surface area allows me to keep the curds more separated during the draining and keeps them from clumping together with gentle agitation. I also use this when making blues.

The dry curds can now be transferred to this drainer lined with butter muslin.

draining the curds

The curds should be allowed to drain for 30 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.

Molding the Final Livarot:

Next begin transferring the drained curds to the molds once the draining whey has slowed. The curd should be well drained by now and already beginning to clump together.

For this guide I am using a tall mold M113 (also used for making some blues like Fourme D'Ambert).
By placing all of the curds into this I make a taller cheese without needing any weight. I cut this in half after it consolidates, hence my double batch.
If using the SmallMold-M3 with follower, add about a 1-1.5 lb. weight to this for consolidation.

For proper draining I use Ricki's fine draining mat set on top of a firm board (to make turning easier) and then the mold placed on top of this.

The curd draining with mold setup and the final curd before molding

The curd can now be transferred to the mold and gently packed as you do this. The curd will need to continue draining overnight as the bacteria continue to work.

the curd continues its draining, note the single tears of whey coming from the mold here
and the slow steady flow from the draining mat

Consolidation of the Curds in Mold:

There is really no press weight needed for this except when using the SmallMold-M3 forms as noted above (1-1.5lbs).
However it is important to:

  • Keep the cheese at 70-75F for continued bacteria activity overnight.
  • Flip the cheese at frequent intervals of 30 minutes and then tapering to every few hours until bedtime.

The next AM the cheese should be well consolidated and it should have reached its final acid development. It should have a mild acidity in tasting (no obvious sweetness from lactose).

Note how much the curd compresses itself in the mold during consolidation

At this point they can be removed from the molds. This is where I cut my double batch in half with a cheese wire.

removing from the molds and dividing my double batch

The cheese can then be moved to the salting area (ideally 55-60F and 70-75% moisture) but do the best you can.

Binding the Cheese and Salting:

Since the cheese has such a high moisture, the body will soften during aging and, unless it is contained, will tend to spread. To avoid this, the cheese was traditionally wrapped in reeds that had been split into small strands. 5 wraps around the cheese were traditional (stripes of the 'Colonel') . Here I use strips of Raffia that have been boiled and soaked in brine.

traditional application of the reed bands.

For this cheese I prefer to dry salt using 1.25 tsp of medium grain salt per side. Apply this to the top surface, spreading evenly, and then pat evenly around the sides. The sides get less salt but they will be done twice. The salt will tend to pull more moisture from the cheese over the next few days

dry salting the cheese ... note the banding applied before salting

Allow this salt to dissolve and form a brine, then be absorbed by the cheese body.

At the end of the dry salt, allow the cheese to absorb the salt and dry until the next day and then repeat for the other surface.

When finished leave the cheese in the salting area. The relative warmth here will promote the growth of natural ambient yeast (its everywhere) to start the rind development.


For the development of the washed rind, I have recently done a complete "How To" for the Esrom Cheese. For the details that pretty much apply here as well. Go to the Esrom Page then down to the AGING topic for more on the details of how to develop the washed rind.

The cheese needs to be allowed to develop at about 56-60F and kept very moist for the initial yeast to develop. If the surface dries prematurely, the proper multi-culture surface will be inhibited. Moist but not too moist ... thats the tricky part of washed rinds. Just tacky but not swampy is what you need for success

keeping things moist in a covered plastic container with a brine damp cloth

I keep the surface moist for the first few days by keeping covered with a moist draining cloth.
This cloth can be removed after about 2-3 days once you feel the greasy surface indicating the yeast is working.
You will also note a rather fruity smell (apple/pear).

At about 7-12 days you should note a drying off of the greasy rind and a slight white dusting of mold growth. This is the stage where the geotrichum begins to work. You can wash this back and control it with the light brine washing.

the geo appears (left) and controlled with the light brine wipe (right).

Following this first wash the cheese can be moved to the aging space at 52-54F and moisture of 92-95% (a plastic box and cover should have no trouble keeping the moisture).

Notice how the strips of raffia are holding in the cheese as it ripens and how the curd desperately wants to escape its bindings.

Successive washes should be done every 3 -5 days as the new molds appear. Wash one surface and side at a time and let dry before returning to the cave. Wait a day before doing the other side.

It should gradually develop that typical rosy character of a washed rind by 2 weeks.

By 2-3 weeks you should have a nice washed rind beginning to develop its color and aroma that can be easily maintained with a light wash periodically.

The cheese now needs to be maintained for the next 2-3 months (or longer) with occasional light brine wipes.

April 9 Beyond the Basics -- Sold Out
June 11 Beyond the Basics

Jim Wallace has been our technical resource for a number of years now, teaching and answering our technical questions. He is also the person who researches, develops, and writes our recipe pages every month. He is an expert photographer, a great teacher and a wealth of knowledge.

For a more hands on and personalized experience in cheese making, Jim Wallace our Technical Guru offers several workshops at various levels to answer your questions. Each workshop is designed to work through the process of making 3 very different cheeses to explore as many phases of cheese making process as possible in the 2 day sessions. You will gain the knowledge & experience to apply not only to the cheeses made during the session but to many other cheeses in the future. This is because the study approach is the Why and How of the many individual concepts in each process and not just a set of instructions or written recipes.

His years of experience in working with cheese makers both here and in Europe plus his many years at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) program at University of Vermont will prove to be a helpful resource for you to move your cheese making to the next level

The workshops are kept small to provide time for everyones questions.

Imagine spending the weekend with a group of other cheesemakers from all over having wonderful lunches together w/ plenty of cheese to taste. At the same time immersing yourself in the cheese process while getting all of your questions answered.

Anyone that has been here will agree that it is possible to have 'Uber' Fun while learning a lot.

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