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An Alpine Tomme
a true Hybrid


For the past 15-20 years I have been making a lot of cheese for these pages that have been focused on 'In the Style of..' , in reality though many of my cheeses I make here for myself and friends have now become hybrids or mixed style cheeses.

In other words designer cheeses
... designed for moi ...!

Taking what I have learned from making many different cheeses and mixing things up a bit. Changing the temperature, acid development profiles, different milks used, altering cook times, different press schedules and aging procedures.
It sure does not take much to make a very different cheese but the changes need to be well thought out with an end plan in sight.

This month my focus is in making an Alpine style cheese but not following all the rules. The result will be a full fat cheese in a smaller format than traditional Alpine style cheeses that has an elastic texture and still retains plenty of moisture. It will also be aged for a shorter period of time and therefore milk quality will play a bigger role and aging complexity less.

This cheese should be an easy one to make for those that have just started out and looking to make their first cheese using a higher temperature (Thermophilic) culture. It will also be a great intro to developing a natural rind without any mold.

For sure this is a very different guideline page that focuses more on the why behind the process and decisions made to get there.


Alpine cheese encompasses a wide range of cheese normally produced on high pastures. They are typically made very large and cooked to high temperatures to dry the curd and endure a long aging time before they are ready for the table. Traditionally most of the aging was done on the mountain and a short term is still done there today before being brought down to more modern aging conditions.
The typical cheeses are Emmenthaler, Comte, Gruyere, Beaufort, etc.

Because, they were made and kept for long periods in very remote locations on the high mountain pastures, the intent was to make them large and with little moisture. All criteria were to make them tough enough to endure the rustic aging and rough trip down the mountains to market or even for further aging.

This months cheese breaks from the tradition here and I call it 'Alpine' because its basic game plan is in the mountains but then I mix in a few other changes.


Developing the Cheese:

This month there is no History included for the cheese because this is one where I mix up the make concepts from many sources. It is my own plan where I combine the qualities I like from several cheeses to make one that suits my taste and those of my many 'tasting panels?' locally (folks are very fussy about their food throughout the valley here).

The Game Plan:

This will give you an idea of how I depart from standard cheese making guides to make many of my cheeses.
Essentially what follows here is a mini course on what would be involved for making your own hybrids. The following is some rational on 'how and why' I make these decisions for this one cheese.

My intent for this cheese is to take some of the basic principles for making the traditional Alpine style of cheese and make them smaller and moister for an earlier ripening cheese with a younger flavor.
I keep the full fat milk even though many of the larger long aged cheeses used a lower fat milk due to problems with high fat causing problems in longer aging. Since I am not planning to age longer than 4-6 months the higher fat is not a problem and the 4%+ fat milk I have gives that richer flavor I want for this cheese.
I will also slow the acid development by using less culture AND removing some of the whey before cooking the curd, replacing it with warm water.
One of the primary qualities of most Alpine style cheese is a very elastic texture and so I intend to keep that quality as well.

  • Choosing the size of the cheese:
    • This decision involves the size of the cheese I want to make and therefore how much milk should be used.
      It also involves the final form as to whether it is tall and narrow, short and flat or somewhere in between. Why?, because this will have to do with:
      • how the curd drains
      • how the press weight is determined
      • how the salt is absorbed
      • how the cheese ripens during aging.
      • how much moisture is lost during aging as well.
    • I have chosen a full fat milk for this cheese because the aging will be shorter and little chance of the butterfat oxidizing to 'off' flavors as in long aging.
      It will also give a richer flavor and more supple texture than a lower fat milk.
    • Form or Mold selection will therefore be also part of this decision. I prefer the short wide format for this cheese.
      I make this one using about 4 gallons of full fat milk because it is a good size for the rate cheese gets consumed here. It is also a good size for the surface to cheese mass proportions which affects the ripening and moisture loss.
      For the home cheese maker, I think the 2 gallon size fits the kitchen scale a bit better.
      For the 4 gallon batch the Tomme Mold or the Large Mold can be used.
      For the 2 gallon size The stainless mold is best due to its wider format but the smaller 2lb mold can be used
  • Cultures used and at what Temperature:
    • The basic Alpine style is primarily one using a Thermophilic culture to work at the high temperature range.
      I will stay with this concept and use an initial milk temperature of 90-92F. This will be at the low end of the working range for these cultures and will develop the acid slowly which will help develop the elastic texture in the final cheese.
    • The culture I use is Ricki's C201 thermophilic culture and is a blend of both Thermophilus and Helveticus which work in tandem to convert the lactose and also add a slight sweetness to the final cheese. I do use this at a lower rate then most other cheeses to slow the acid development. For the 2 gallon cheese it is 1/2 pack.
  • Rennet and Coagulation:
    • I normally use less rennet for the style because I am looking for a softer curd when ready to cut. This is because the curds will be cut quite small . The softer curd makes the small cut easier and helps keep me from chasing curds around the pot.
  • Cut Size and Cooking/Scalding:
    • Cut the curd smaller to 1/4-3/8in. This will help the curd to expel whey more easily and help to drain and consolidate better for a nice tight cheese body after pressing.
    • The heating of the curd post cutting will be done by first removing some of the whey/lactose (thus slowing the acid development even further) and then adding back hot water to cook/scald to the final temperature. This is a process used commonly in the Gouda cheeses and their associated sweeter flavor. This heating will be done in a shorter period of time due to the smaller curd size.
    • Final cook temperature should be in the optimum range of 108-112F preserving some of the curd moisture for a quick ripening and softer texture.
  • Pressing:
    • Most of the whey is removed above the curd and the curd mass is partially consolidated in the vat before transferring in cloth to the mold as one solid unit. A bit of firm pressure to the curd mass before transferring will help in creating a good compact curd body with no mechanical holes.
    • The press time and consolidation will be shorter due to a warm moist curd.
  • Salting and Aging:
    • The Salting can be either brine or dry salt but I have chosen brine for this one becuse I want the salt in solution to move into the cheese as quickly as possible. It tends to make a thinner and more supple rind. If I wanted a firmer rind with a more defined transition zone I would have use dry salt.
    • Aging is a matter of moving the cheese, when dried from the brine, into an aging space of proper temperature and moisture.
    • The cheese could either be allowed to develop a wild rind like Tomme d' Savoie but prefer to keep the mold rubbed down with a brush or coarse cloth for a clean rind. A rub with Olive Oil will help this as the rind dries down a bit.

Former president DeGaulle of France once said "How can I be expected to rule a country with over 500 different cheeses?" or something to that effect.
It expresses the ease with which the French step outside the box and do their own thing, changing a process and borrowing concepts from other cheeses.

For the following cheese I am stepping away from the books and tradition.
This is what we are seeing with both artisan cheese makers as well as larger commercial cheese makers around the world and it is drawing huge attention to their results.


A Guideline for Making a Special Cheese

I have made the cheese in both 2 and 4 gallon batches. The pictures below will show a 4 gallon batch (because I feel that they ripen a bit better in the larger format) but a 2 gallon batch is what I have outlined below and is going to be easier in the small cheese makers kitchen.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 92F . 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

The culture I have chosen here is a Thermophilic culture made up of two types of bacteria. These have an optimum temperature of 108-112F but we will start them working at the lower temperature end of their range. This will give them a slower start which is in line with the long acid development phase for this cheese and will be helpful in preserving the calcium in the curd resulting in a more elastic curd.

Once the milk is at 92F 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. The milk should then be allowed to rest quiet for the next 90 minutes while the culture comes to life.

Coagulation with rennet:

Then add about 1.75ml or ~1/4 plus 1/8tsp of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 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 is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.

The milk will begin to thicken at about 20 minutes but wait for a full 60 minutes before the curd is cut.

During this time it is a good opportunity to make sure the molds and cloth are clean and sanitized.

For the mold selection:

  • the pictures here show a new mold that we have just gotten in which is perfect for the 4 gallon batch (not sure Sarah has put it on the website yet but it is a little bigger than the large Tomme we have ). The LargeMold-M2 should work just fine for this as well.


Our newest mold is a bit wider than our large Tomme and has a rounded bottom edge
to produce softer edges to the cheese as well as bottom feet to accommodate whey drainage.

  • For the 2 gallon batch for this cheese, I highly recommend the Stainless-6inch mold because its wider base will finish with a profile more suited to the Alpine style cheese which is wider and shorter.
    However if you do not have this mold use the standard SmallMold-M3 except that it will look more like a cheddar than the traditional tomme shape.

Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once the curd has firmed up and is ready to cut it is always best to split the curd as shown below and examine the cut. It should have nice clean edges and the whey that rises should be neither too milky nor should it be very clear. The firmness of the curd will determine how well the curd will hold the following cut as well as how well it will do with the stirring that follows and not break up smaller (they will actually become smaller due to whey running off so you do to need them breaking in the process).

I begin the breaking up of the curd with two vertical cuts at right angle about 3/4-1" apart. It will look like a checkerboard. Allow the curd to rest after this cut for 3-5 minutes while the cut edges heal slightly (less fat loss in the next cut and stir). You will see some whey rising to the surface as well as in the cuts as this happens.


Checking the finished coagulation and the initial cut.

The next cut is perhaps the most difficult. It is to cut the columns of curd into even sized pieces.
Our final curd size will be between 1/4-3/8 in.

This can be done with a flat ladle or spoon but I have found a tool that works best for the smaller curd sizes associated with Alpine style cheeses as well as Parma or any cheese require a smaller curd size.
This is basically a large whisk with thin wires and a long handle I have added to it. It is fashioned after the Spino, a tool I see used often in Italy. This is not an item we carry in the shop here though. Remember cheese making is a craft involving resourcefulness and a bit of creative thinking.
The key to using this tool is to go slow initially in breaking up the curd mass, focusing on the wires doing the cutting. As the curd is broken the cutting can become a bit faster until you achieve the desired size. Remember the curd will lose moisture during the cook/stir phase and become smaller.


1_ Initial cutting
2_ The cut curd size (note how soft it looks at this stage)
23_ begin curd movement using the spoon

Cooking the curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. Once you have cut the curd to the desired size, begin using the spoon to slowly keep the curds moving. Initially this is a slow movement from the bottom to the top and do remember to pay attention to the bottom edges where curds can collect and consolidate. You do not want that, the concept is to keep the curds moving and free so that whey can be released. If they consolidate into large clumps, you have defeated the work put into cutting.

Begin this phase by stirring the curds slowly .. about 5-10 minutes .. just enough to dry the surfaces slightly and firm the curds for the cooking to follow.

This will be done by taking a page from the Gouda process to slow the acid development. Effectively this will reduce the lactose supply and limit the food supply for the culture, thus making for a sweeter cheese:

  • Allow the curds to settle to the bottom of the vat/pot
  • Remove about 25% of the whey
  • While stirring add back the same amount of hot water (120-130F) slowly over about 20 minutes

The final temperature should be about 108-110F.


removing 25% of the whey


adding back the hot water and cooking to 108F
note the firmness of the curd at this point compared to post cutting

When this point is reached the curds can be stirred for another 15-20 minutes to reach their final dryness. The test for this (often referred to as the 'grip') is to grab a small hand full of curds and apply firm pressure to consolidate the curds. Then with the thumb try to separate the curds. Final curds should show that they will resist separation just slightly (it may take a few trials to get the feel for this).

Gathering the curds:

Once the final curd is ready, allow the curd mass to settle and remove the whey down to the level of the curd mass.
I then use a large piece of Ricki's medium draining mat cut to about half the size of my pot circumference to gather the curds into a compact mass with a little bit of hand pressure. The pictures below should make this clear. The draining cloth is then spread on the bottom and the curd mass rolled into the cloth, the corners, ready to remove the entire curd mass to the mold awaiting (remember you should have done that way back at the beginning). The concept for this consolidation in the whey is to help get a very tight curd mass so that thee will be few mechanical openings in the final cheese. It is a character of all Alpine style cheeses.


Whey removal and curd consolidation in the whey

Next transfer the curds in cloth to the awaiting molds, open the cloth and press firmly into the mold, pull up on the cloth to remove wrinkles and prepare to press the cheese.


transfer of the curd to mold

Pressing:

Now the cheese is ready for pressing once the follower is positioned.

Always, for pressing we should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:

  • 30 minutes at 20lbs.
  • 30 minutes at 40lbs
  • 3 hours at 50lbs
  • 3 hours with no weight but keep warm still***

***At the beginning of pressing there is very little acid produced so there is a lot of lactose left in the cheese mass. This must be fermented before the cheese is salted to avoid late fermentation problems in the aging. Therefore the temperature must be kept warm 80-85F to allow the culture to complete its work and ferment the remaining lactose.

This is where the larger form has its advantage because the thermal mass of the larger cheese holds its original heat longer. Remember the cheese was removed from the vat/pot at 108F. For the smaller cheese You can surround the cheese with bottles of warm water and perhaps some insulation (one of those 'space blankets' would be a good idea) or inside a large insulated cooler that will take the cheese plus press and water bottles.

Remember that this is for the 2 gallon sized batch, you can double these weights for the 4 gallon batch (same timing)

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 pressing and will slow even more as the residual free moisture is released. The form should show tears of whey weeping from the form very slowly. When this stops you can increase the weight. The cheese should be removed from the press, unwrapped, turned, rewrapped, and put back to the press at the above intervals. To assure an even consolidation. At each turn you will notice the cheese has formed a smoother surface and rests lower in the mold.


Initial press weight and the cheese after the first lighter pressing. There are still many open spaces in the surface

The curd is still warm and elastic and subsequent pressing will eliminate the openings. Also the culture is still active and whey is being released. All of this will make a tighter and smoother cheese surface with each turning.


as shown above the cheese surface becomes smoother and the body becomes tighter as each pressing progresses.

The final cheese ready for brining.

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 -1.75 hours per lb.
The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle another teaspoon or 2 of salt on the top surface of the cheese.
Flip the cheese and resalt the surface about half way through the brine period.

At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface and allow the cheese to surface dry for a day or two before placing it in your aging space. The surface will darken somewhat during this time.

Aging:

Once the cheese is dried down it can be moved to an aging space at a temperature of 52-56F and 85-90% moisture. The moisture required is a little higher than easily maintained in a normal aging space so I use a have a series of covered boxes and trays for maintaining the higher moisture. With these the tops can be left open or closed to any degree to achieve the proper moisture.

I plan to age this with a natural clean rind. Due to the higher moisture in this cheese any existing mold will soon appear. Any mold that develops will need to be removed as soon as it appears and after a month or so the rind will be less desireable to the molds and the maintenance will decrease.
The surface maintenance can either be done with a dry cloth or brush or a cloth dampened with brine. After 2-3 weeks of rind formation a little bit of olive oil or mineral oil can be used on the surface to discourage mold as well as make it easier to remove when it does appear.

The cheese can now be aged for 3-6 months and it will ready for your table.

Optionally, the cheese could also be waxed for aging. For details on waxing the details are here. The final cheese may just not have the complexity of the natural rind.

The cheese can now be aged for 3-6 months and it will ready for your table.

More Recipes
Jim Wallace
December 2015

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