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Jim's Catamount Gold

This month our cheese will be one of Jim’s mixed process specialties; in other words he is shaking the style of things up a bit!

The result will be a small round of dairy richness,
with a beautiful rose colored rind.

The process will be a Semi-Lactic Cows milk Cheese,
with additional cream added
using a washed curd process,
and finished by developing a bacterial washed rind.

And yes, it can be a bit of a stinker,
but in a good way!

Have we sold you on this one yet?!

From whence came the name "Catamount Gold"?
Living in the hills of western Massachusetts, we get these beautiful colors every fall, as the foliage changes and the hills turn from their lush green of summer to an autumn mix of gold and red.
Tucked up in these hills is Catamount State Forest, one of my favorite hikes around here.
This cheese reminds me of these hills as it ripens.

The Process in a Nutshell:

Style wise, one would have difficulty putting this cheese in a box. It is one of Jim's own hybrids:

  1. It is a semi-lactic process, meaning it primarily counts on acid development for curd coagulation, with just a little rennet. More than a pure lactic, but less than a rennet set cheese.
  2. Most Lactic styles use goat milk, but this one uses cows milk. Quite unusual for a Lactic style.
  3. It has an unusually long ripening period before adding rennet, to accommodate the use of cow milk.
  4. It is a washed curd process, using whey removal to deny the cultures some of the lactose food supply, thus yielding a sweeter cheese in the end. Whey is removed (lactose) and the same temperature water is added back
  5. It is a washed rind cheese using a light salt brine to wash the surface. This creates a surface community that can fend off any unwanted bacteria or molds and developing a rosy-golden surface that has a very aromatic character.

While this is not a cheese for the uninitiated (intermediate to advanced would be the skill level I recommend) but I encourage all to read through the specifics of this guideline just because it's so interesting.

It begins as a lactic style cheese, typically associated with goat milk, but instead using a raw (preferably) cows milk with extra high butterfat. There will be a challenge to keeping all of that butterfat from running off with the whey, but we will give you some details to help with that. The final milk will be about 5.5-6.5% butterfat.

The young cheese will encourage the natural yeast to work on its surface, followed by a yeast like white mold. When this looks all well and good, we will encourage a washed rind to be developed with a special saline bath. This will transform the surface to a rose colored ripening layer that will gradually transform the interior to a soft translucent goodness.

A Few Important Technical Notes:

Semi-Lactic Cheese using Cow Milk
A lactic cheese is one made with very little rennet enzyme. The coagulation is mostly caused by the production of lactic acid from lactose in the milk. As the acidity increases, the proteins begin to bind together in preparation for separation of the curds and whey. Semi-Lactic refers to the fact that it is a process that falls in between a full lactic coagulation (using little to no rennet) and the firmer coagulation (using much more rennet) as used in making a hard cheese.
Normally, this process is used for goat, and sometimes ewes, milk but rarely for cows milk. The reason for this being that the cows milk has a much larger fat unit and commonly rises to the surface during coagulation, whereas goat milk does not tend to separate as much. The result in using cows milk for this would be a large mass of butterfat coagulating on the surface, whereas goat milk tends to be more evenly distributed through the developing curd. The success of this cheese requires a very different process to keep the butterfat in the cow milk from separating during coagulation, which we will detail below in the guidelines.

Washed Curds ... a slower bacteria activity
We do not want an excessive amount of acid to develop, so we need to slow down the bacteria.
The easiest way to keep from getting fat is controlling diet. So that is what we will do by washing the curds here. This essentially means removing some of the whey, which contains the milk sugars that the bacteria would like to feast on. We take a specified amount of whey/lactose/food away, and add back same temperature water, essentially putting the bacteria on a diet.

Washed Rind ... Building the Rind
Many of you know that a fresh cheese, left on its own, is a perfect place for all kinds of yeast, bacteria, and molds to grow, ultimately leading to one scary science project. To avoid this we need to build a layer of protection around the cheese.
We could simply wax it, or vakpak it, but not a great idea for such a high moisture cheese that is still developing. The best way to do this is to develop a natural rind. For a firmer long aged cheese this can be done by simply brushing the surface clean on a regular schedule, BUT, the higher moisture cheese like this would not stand up for that.
What we need to do for this cheese is develop a natural living rind that will out-compete other molds for the surface. This could be a bloomy rind as you see on Camembert or as in this case we prepare a surface that appeals to certain salt loving bacteria groups that form the typical somewhat aromatic and yellow to red of the washed rind cheese. This can be done by washing with a light salt wash preparing for these bacteria to grow. In some cases they are natural local bacteria or they can be added in the milk or wash. We will detail this below.

A Guideline for "Catamount Gold"

While not a cheese for the inexperienced cheese maker, this guideline should be read by anyone who has made their first cheese. It offers a lot of information on the variation of the cheese process and how so many cheeses can be made from the same milk. For those with the experience give it a try and you will likely have it ready for your Holiday parties this year.

Guaranteed to impress or repel your foodie friends!

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • Milk:
    • 1.5 gallon of whole milk Not UltraPasteurized (I used raw milk)
    • 1 pint cream
  • Culture:
  • Liquid Rennet (preferably single strength calf rennet)
  • Salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • Molds.. Crottin, Chevre, or Saint Marcellin work well
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds.
  • Calcium Chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk
  • NOTE if using pasteurized milk increase the culture and rennet amounts by about 25-40%

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by mixing the milk and cream together. The milk I use here is a raw Jersey milk normally about 4.6-4.8% fat. The cream is hand skimmed after allowing evening milk to rise overnight. I do this for cheese like Parma and certain Alpine style cheese. I then combine these and the resulting cheese is a double to triple cream.

Heat the milk/cream to 95F. You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this directly 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 95F 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 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 quiet for the next 4-5 hours to allow the culture 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.

Wait ... was that 4-5 hours ??....
Yes it was ... and I know most cheese guidelines detail a ripening time of 45-90 minutes before adding rennet but this is where we depart from the norm for this cheese....

Coagulation with rennet:

... Above we mentioned the tendency of cream in cows milk to rise and separate during coagulation. We need to avoid this for this cheese to have the fat distributed evenly throughout the cheese and the best way to do this is increase the speed of coagulation.
We could add more rennet to speed coagulation but that would change the style of the cheese.

The nature of rennet is to work faster at higher temperatures and at higher acidity. Note above, that the temperature of 95F being higher than normal for the style PLUS the acidity increases substantially over the 4-5 hours before adding the rennet and works much faster.
This should form a curd within 20-30 minutes which should be quick enough to prevent the cream from rising. The actual curd development will begin locking the cream in place at about 8-12 minutes. You should note the thickening of the milk at this time.

A full Lactic Cheese would only require a rennet amount of 2-3 drops whereas a Full Rennet or Enzyme Set curd would call for about 1/4-1/2 tsp. This is this is called a Semi-Lactic process since it falls in between.

For this cheese we will use 8-12 drops of rennet (the higher amount for pasteurized milk).

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 30 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd.
You should note the milk beginning to firm up at about 8-12 minutes but give it the full time of 24-30 minutes. Test the curd firmness before cutting. Once the milk begins to thicken, the fat will no longer rise because it becomes trapped in a matrix of protein.

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.

Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once you have tested successfully for a good firm coagulation, it is time to begin the separation of curds and whey. Since this is such a high fat milk, the cut and stir need to be very gentle throughout the remainder of the process.
Our target is a larger curd with high moisture and as little butterfat lost as possible. Expect a slightly milky looking whey instead of the normal green yellow hue of other cheeses.

Cut to 1/2-3/4" curds and then let rest for 10 min. This will allow the curds to firm up.
Then 3 intermittent stirs, just enough to float and separate the curds. These will be at 10 min. intervals, allowing the curd to settle during tis time (good for moisture retention)
Finally settle for 5 min.

Slowing the Acid Development:

Then draw off 30% whey (~2 qts) before adding back 95F same temperature wash water. We would like a high moisture and somewhat sweet cheese here and this step will remove lactose with the whey which is the cultures food supply. This will slow their activity in converting lactose. Less food makes them slim and trim but slows them down.

When the whey has been removed, add back the same amount of clean water at 95F.

Then stir slowly for 10 min. then let settle for 20-30 min. Finish by draining to curd level

Molding the curds:

For molding, carefully ladle to forms and allow to drain12 hrs. The number of molds will vary according to size chosen. The final cheese should be about 1/2-3/4 as tall as it is wide. Turn @3 hr. intervals. During this time they will slowly continue to acidify and drain whey.

forming the "Catamount Gold'

When draining slows remove from forms and place on mats or racks to continue draining because the salt added next will draw more whey. Keep at room temp 72F.

flipping and removal from molds for salting

The aromatic type of culture used for this cheese tends to produce a small amount of CO2 gas resulting in small holes that provide a more open texture in the cheese and facilitates moisture movement and the enzyme movement and effects for ripening.

You can see the effects of this produced on the surface while in the form. When cut the cheese shows this array of tiny openings throughout the cheese.


The cheese should now be ready to salt. For this amount I suggest about 2tsp of medium crystal salt for this volume of milk divided between the number of cheeses:

  • Salt one surface and sides
  • Wait until it dissolves and is absorbed by the cheese
  • Flip and salt the remaining surface with the same amount of salt
  • Allow this to be absorbed into the cheese

Remove the cheese to a cool and dry room (less than65F ~65-70% moisture). Place on drying mats or boards and flip several times until surface dries and no longer drips whey. In humid weather a small low volume fan may be needed.

Aging and rind development:

At this point our base cheese is ready. It should be quite tender and moist and needs to be carefully handled when moving and turning. They should first be left in the cool space that was used for salting and allowed to sit for 2-3 day while the Geotrichum that we added to the milk can develop (they are happy with 65-75F).

In 2-4 days you should notice a slippery feel to the surface and a drying surface followed by a slight growth of light white mold areas.

The rind is beginning to develop and should be moved into a cooler aging space at 52-55F and 95% moisture on drying mats. The moisture may require covered plastic boxes but make sure the box is opened and cheese is turned 1-2 times per day. By about day eight you should notice a drier rind with a thin white mold and hopefully a bit of a rosy color developing. This is the beginning of the coriniform complex which the B.linens may or may not be part of (this complex has been lately attributed more to the aging areas natural bios).

The Washed Rind:

At about day 8-10 you should have the beginnings of your rind development and are ready to proceed with the washed rind to encourage the growth of this colorful and aromatic surface. Using a light brine made up of 1Tbs of salt to 1 cup of water and using a clean piece of cloth wipe/smear the surface. This will provide the moisture, salt, and spread the developing yeast bacteria and molds evenly. These are the conditions that make for a washed rind. Too moist or too dry and you will have problems .
This should be repeated 3 times at 2-4 day intervals. Then turned every day or so watching for too dry or too moist conditions (I always tell my students that the condition you want is 'dampish' never 'swampy').

The successful development of a good surface will out-compete most other molds and bacteria that would like to set up house on the surface.

washing the cheese with a light brine

Final Ripening:

At this point simply turning the cheese every day should be sufficient. Replace the drying mats when they need it and wipe excess condensation from the lid and box.
If you find them drying excessively a clean cool water wipe should remedy this.

The completed rind formation before moving to a cool space for final aging
I usually wrap the cheese in our 2 ply paper to limit the surface growth and preserve moisture

Once you have a full rosy surface developing the cheese should be moved to a cooler 42F condition to slow the enzymes work and provide a nice gradual curd transformation from the rough white cheese to the eventual translucent paste that will slowly slump from interior at room temperature.
The ripening takes place slowly from the surface towards the center over time. It is the result of enzymes produced by the surface development.

The ripening cheese over time early to late ... where do you want it to be ???

This IS what we are aiming for right.
Now when is it ripe enough??? You tell me!

Some folks like it less aromatic and settle for a less ripe cheese than others. Some are going for the drama with a rather "Aromatic ! " cheese that is much more spreadable .
... and YES there is such a thing as too ripe.
Ammonia is not a part of the deal here folks.

Anything from 4-8 weeks should do, so try this at various point. You should be able to feel the progress by lightly pressing. You can go for a longer aging drama but may lose some enthusiasts on that front.

Jim's Workshops:

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.

Coming Soon__ 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.

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

More Recipes

Jim Wallace
November 2017

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