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A Tale of 2 Peppas

I often get the question of ..

What..How..and When

do I make flavor additions to my cheese.
So this month I will talk about one of my favorite food groups to add to my cheese here.

... the Pepper Family ...

Specifically I will use my two favorites:

      • a good quality 'Pepe Nero' (black pepper)
      • and my special 'Chipotle' peppers (home smoked jalapeno).
I will also explain how I determine the type of cheese to add it to as well.
This month our focus is something special as we look at the why and how of bringing your cheese making to another level. It is the marriage of another flavor group to a base cheese and what is involved in being successful. Your goal is to make something bigger than either of the two taken separately ... in other words we will focus on the synergy of a specific cheese with a special flavor partner. It's a combo that takes a bit of thought.

Of course you have probably seen this done on a good cheese plate with the accompaniment of other tasty things like honey, figs nuts, mustards, fruit, etc. with the cheese but good as they may be, the combinations are singular and momentary.
With something like a pepper or other addition to the cheese at the time of molding then remaining throughout the aging process, the flavors tend to work their way through the cheese and change over time.

Yes, this does require a bit of thought and even experimentations on what we put together and how much we use in our additions as well as the base cheese we select to add it to ... but when it is right, it is so very right!.

A Bit of History:

Adding pepper to cheese is not new, it has been done for many years, especially in the south of Italy.

Over the years I have had plenty of 'Picante' Pecorino with those fiery little red peppers they use as well as in the younger Cacciocavallo.

From further north, the Pecorino Romano with the whole 'Pepe Nero' as well as in the Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia.

Also peppers are found in cheese from Greece, Latin America, and even in the Paneer of India. In the USA we find the quintessential (but commercially made) pepper jack found on just about everyones snack tray during the football season.

Why Peppers:

Yes, why add peppers. Well I could just say that we do it because the Italians have been doing this forever but there is a real reason why they work so well.

Peppers in general have a strong spicy (hot) flavor often referred to as 'picante'. This is due to a compound group that causes a 'thermogenic' effect. This means that they increase the body temperature and thus increase your metabolism (healthy).
In hot peppers this is the naturally occurring 'capsaicin' and in black pepper it is 'piperine'.
Two of the most important qualities associated with the use of peppers in cheese are that :

  • These compounds are easily soluble in the fat of cheese and thus disipate the heat of the peppers so that the flavor of the pepper can shine through. They are not soluble in the water phase.
  • Cheese contains casein (protein) which tends to bind to capsaicin and relieves the heat sensors. This also promotes the focus on flavor from the peppers and lessens the heat effect.
  • They are both antimicrobial and antifungal and tend to inhibit growth both inside and on the surface of cheese.

If you have ever tackled that super hot habanera sauce that your friends challenged you to, someone may have offered you a glass of milk as your face turned that third shade of red... Yes, it was the fat and protein in the milk that took the heat away.
Also if you have had any of the Italian style dried sausage that contained the whole peppercorns or hot red peppers, these helped to keep the sausage safe. Black peppers are also found on the outside of dried hams to keep the surface microbes at bay.
If you recall, about a year ago I made the cheese ball rolled in black pepper (Belper Knolle style), I still have one of those aging in my cave and still nothing grows on the surface.

The same works with peppers in cheese. The heat of the original peppers is taken up by the fat in the cheese and diluted quickly so that when ripe the heat of the pepper (both red and black) is much less but the flavor of the pepper can now be more easily appreciated. Its just a win-win combo.

So the primary reasons for adding peppers to cheese is that they provide a great flavor contribution with just a bit of heat (unless you get carried away with additions) and they make the cheese safe during aging.

The Base Cheese:

The style of cheese chosen for this month is also a big part of my game plan.
What I am looking for is an early aging cheese (2-3 months) and that means a moister cheese.
I added a cold water wash to the curds to increase this curd moisture, rather than to dry it out.
The removal of whey/lactose before the addition of cold water and the drop in temperature associated, slows the acid production so that the cheese will be slightly sweeter when ready to mold.

Also I choose to use a full fat milk because of the effect that the fat has on melding the pepper/dairy flavors and subduing the heat of the peppers.

Therefore the following guideline will be for a rich full-fat cheese with higher moisture and a slightly sweet finish that will blend well with the flavors of both my smoked jalapenos and my freshly toasted black peppers.

A Recipe for making your own
red or black pepper stuffed cheese

It should go without saying but depending on the peppers it is not difficult to over-do the spicing. Go low for starters, there's nothing worse than making a cheese and waiting a couple of months in aging and then find that its too spicy for anyone to eat. If you find yourself in this overzealous category, then remember to use it for cooking.

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 2 gallon of milk (Not UltraPasturized)
  • 1 packet of our C101 culture
  • Liquid Rennet (1/4tsp single strength)
  • Salt
  • Whole black pepper corns and hot pepper flakes or a dried hot pepper to chop and add.
  • A good thermometer
  • A knife to cut the curds, and a spoon or ladle to stir the curds with.
  • Molds SmallMold-M3 or Stainless-6inch The larger form will produce a lower but wider cheese form (use 20% more weight for this one).
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • A Cheese Press or weights to apply sufficient weight for consolidation of the curds.
  • Calcium Chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.

Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by heating the milk to 88F (31.5C). 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 88F 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 warm temperature needs to be kept until the guideline calls for a higher temperature during the cook stage to follow. The better you can do this, the more consistent the cheese will be batch to batch.

Once the culture is well stirred in, hold the milk with culture quiet for the next 60 minutes while the culture begins doing its work. It will be very slow initially but will soon kick into its more rapid rate of converting lactose to lactic acid. This initial rest is called the milk ripening stage.

During this ripening phase you have a good opportunity to make sure the molds and draining materials are sanitized as well as the draining/pressing surfaces.

This is also a good time to prepare the peppers to be added.

  • Black Peppercorns.. for a cheese with 2 gallons of milk use 1-1.5tsp of good quality peppercorns (not from the old jar in the back of the drawer) . Toast these briefly until they pop in the pan to bring out the oils and flavors. Then crack them lightly in a mortar and pestle or any heavy weight (you want a little substance to these). They should add a nice aromatic and nutty/citrusy flavor as the cheese draws the heat from the pepper.
  • Red Peppers ... use about .75-1.25tsp of a flaked pepper here.
    I use my own smoked Jalapenos. I wait until they turn red and smoke them slowly with apple wood ... they are sweet, smoky, and hot ..perfect for cheese
    I use about 1/3 to 3/4 of a single pepper for this .
    If you would like to use a fresh green or red hot pepper, then I suggest you blanch them first to avoid harmful bacteria developing inside the cheese (botulinum is deadly).
    With or without seeds, the preference is yours. Chop the pepper into small flakes so that they can be easily distributed throughout the cheese.

Jim's home smoked jalapenos..

Draining pan, molds, and two types of peppers ready to go..

Coagulation with rennet:

Then add about 1/4tsp (1.25ml) of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 45 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd . You should note that the curd begins to thicken at about 15 minutes but it needs the full time to be firm enough for a cheese such as this.
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.

When the curd is ready it should look like the images here when it is split with the flat of a knife.
The edges should show clean breaks and the whey that rises should be neither really clear nor too cloudy.
If this is what you see in your make then you are off to a good start.

Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

Once you have the good curd, it is time to beging the separation of solids and liquids. I normally begin this by cutting vertical in a checkerboard pattern about for this cheese at about 1/2-5/8 in. I then let this rest 3-5 min. until the whey begins to rise and flood the surface. This will firm up the fresh cut surfaces and make them more resistant to break when you make the horizontal cut into curds.

Next using your spoon or ladle make horizontal cuts. The final curds should be about 1/2 in. when done. Let these settle and rest for another 3-5 in. to firm up as in the first cut, then begin a slow gentle stir from the bottom to top to keep the curds moving and separated. Remember they are very fragile at this point.

As the curds continue to move in the warm whey, return the temperature to 88F if it has dropped at all.

Continue to stir gently for about 10 minutes.

Cooking the curds :

Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. This will be done by increasing the heat slowly to 95F over the next 30 minutes . The heat needs to be increased slowly at about 3F every 5 minutes at the beginning.
Then continue the cooking for the next 30-60 minutes,
The total heating plus cooking time will be 60-90 minutes using the longer time if the curds are still soft.

The final curds should be cooked well through and should be examined to make sure that enough moisture has been removed. A broken curd should be firm throughout and the curds should have a moderate resistance when pressed between the fingers.

When this point is reached the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey

Cool Water Washing:

This will help to make a sweeter and moister cheese.

This step will involve a draining of most of the warm whey and refilling with cool water.
Remember that one of the qualities I am looking for in this cheese is a higher moisture. This can be done at this point by introducing water that is cooler than the curds. This will cause the cool water to flow into the curd and rehydrate them slightly. At the same time the removal of the warm whey will be removing lactose which is food for the culture, and in effect will slow the acid production. Remember that another quality for this is a slightly sweeter cheeses .. less acid development.

Begin by removing about 40% of the volume in whey, leaving about 1 inch of whey covering the curds. Then Immediately begin washing the curds with cold water. Add this slowly with stirring over about 15 min. until the curd stabilizes at about 75F. This cooler temperature will also function to slow the bacteria since it has fallen to the low end of the working range of the culture. Make sure you use a water that is free from bad bacteria for this. If not sure use chilled bottled water or boil the water then chill before adding.

Remove the warm whey then give the curds a good stir

Adding back cool water to stabilize at 75F.

Draining the Whey and Forming the Cheese:

The dry curds can now be transferred to a colander or draining pan where they should be allowed to drain for a few minutes with a gentle stirring.

Add Salt while still in the draining colander as soon as the curds have drained well. Your final cheese weight should be about 2.5-2.75lbs. Adding 2.5% salt to this would be just about 1 oz. of salt. Add this in 2-3 doses and stir in until it absorbed by the curd.

If making one single cheese, you can add the pepper directly to the drained and salted curds and stir well before transferring to the cloth lined molds.

Here I am making two cheeses with different peppers (the Tale of Two Peppas), so I drain the curds first and then add to the molds in layers for each separate form. I mix the additions in well as I go. In either case make sure the additions are mixed evenly into the cheese.


At this point the press cloth should be pulled up and smoothed then folded over the surface as best you can. Always strive to make the surface as smooth as possible. The cheese is now ready for the press.

The cheese ready in the form and my initial weight

This should begin very light and slowly increase the press weight to a moderate level:
For the 6 inch mold..

  • 15 minutes at 8lbs.
  • 2 hours minutes at 20 lbs
  • 4 hours at 40 lbs (turn and rewrap every hour)

For the M3 mold use about 20% less weight at each stage.

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 slightly. 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.

During the press time try to keep the cheese warm between 70-75F because the bacteria are still doing their work even though much slower at the lower temperature.
Whey will continue to flow as the remaining lactose is converted to lactic acid. Much of that 2.5% salt added will run off with the whey (taste it). In the end you should have a well consolidated cheese and the salt content should be about 1.5%.

For my larger dual cheeses here (the Tale of Two Peppas), my press weight needs to go upwards of 100 lbs because I have 2 cheeses both with larger surface areas. This means I need to double the press weights above plus the extra surface area. For this I use a simple lever style press built onto my draining table as seen below.

Jim's draining table and lever press with this months cheese


Allow the cheese surface to dry down; this may take a few days. Once the cheese surface it dry, it can be waxed for aging. For details on waxing the details are here.

The pressed and finished cheese plus the final waxed cheese ready for aging in the cave

The cheese can then be placed into your aging space at 52-56F and 80-85% moisture.
The cheese can now be aged for 2-3 months (or longer) before it will be ready for your table.

More Recipes
Jim Wallace
January 2016

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