Drying out the curds (Cooking/Scalding) :
The next step is to raise the temperature slowly to 95F over 30 minutes and then again to 102-104F in another 30 minutes.
Once you reach this point it is time to examine the curds for their moisture level. This is one of the most subjective things in cheese making. A lot depends on how much moisture you want in your final curds. This cheese is fairly high moisture but if too much moisture it may cause problems in aging and if not enough moisture may be a very dry cheese and be hard to consolidate in the forms.
Examine the curds by taking a few individual curds and breaking them open... if they are very squishy and soft inside they need more stirring to release more moisture. Next collect a small hand full and press together lightly in the hand to consolidate, then see how easily they come apart. If they release with little effort they are likely dry enough.
So decision time .. too moist or perhaps dry enough? What to do? In either case the curd has probably not developed enough acidity yet so the bacteria would not be happy if you took the whey from them since that is their food source.
So for the next 30 minutes you will do one or the other:
- continue to stir slowly if the curds seemed too moist and squishy. This will cause more moisture to be released while the acid continues to develop. Higher fat milks and larger cuts may need this
- allow the curds to fall to the bottom and only give them enough of a stir to keep them separate every 7-10 minutes. This will keep them from becoming too dry. This is what is called pitching it limits the moisture loss but allows acid development to continue.
In the end you should have an ideal curd moisture at the same time it reaches the correct acidity (which will be a bit lower than some other pressed cheeses). You should check the curds again when finished and if they still seem too moist, you may need to stir for another 10-20 minutes. If too dry you may have problems in consolidating the final cheese but next time remember to cut a little bigger or perhaps slower stirring.
showing the difference between early process wet curds (note how they flatten out)
and the drier curds after stirring them out (note how much more defined they look)
Now after all of this your curd will still be quite sweet still. IF you have a pH meter you can trust it should be about 6.0pH. If you don't have one just taste the curds. I rarely use my pH meter unless I am looking to set up a target profile for the first few makes of a new cheese or something doesn't seem quite right (its the GEEK in me).