Cheese Making: It’s A Process
The process of making cheese is thousands of years old and can, from the outside, feel complicated. But when you break it down into a few generalized steps it’s much easier to understand. All cheese makers past and present follow a base process that is nearly universally applied and follow these main principals:
- FERMENTATION: The addition of bacteria for fermentation is often a first step and is focused on providing a bit of acid formation before the enzyme (rennet) is added for coagulation.
- COAGULATION: Rennet is added to the milk to start the fermenting process. During this stage the milk proteins will curdle in response to the rennet, separating the milk into the curd and the whey. There are many types of rennet, both animal and plant derived.
- DRAINAGE: It’s as simple as it sounds – this stage is removing some or all of the liquid called whey from the curdled milk, or curds. The amount left in at this stage is one of the main determining factors in the end product and which category the finished cheese is in.
- SALTING: Originally started as a preservative stage, the brining, or adding of the salt, slows down the development of bacteria and helps to extend shelf life of the finished cheese product.
- RIPENING: This can be the longest and most crucial period. As the cheeses are stored in a mold and transform from a mass of salted curd to the final cheese varietal, it is at this stage during which the flavor, aroma and consistency are developed. The time, humidity and temperature are heavily controlled in the ripening process; the longer the cheese is allowed to age under the correct conditions, the dryer and sharper (stronger tasting) it will be. The ripening stage is skipped with processed and fresh cheeses.
There are eight main categories each cheese can be sorted into:
- FRESH CHEESE: Also known as unripened cheeses, they do not go through the final stage of the cheese making process of ripening. Skipping this step leads to a very high moisture content and mild flavor profile. This category includes cheese such as Cottage, Mascarpone, Buratta, Cream and Ricotta. One of the most popular fresh cheeses right now is Mozzarella.
- SOFT CHEESE: This type of cheese only ripens for a short period of time in molds, and more often than not they do not get pressed or cooked. They usually develop a soft rind that is commonly eaten with the product. There will be a high moisture content of up to 60 percent of their weight. Soft cheeses are divided further into two categories based on rind development.
- Bloomy Rind: The surface has a thin white layer of down. Common varieties are Brie or Camembert.
- Washed Rind: The exterior is washed in a light brine that prevents the white outer layer and keeps the interior soft. A common example is Munster.
- SEMI FIRM: A large category mostly made with whole milk, these cheeses will have very good melting characteristics. The defining characteristic of this category is the moisture level, which is normally between 45 and 50 percent of the weight. Major varieties include Cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack. These cheeses can last from months to years depending on the storage conditions and moisture levels.
- FIRM / HARD CHEESES: The defining characteristic of these cheeses is having moisture content of under 50 percent. They will have a wide flavor range, but all on the stronger side. Many of the hard cheese varieties are aged for months and even years. Due to the lower moisture content it can be much harder to grate and will have the longest shelf life of all the varieties. Popular varietals include Parmesan, Romano and Pecarino.
- BLUE VIENED / BLEU: Blue cheese is largely identified through the iconic blue or green veins of harmless mold running through the flesh. The cheese making process for “bleu” cheeses is similar to that of the Semi Firm cheese category with one major difference – the cheese is injected with a harmless strain of mold and aged for months in curing rooms (traditionally known as cheese caves). Common varietals include Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Maytag.
- PASTA FILATA: This category refers to a step in the brining process where the curds are heated until they begin to melt, then stretched and folded on to itself to develop the texture prior to being placed in a mold. This category includes Mozzarella and Provolone.
- PROCESSED CHEESE: This type can be made up from one or a combination of several cheese varietals. The cheeses are re-melted, then add a dairy product, colors, stabilizers and other emulsifiers to help promote a good melting characteristic and melting qualities. While the cheeses used to make the processed cheese may have been ripened, the actual processed cheeses are not further ripened from this point. American and Pizza cheese are the most common versions of processed, along with Velveeta, an iconic processed cheese brand.
- GOAT MILK CHEESES: Normally very soft cheeses with natural rinds, they can be made with 100 percent goat’s milk, or a combination of goat and cow’s milk. Goat milk cheese normally has a much whiter color than cheese made with cow’s milk. Goat milk is very strong in flavor and thus the cheeses made from this milk varietal will also be very pronounced. Common types are Feta (can be both goats, a blend or cow) and Chèvre.
I hope you found this brief overview of the manufacturing process and types of cheese helpful. To read more blogs related to the food industry, see all of our articles here.
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