Richard from near Richmond (Yorkshire) came to make cheese with us last week. Richard was an unusual cheese making class attendee in that he has already made quite a lot of cheese as he has three goats, British Alpines. He kindly let me have some pictures of them, so here they are. Aren’t they beautiful! I got a twang of goat envy when Richard was describing their characters, but then I thought pigs and geese were probably more than enough and Snouter would get jealous, (Penny Pig would be utterly indifferent.)
Richard has been making soft and hard cheese for some time but has been experiencing problems with the consistency of his makes: sometimes they go really well and sometimes not so well. Our job was to go through the steps of hard cheese making with Richard and see if we could find out what was happening.
Also, Richard is a science teacher, and his knowledge of the science behind cheese making was spot on, which is a huge bonus.
I think we identified three critical points where Richard’s practice differed from ours, here in our little dairy. I am going to outline the three points in the hope that they may help other would be cheese makers because I think this is where making cheese without an acidity meter becomes tricky and a matter of
experience and confidence. Of course, there are recipes to follow, but I can’t help feel that a little more intuition and consideration of the feel of the curd and the colour of the whey is called for, within the parameters of a recipe.
Cheese making, as I have previously explained is a question of acidifying the milk, converting lactose into lactic acid. If you have an acidity meter, the acidity can be checked, but to do this at home without an acidity meter takes time and experience to guess when the right stage i.e. acidity has been reached to progress on to the next stage. But if farmer’s wives of yore could do this, then so can we. This can be mastered by looking at and feeling your curd and the colour of the whey as well as considering temperatures and timings. It also helps to look back at old make sheets, you should be able to detect a pattern.
1) When to take the whey off. With the recipe we use to make a Wensleydale style cheese, we take the whey off when the curd particles have become shotty to the touch, like small pellets, firm and dense and they should spring back when gently pressed.
2) When to cut the block after having taken the whey off: for us, this is when most of the whey has come out and the expellation of whey has slowed down considerably. The block should be firm to the touch, like chicken breast and there should be a reasonable resistance when cutting.
3) When to salt: again, after tumbling the cubes around, the whey should be milky white and very little whey should come out of the cubes if you
gently press it between thumb and forefinger.
I think Richard and I agreed that he was being a little quick when blocking, cubing and salting and that by allowing more time between the various latter steps, this gives the acidity greater opportunity to develop so that the cheese is full bodied and should have a good taste, smell and texture.
Good luck with your future cheese making, Richard and would love to hear how you get on and also any more goaty stories!