The Basics of Cheesemaking

Cheesemaking

The making of cheese can seem like a laborious task, but it’s actually quite simple. Most modern cheesemakers rely on basic cheesemaking techniques, such as pasteurizing milk and adding starter cultures.

At each step, small adjustments can make a big difference in flavor and texture. This makes cheesemaking an art that combines science with intuition.

Collecting Milk

Milk contains a complex set of molecules that are in three different physical states. These include fats in emulsion, proteins in suspension, and sugars in solution.

To produce cheese, the milk must be able to coagulate and form a curd. This is done through the use of rennet (an enzyme from the stomach linings of ruminant animals) and lactic cultures.

Raw milk is generally safe to use for making cheese, but it can contain a lot of unknown bacteria. This is why it is important to ensure that milk is properly stored and cooled prior to using it in cheesemaking.

Pasteurization is a common practice that prevents the growth of pathogenic bacteria in milk. However, this process also destroys some of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are found in milk.

Fermentation

Fermentation is the process of sugars being broken down by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically). Bacteria and yeasts have unique sets of metabolic genes, allowing them to produce enzymes that break down different types of sugar metabolites.

The enzymes produced by these bacteria and yeasts also help prevent the growth of spoilage organisms and pathogens during cheesemaking, as well as contributing desirable flavor compounds. This is why foods like cheese, sour cream, yogurt and sauerkraut are so popular.

During the process of cheesemaking, starter cultures are added to milk that is heated to a specific temperature to help with coagulation. These cultures are mainly made up of lactic acid bacteria but can also contain other bacteria and yeasts. These starter cultures can be powdered or liquid. They come in two main types: mesophilic and thermophilic.

Curdling

Cheesemaking can be a complex process. There are a number of steps that must be taken to make sure that the cheese is properly shaped and ripened before it is ready for consumption.

To do this, cheesemakers use a device called a curler. The cheese is seated on the pin of the curler, and the blade of the device is then slipped down onto it to shave off the top layer of rind from the cheese.

It is a delicate process that must be done carefully to ensure that the shaved cheese will not become soft or crumbly. In fact, the shaved cheese must be hard enough to hold its shape once it is carved into the desired shapes.

Draining

Draining is a key stage in cheesemaking. It helps to separate the curd from the whey so that you can shape your cheese. It can be done with a number of different methods, including using a draining bag, cheesecloth or a strainer.

In order to achieve this, cheesemakers must first ensure that the correct amount of whey is expelled from the curd so that the desired moisture content and pH is reached. The acidification rate, curd demineralization and salting must also be controlled so that the resulting cheese is consistent in terms of these chemical parameters.

These factors profoundly modulate the initial chemical characteristics of the cheese, which selectively influence the complex microbial populations that invariably find their way into the cheese. They also impact the proteolytic cascades that convert casein to peptides and amino acids, which are catabolized by starter LAB and nonstarter bacteria into flavor compounds.

Shaping

Shaping is an important step in cheesemaking, forming the cheese curd into the desired shape and eliminating excess whey. This can be achieved by using moulds or hoops which are designed to match the size and form of the cheese you wish to make.

The shape and consolidation of the cheese is essential for preventing the formation of holes inside the cheese ((infobox)). This is influenced by both microbiological influences and varying production methods.

During this phase of cheesemaking, the rate at which lactic acid is produced profoundly affects the initial chemical characteristics of the cheese and selectively influences the complex microbial populations that invariably find their way from the milk into the cheese. Throughout the course of ripening, these microbial communities undergo multifaceted and often dramatic changes, which can span weeks to years depending on the variety.

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