So, do you ever wonder how milk becomes cheese?? There are so many varieties, flavors, colors, etc. and they all come from one basic ingredient: milk. Today we are going to explain a bit of the science behind how cheese is made, so that you can better understand the process that we are about to start undertaking at the Creamery to make our very own cheese. We hope that you will find it as fascinating and intriguing as we do!
Quality cheese starts with quality milk. At East Hill, we have a very unique and special situation in that all of the milk that our cheese will be made from comes from our very own cows. This is why we spend a lot of time on the blog talking about the care, nutrition, and well-being of our cows, because without them, we would have no cheese! It takes about ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. And the average cow produces 50 pounds of milk per day, depending on the stage of lactation. The milk gets measured and tested to make sure it is free of antibiotics after it arrives at the Creamery to ensure safety.
The first stage in cheese making is to heat the milk to the proper temperature depending on what kind of cheese you will be making. Next you add a culture to the milk.
In this process, milk sugar is converted into lactic acid. Starter cultures, or good bacteria, are used to control the ripening process. The starter cultures are what help determine the ultimate texture and flavor of the cheese. After the starter cultures are added and the milk has ripened, it’s time to add a coagulant to the cheese. The most common one used is rennet, which is the name for an enzyme that causes the proteins in milk to link together. Rennet can be traditional, which comes from an animal’s stomach, or it can be ‘bacterial’ (AKA vegetable rennet). It can also be from a fungus (‘microbial’ rennet).
After the cheese begins to form, it’s time to separate the liquid (whey) from the milk solids (curds). Large curds are cooked at lower temperatures, which is where softer cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta come from. The curds that are cut smaller are cooked at higher temperatures, which makes harder cheeses such as the Gruyere style cheese that we will make at East Hill Creamery.
The cheese is then put into a press and formed into a paste. Next the cheese is cured in a salt brine to begin the formation of the rind which prepares it for the aging process which takes place in the cave where its flavor and texture are fully developed. At our creamery, the cheese will be aged on wooden boards that come from our very own forest. All of our cheeses will be made from raw milk and will have a natural rind and must be aged for a minimum of 60 days before they can be sold. The raclette style cheese that we will make will be aged for 60 days, and the Gruyere style cheese will be aged for an average of 6 – 12 months.
We hoped you enjoyed learning a bit about how cheese is made. We could fill up pages with details and science, but this gives you enough of an overview to understand the process. Please ask us questions if you have some! We want to hear from you. Thanks for reading today!