Definitions

Cheesemaker

Cheesemaker

[cheez-mey-ker]
A cheesemaker is a person who makes cheese. The cheesemaking process is very old and dates back some 5,500 years. Archaeological evidence exists of cheesemaking being carried out within the societies of the ancient Egyptian civilizations.

History

It is conjectured that cheesemaking may originate from the practises of nomadic herdsmen - the first cheesemakers - in the Middle East who stored milk in vessels made from the stomachs of sheep and goats. The presence of wild lactic acid bacteria as milk contaminants and the enzyme rennet in the lining of the stomachs resulted in the fermentation and coagulation of the contained milk. A product reminiscent of yogurt would have been produced, which, through gentle agitation and the separation of cheese whey would have resulted in the production of cheese: essentially a concentration of the major milk protein, casein, and milk fat. The minor milk proteins, the whey proteins, and lactose, the milk sugar, being removed in the cheese whey.

Process

The job of the cheesemaker is to convert milk into cheese. The milks used for cheese production are cow's, goat's, sheep's and buffalo's, although world-wide cow's milk is most commonly used. The cheesemaker applies craft skills to the practise of cheesemaking. It is not an art, as the cheesemaker intends to reproduce product that demonstrates specific characteristics and fulfils specific organoleptic requirements (appearance, aroma, taste, texture) every time it is made. Thus, the craft skills employed by the cheesemaker in the production of Camembert are similar to, but different from those used to make Cheddar. In modern, industrial cheesemaking factories the craft elements of cheesmaking are retained to some extent, but the application of science to cheesemaking is increased. This is seen particularly in factories using automated, computer controlled cheesemaking processes.

Culturing

To make cheese the cheesemaker brings milk (unpasteurised or pasteurised) in the cheese vat to a temperature required to promote the growth of lactic acid bacteria and thus the fermentation of lactose to lactic acid. The lactic acid bacteria in the milk may be wild, as is the case with unpasteurised milk, or added as a cultured, frozen or freeze dried concentrate of starter bacteria. Bacteria which produce only lactic acid during fermentation are homofermentative. Those that produce lactic acid and other compounds such as carbon dioxide, alcohol, aldehydes and ketones are heterofermentative. Milk fermentation using homofermentative bacteria is important in the production of cheeses such as Cheddar, where a clean, acid flavour is required. For cheeses such as Emmental the use of heterofermentative bacteria is necessary to produce the compounds that give characteristic fruity flavours and, importantly, the gas that results in the formation of 'eye holes'.

Modern cheesemakers choose starter cultures to give specific product characteristics and to produce specific cheese types. Also, if the cheesemaker intends to make a mould ripened cheese such as Stilton, Roquefort or Camembert, mould spores (fungal spores) may be added to the milk in the cheese vat or at a later stage to cheese curd.

Coagulation

When during the fermentation of the cheese milk the cheesemaker has gauged that sufficient lactic acid has been developed, rennet is added to cause the casein to precipitate. Rennet contains the enzyme chymosin which converts k-casein to para-kappa-caseinate (the main component of cheese curd) and glycomacropeptide, which is lost in the cheese whey. As the curd is formed milk fat is trapped in a casein matrix. After the addition of rennet to the cheese milk the curd is allowed to form over a period of time. The amount of rennet used varies according to the cheese being made, as does the time the curd is allowed to form. These variations reflect the craft skills of cheesemakers who have determined ways to make very different cheeses using essentially the same materials: milk, lactic acid bacteria, rennet, salt and in some cases mould spores. Once the cheese curd is judged to be ready the cheese whey must be released.

Draining

The production of cheese, like many other food preservation processes allows the nutrition and economic value of a food material, in this case milk, to be preserved. It allows the food material to be consumed at a time in the future, and it allows value to be added to the material. As with many foods the presence of water and a high water activity in milk permits spoilage and loss. The cheesemaker must, therefore, remove sufficient of the water in cheese milk, and hence cheese curd, to ensure a partial dehydration of the curd. This ensures the production of the required quality of product and a product that will keep. It is done by draining cheese whey from the cheese curd in a way, and using methods, again controlled by the cheesemaker.

Scalding

In the case of Cheddar manufacture (and that of many other hard cheeses) the curd is cut into small cubes and the temperature is raised to around 39 degrees Celsius to 'scald' the curd particles. Syneresis occurs and cheese whey is expressed from the particles. The Cheddar curds and whey are often transferred from the cheese vat to a cooling table which contains screens that allow the whey to drain, but which trap the curd. The curd is cut using long, blunt knives and blocked (stacked, cut and turned) by the cheesemaker to promote the release of cheese whey in a process known as 'cheddaring'. During this process the acidity of the curd increases and when the cheesemaker is satisfied it has reached the required level, e.g. around 0.65%, the curd is milled into ribbon shaped pieces and salt is mixed into it to arrest acid development. The salted 'green cheese' curd is put into cheese moulds lined with cheese cloths and pressed overnight to allow the curd particles to bind together. The pressed blocks of cheese are then removed from the cheese moulds and are either bound with muslin-like cloth, or waxed or vacuum packed in plastic bags to be stored for maturation. Vacuum packing in plastic bags, for instance, removes oxygen and prevents mould (fungal) spoilage during maturation.

Mould-ripening

In contrast to Cheddar production, the manufacture of Camembert requires a more gentle treatment of the curd which is carefully transferred to cheese hoops and the whey is allowed to drain from the curd by gravity, overnight. The cheeses are then removed from the hoops to be brined by immersion in a saturated salt solution. The salt absorption arrests lactic acid bacteria growth as with Cheddar. If white mould spores have not been added to the cheese milk the cheesemaker applies them to the cheese either by spraying the cheese with a mould spore suspension in water or immersing the cheese in a bath containing spores of, e.g. Penicillium candida. By taking the cheese through a series of maturation stages where temperature and relative humidity are carefully controlled, the cheesemaker allows the surface mould to grow and the mould ripening of the cheese by fungi to occur. Mould ripened cheeses ripen very quickly in a matter of weeks when compared with hard cheeses that take months and, in some cases, years. This is because the fungi used are biochemically very active when compared with starter bacteria. Some cheeses are surface ripened by moulds, e.g. Camembert and Brie, some are ripened internally, e.g. Stilton, which is pierced by the cheesemaker with stainless steel wires, to admit air to promote mould spore germination and growth, i.e. Penicillium roqueforti growth in Stilton. The surface ripening of some cheeses, e.g. Saint-Nectaire, may also be influenced by yeasts, which contribute flavour and coat texture. Others are allowed by the cheesemaker to develop bacterial surface growths which give characteristic colours and appearances, e.g. by the growth of Brevibacterium linens which gives an orange coat to cheeses.

Cheesemaking as a craft

In addition to the craft skills of cheesemaking, cheesemakers also need to be skilled in the grading of cheese to assess quality, defects and suitability for release from the maturing store for sale. The grading of cheese involves the visual inspection of a cheese and the assessment of a sample by sight, smell, taste and texture. The ability to predict when a cheese will be ready for sale or consumption forms part of the cheesemaker's skill, as the characteristics of cheese change constantly during maturation.

A cheesemaker is thus a person who has developed the knowledge and craft skills required to convert milk into cheese, by controlling precisely the types and amounts of ingredients used, and the parameters of the cheesemaking process, to make specific types and qualities of cheese. Most cheesemakers by virtue of their knowledge and experience are adept at making particular types of cheese. Few if any can quickly turn their hand to making any kind of cheese. Such is the specialisation of cheesemaking.

The manufacture of artisan cheese has become more popular in recent times, as an extension of the craft of cheesemaking.

Bibliography

Robinson, R.K. and Wilbey, R.A. 1998. Third edition. Cheesemaking practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

Banks, J. 1998. Second edition. Cheese. In, Early, R. (ed.) The technology of dairy products. London: Chapman and Hall.

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