So, I have left the farm. The last few weeks were kinda crazy as summer began to hit us hard and the due date for school work loomed. I would, however, feel remiss if i didn’t finish your farm education. Therefore, this is a brief introduction to cheese making. ok it’s really not so brief. sorry
Jonathan has developed eleven different kinds of cheeses and while some of them overlap in production methods, they are all unique and have startling differences from each other and any other cheese with only small variations in techniques. A brief understanding of the cheese-making process is required for understanding the subtleties of differences in the cheeses.
There are six main steps of production. The milk comes into the vat, and we quickly begin changing the lactose in the milk to lactic acid using acidified whey. Eventually we add animal rennet that causes the milk to coagulate to a thick-pudding consistency. When the milk is fully set, we cut the curd into small cubes and allow the desired amount of whey to drain out over time, using agitation and, occasionally, heat. When the curd is ready, it is put into molds and allowed to sit for 24 hours during which the molds are flipped at least three times to encourage the whey to drip out. The following day, the cheeses are unmolded, salted and then they sit in front of a fan which wicks moisture away from the surface of the cheese for another day. On the third day the cheese is usually dry enough to put into the cheese cave to begin the aging process.
I classify the cheese into four categories: soft curd, medium curd, firm curd and pressed curd. The best way to understand curd is by thinking of it as lots of balls of cheese solids filled with whey. The whey is always going to come out of the ball of the curd; when it comes out is what determines the texture of the cheese. So, for a wet curd cheese, after cutting the curd into cubes the curd is only stirred once or twice before putting it in the molds. Therefore, there is a lot of whey in the curd and so when it comes out the milk solids are basically laminated in the mold. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the dry curd cheeses. For these cheeses we use extended time and agitation to force the whey out of the curd until the curd is almost dry, and then we put it in the mold. This means that the curd holds its structure in the molds forming a crumblier cheese. The semi-soft cheese is exactly that, a cheese that is between crumbly and laminated. The pressed cheeses are made with dry curd and after being placed in the molds they are pressed for at least 24 hours to get all the whey out.
Aging is a complex process that has many variables. How the curd is placed in the molds is crucial to the eventual flavor of the cheese as well as the texture, but the other things that are also important are the size and shape of the cheese, the length of aging, and the amount of salt. It will be easier to understand these differences using specific examples. Amram is our smallest cheese. It is made in a cylindrical mold about 4 inches tall and 4 inches across. These are filled with wet curd, salted minimally, and aged usually exactly to the minimum legal aging limit for cheese made from unpasteurized milk of 60 days. Jean Louis is our largest cheese it is also made in a cylindrical mold except this mold is about two feet high and one foot in diameter. This large mold is filled with very dry curd, salted generously and aged four months or longer.
These differences produce enormous differences in flavor and texture. The Amrams are so small and soft that they frequently don’t make it to their 60 day legal limit, because they just melt through the cracks of the aging rack; however, when they do make it, they are incredibly gooey and rich, with a slight earthy taste. By contrast, Jean Louis is crumbly, because of the large structure of the curd, and has a citrusy, buttermilky flavor, due to the size of the cheese: it is so big that the interior of the cheese does not completely cool for about two days and so the curd continues to acidify.
We salt the cheese the day after the curd goes into the molds for two reasons, the initial reason is that salt is attracts the water in the cheese and pulls it out. During this initial stage some of the salt also melts into the interior of the cheese. By the third day, the salt has helped the cheese create a rind that is the perfect environment to attract the cheese molds we want to grow on the rind as part of the aging process. Unlike some cheese production facilities, here at Bobolink we do not inject or spray our cheeses with mold, because it is unnecessary; cheese mold is in the air, everywhere. Most molds cannot tolerate the presence of salt, but cheese molds have evolved with cheese and have developed a tolerance for salt. So, the salting is very important for keeping out the molds that we don’t want and for encouraging those we do. Returning to the example of the Jean Louis and the Amram, it is clear that salt also greatly affects the outcome of these two cheeses. The Jean Louis is so big that the salt is not absorbed evenly throughout, so the mold that begins to grow on the outside sends down roots to the areas that are not as salty because even though they tolerate salt they prefer cheese without. This is another reason that the Jean Louis tastes like it does, and why it needs more time to ripen. The Amram is salted with a salt shaker very gently, but because the cheese is so small, the salt has no problem working its way throughout the cheese, and so there are no unsalted parts for the mold to seek out.
The other cheeses that Jonathan makes fall between these two on the spectrum of Bobolink cheese. There is Drumm which is half a Jean Louis in size but is made with medium wet curd. It can either be really wet and soft or semi soft, depending on how it ages. There is Baudolino which is made in the Drumm mold, but is made with half the curd. Baudolino is almost invariably gooey and stronger in flavor. Pyramids are made in small triangular molds that start out upside down and are only flipped once when they are salted. They are made with dry curd and have nice textural differences that depend on position within the triangle. These are sometimes buried in grape must, which gives them a fruity aura; because of the grape must they are dubbed Zinn cheese. Endgame is a variant of Jean Louis made at the end of the milking season, and then allowed to age so much that it falls over. This is one of our strongest and “stinkiest” cheeses. It also has some of the most interesting complexities. Frolic is made as an alpine cheese, which gives it some flavors associated with Swiss cheese. For this one, the curd is heated which causes the curd to give up the whey faster and results in a stiffer wall on the curd. In this way the curd is forced to the size of a corn kernel, and then it is pressed for 24 hours while in the molds. This makes for a harder cheese. Foret is made by washing the frolic in Belgian beer. We also have a cheddar. Cheddaring is a process of kneading salt into dry curd and then pressing it in the molds. We make the cheddar in 40 pound blocks and then cut them down to 10 pounds to age them. We age our cheddar for at least a year and it comes out tangy, smooth and sharp. We also have extra reserve cheddar which is aged for two and a half years and is amazing. Rye flour naturally grows blue mold and so for our blue cheese we grow blue mold on some of our rye bread and then grind the bread very fine and mix it at a 50/50 percent ratio with salt and mix this into curd. We make Drumm, Jean Louis, and pyramids into blue cheeses.
These techniques for cheese making are in no way revolutionary. Instead of being innovative for the most part they are a return to the traditional methods: clean, unrefrigerated, raw milk, slow fermentation, no chemicals, and no additions of preservatives, additives or molds. Essentially, the reason that Bobolink cheese is so good is because we allow the cheese and the environment to work their magic with minimal human innovation. See it is easy.