Chapter Four: Culture. Cut. Hoop. Flip. Salt.
It is still winter on the farm. As we walk back to the creamery after a warming cup of coffee Joe, David and I hope our dreams of Bon Anniversaire will come to fruition. A cheese as tasty as Prufrock, but on a much larger scale. We’ve tried similar things in the past; tweaked a small batch of cheese here and there. But this will be the batch de resistance!
Adding cultures to milk is a bit like looking at the king’s clothing. The small cream-colored grains are added It incorporates quickly, and everything looks the same, but this starter culture is busy converting lactose (sugar in the milk) into lactic acid. The way a cheese looks, smells and tastes depends on a slew of factors, including the animal that produced the milk, what the animal was fed, and the bacteria used in the starter culture. Adjust any of those factors and you have a completely different cheese.
Next, Joe adds rennet to the warming milk and cultures, creating a microscopic separation of fats and proteins from the water often called curds and whey. The curd captures most of the fat, calcium and casein (a type of protein) from the milk, while the whey is made up of excess proteins and water.
More waiting. Joe checks the vat to see if the coagulation process has finished. Soon, David is handing two long, bladed sheets - the curd knives - to Joe, who hooks them up to the vat. They move slowly through the curd, slicing perfect lines though the thick pudding-like substance. After a few minutes, Joe stops the motor and there we have it - just like little miss muffet who sat on her tuffet - we now have curds and whey.
Again we wait. We clean.
I’ve been standing around taking photos and chatting with Joe and David all morning - it’s barely 8 AM. The light from outside is just beginning to filter in through the creamery’s windows. The light flowing into the creamery creates a subtle glow, creating a sense of warmth in an otherwise sterile environment .
Joe says it’s go time. The molds have been precisely stacked by David and all of the tools are ready. This is cheesemaking at its most active. Joe opens the valve and whey floods out of the vat. He won’t let it all drain; he doesn’t want the curd to dry out.
Large buckets are lifted up and over the sides of the vat to scoop out the curds and pour them into the cheese molds. Joe and David are working quick. This is not a time for chatter. The curd must be moved in the most efficient manner possible so that each mold of cheese is filled in relativity short order, ensuring consistency across each batch. Scoop, carry, pour. Scoop, carry, pour. Scoop, carry, pour.
The vat is emptied, and it’s time to flip the hoops. This is not an activity for those of us with weak arms. Joe and David lift a rack of molds filled with curds and they flip it over. And again. And again. They move down the line. Flip. Flip. Flip.
Adding salt to fresh cheese curd is an art. Each Bon Anniversaire will is popped briefly out of its mold. Oh my … she is beautiful. Salt is sprinkled, flip, salt is sprinkled and back into the mold. On down the line until every cheese is ready to rest. So are we - but not yet.
We leave the molds and cleaning ensues. The creamery looks like I am inside an advertisement for scrubbing bubbles. More laughing and more excitement about how great the curd the felt, how great it looked. Joe and David hit all the marks today. A job well done.
Sincerely, until next time, when we move into the caves,