Preserving Milk

Cheese was invented as a way to preserve milk.  Milk is one of our main sources of nutrition.  It is full of protein, fat, calcium and other minerals and vitamins.  It is also full of water and sugars, which are heavy, bulky and have no true nutritional value.

Milk also spoils easily.  Bacteria love the moist, nutrient-rich environment.  Back when there were no means of refrigeration, fresh milk could not be saved.  It was discovered that the only way to preserve the milk was to get the water out.

Our ancestors figured out the trick. They learned that calves have a substance in their stomach called rennet which separates the nutrients from the water in their mother’s milk. These first cheesemakers found that when they added some of this rennet to

fresh milk, the milk separated into two parts:  The curds (all the nutrients) and the whey (mostly water and sugar).  They also learned that if they cut up the curds to release more water, salted them to give them more flavor and preserve them further,

heated them to expel even more water, press them to expel even more, and let them age for a while, they were left with a delicious, nutritious, not too perishable, easy to transport form of milk. Cheese!


Step One: Get milk

The most important part of good cheesemaking is good milk. The milk must be fresh, clean, and of high quality.  Most cheese is made from the milk of cow, goat or sheep (in some places cheese is made from buffalo, camel, yak, and even mare).

Cow, goat and sheep milks are pretty similar, but there are some key differences:

Cow:  We all know what cow’s milk tastes like.  Most of America’s favorite cheeses (like Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss) are made of cow’s milk.  Cow’s milk is about 85% water, 4% protein, 4% fat and the remainder being carbohydrates (lactose),

minerals and vitamins.

Goat:  Goat’s milk has about the same make-up as cow’s milk, but is a little higher in fat, and much higher in certain acids that give it the slightly sour taste we usually call “goaty.”  It has no carotene (a yellowish substance) so it is pure white.  The fat in

goat’s milk is structured a little differently than cow’s milk, making it easier for some people to digest.  The fat globules are actually smaller.

Sheep:  Sheep’s milk, (properly known as Ewe’s milk) has less water and more fat and protein than that of cow or goat.  It has a similar fat structure to goat’s milk, making it easier for some to digest.  Romano, Feta and Roquefort are some of the

famous ewe’s milk cheeses.

Step 2:  Separate the Curds from the Whey. (Get the water out!)

The basic procedure is simple.  Take fresh milk, usually from the three animals described.  Slightly warm it, add a culture to raise the level of desired bacteria (Flavor) to the warmed milk, than add rennet (there are vegetarian substitutions available, but

you get the idea.).  When all the factors are right– the milk is the right temperature, the enzymes are doing their work, and the acidity reaches the right level– the fat, proteins and minerals in the milk will separate from the water, bind together and form

a thick, custardy mass called the curd.  The leftover water (which has a little residual fat, protein, minerals and vitamins) is called the whey.

Step 3:  Get more water out

The curd is like a sponge and still holds a lot of whey.  To make a cheese that won’t spoil right away, you need to get more whey out.  One way is to cut it up.  The more you cut it, the more whey will come out.  The more whey that comes out, the

drier and longer lasting the cheese will be.  If you cut the curd into walnut sized pieces, with a lot of whey left inside, you will end up with a cheese like Brie that is rich and creamy but won’t last too long.  If you chop it up into the size of rice grains, you

will end up with a cheese like Cheddar of Parmesan that is hard and lasts a long time.  Then you salt it (almost all cheeses are salted at some point.  Salt will help to get more of the whey out and gives the curds more flavor).  If you want to get even

more water out of the curds, simply heat them, press them, or just let them dry out over time.  It all depends on the type of cheese and recipe you want to end up with.

Step 4:  What kind of cheese do you want to make?

Now it gets a little more complicated.  What happens next makes a Brie different from a Cheddar, a Gouda different from a Roquefort, etc.  We’ve simplified the matter a bit by dividing the cheeses into different categories according to how they are


Fresh Cheeses

Separate the curds from the whey, throw a little salt, spoon the curds into different shaped molds, and you will get a simple cheese with a fresh flavor and a pretty short shelf life.  Most goat cheeses are made this way.

Bloomy-Rinded Cheeses

If you cut the curds into walnut sized pieces, throw is some salt, spoon them into molds, then sprinkled on a little white mold (penicillium candidum, which helps the cheese ripen.), you’ll get a soft creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert with a white

velvety rind.

Washed-Rind Cheeses

Just like the bloomy-rinded cheeses, but skip the mold and soak or wipe the young cheese in some kind of liquid (usually water or saltwater, but sometimes wine, beer or liquor). This will attract a certain kind of bacteria that stains the cheese orange

and makes it smell like dirty socks.  This is how “smelly” cheeses for example, Epoisses, Munster and Pont L’ Eveque are made.

Pressed Cheeses

If you cut the curd into very small pieces, add some salt, put the pieces into mold, press it for a while, then age it, you get a cheese much like Cheddar or Parmesan.

Pressed, Cooked Cheese

Before you press the curds, heat them for a little while (called “cooking” or “scalding”). You’ll end up with a hard cheese with a slightly rubbery texture (like Jarlsberg, Gouda and Emmenthaler).

Blue Cheeses

Before you separate the curds from the whey, throw a little blue mold into the milk. (penicillum roqueforti)  After you separate the milk, cut the curd, salt it, and put it into a mold to form its shape.  Take a needle and  poke lots of holes into the young

cheese.  When the air hits the mold culture inside, it will form blue streaks that will ripen the cheese further and give it the signature blue flavor.

What does Ripening mean?

Almost all cheeses go through some sort of ripening process.  This is where it gets really complicated.  Scientists don’t even know exactly what’s going on.  Basically, enzymes, bacteria, yeasts and molds go to work on the proteins in the young cheese,

breaking them down and giving each cheese it’s unique characteristic.  That’s basically all you need to know.

How do you know when the cheese is done ripening?

An important part of your job will be to know when the cheese is “ripe”.  Here is a basic guide:

Fresh Cheeses

Very fresh cheeses go through little ripening.  Cheeses like fresh goat cheese can be consumed right away, when they are sweet and milk like cream cheese.  If you let them age, they will dry out a bit, and taste a little saltier (the moisture evaporates, the

salt stays).  In the case of goat cheeses, age activates certain acids that will give the cheese a tangy, “goaty” flavor.

Bloomy-Rinded Cheeses

Bloomy-Rinded Cheeses, like Brie or Camembert, have a velvety white mold rind that actually ripens the cheese.  We therefore call them “surface ripened.”  These cheeses ripen from the outside in.  A perfectly ripe bloomy-rinded cheese will be soft

and moist looking on the inside with no flaky white center.  It shouldn’t be runny, even if some people like it that way.  How can you tell without cutting it?  It takes practice, but if you press your finger against the rind, the mark you leave should spring

back slowly.  Too quick, and its under-ripe, not at all and its overripe.  Overripe bloomy-rinded cheeses will also smell like ammonia.

Washed-Rind Cheese

This is another surface ripened cheese.  These also ripen from the outside in.  The smell is usually stronger because of the moist surface and the bacteria that live in these moist environments.  The test for ripeness is the same as for bloomy-rinded


Pressed Cheeses and Pressed-Cooked Cheeses

It is harder to tell when a cheese like Cheddar or Parmesan is ripe.  It’s more of a matter of aging and waiting until the different flavors of the cheese–the bitter, the savory, the earthy, the fruity–come into perfect harmony.  The real way to know is to

take a sample of the cheese from the center using a tool called an “iron” or a “cheese trier”.

Blue Cheeses

A blue cheese is said to be ripe when the blue-mold veins inside are distributed uniformly from the center to the rind, and the cheese begins to soften.  There is endless variation.  The best way to check is to use a Cheese Iron.  The blue-mold is the

foremost active agent in the ripening process.

Cheese Care and Maintenance

The care of cheese cannot be overlooked or even taken lightly.  It is the quality of our product that will set The Cheese Iron apart from the rest.  It is a regimented task to maintain the integrity and freshness of the product.  It will require foresight and

knowledge of the product and how it ages (in or out or the case).  All cheeses will ripen at different speeds, and it is our job to know when the cheese is “au point”, at the pinnacle of its flavor profile.  It all begins with care.

Home care for cheeses:

1.) Fresh cheese: High moisture cheeses need to be eaten as soon as possible.  Keep it in the coolest part of the refrigerator (towards the back, away from the door).  Once opened, you have roughly 1 week to use.  Suggestion: scrambled eggs with

fresh rosemary and fresh cheese.

2.) Fresh Goat Cheese: Because of the higher salt content in goat cheese, these fresh cheeses can stand the test of time.  Keep it loosely wrapped in waxed paper or parchment.  Keep cheese away from highly circulated areas of refrigerator.  We

suggest storing it in the vegetable crisper or the butter box.  The cheese will dry out over time, as this happens it will add to the intensity of the flavor.  If handled correctly, the cheese will last for months.

3.) Bloomy Rind Cheeses- Brie type cheeses:

Bloomy Rind Cheeses need a lot of oxygen.  Because of the higher moisture content, these cheeses have a shorter shelf life.  Loosely wrap the cheese in either parchment paper or cheesecloth.  Keep it in either the vegetable crisper or the butter box.

Air circulation will cause the cheese to dry out and age too quickly.  The strong smell of ammonia is an indication of the aging process.  Too much ammonia and the cheese is past.  Suggestion: buy only what you need for the evening.  We’d rather see

you everyday, than once a week!

4.) Washed Rind Cheeses-St. Nectaire, Eppoises, etc…

Keep these cheeses loosely wrapped in parchment first then tin foil.  If the cheese seems to be drying it, loosely wrap in a slightly damp cloth over the tin foil.  Suggestion: Melt on potatoes with a parsley topping.

5.) Pressed and Pressed Cooked Cheeses-Cheddars and Parmesan type cheeses:

These cheeses are very resilient.  Keeping them out of circulation and cool is all they ask.  The vegetable crisper (rotter) is what they need.  If they dry out, wrap the cheese in a slightly damp cloth.  It will hydrate the cheese.  Suggestion: Grate into

pesto, pasta or soups.  Or, eat like candy.

6.) Blue Cheese-Gorgonzola, Roquefort etc…

Keep wrapped in either parchment paper or tin foil.  Do not wrap in plastic.  This cheese needs to breathe.  Keep in the coldest part of the fridge.   Medium circulation.  Suggestion:  Blue cheese, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries and leafy green salad.