Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Without getting super technical, can you tell me how you make cheese?"

Recently my wife and I took our two year old daughter to our local wine shop for a Friday night tasting. No, we did not give our daughter wine, but we did bring some of my homemade blue cheese, which she loves, to keep her content while we tasted a Portuguese wine flight. Our server was intrigued and asked for a sample of my cheese, which I was more than happy to show off. After at least saying she liked the cheese, she asked me, "So without going into all of the details, tell me how do you make cheese?"

I tried, but I did not really do a good job. I gave too many details of the process that I know too well, and I am sure it was too much information for someone who merely knows that cheese comes from milk and just wants to know a little bit more. I disappointed myself because answering a question like this in a simple manner is something I should be able to do. So I resolved to do better next time and decided to write a "how you make cheese" elevator pitch that I can spew in 2 minutes or less. Here it goes:

"Making cheese is the process of turning liquid milk into a solid (or semi-solid) by trapping the milk solids and extracting a large portion of the water. Although there are as many variations on the method as there are types of cheese, in general bacteria and rennet are added and cause some of the proteins to coagulate into something that resembles gelatin. In fact, the proteins in gelatin trap liquid just like the milk proteins do. The coagulated milk is cut into pieces which are called curds. The curds weep a clear liquid, called whey, similar to firm yogurt weeping liquid to fill in the hole left by a spoon. Curds and whey are exactly what Miss Muffet ate while sitting on her tuffet. When heated or stirred the curds release more whey, then they are separated by pouring through cheesecloth or some sort of sieve. The curds are formed into the final shape of the cheese. Often the curds are pressed so they mat together, and hard cheeses are aged to improve their flavor. Aging can last from one month to two years.

"The same four ingredients of milk, bacteria, rennet, and salt are used to make cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella, Montery Jack, colby, cheddar, and gouda. The only difference is how the cheesemaker treats the curds during cheesemaking."

How was that?


  1. You're so wonderfully scientific, I love that you think that's short! I should ask you to explain the science of cheese in my classes.

    My elevator speech is:

    The basic process is you take milk, acidify/heat it, add a coagulant like rennet, cut and stir when you have a pot full of custard looking stuff, drain out the whey that appears and often, press the solids called curds. The variety we get is from added molds and bacterial starters, specific temperatures, aging, humidity and even just salt and time, as is the case with feta. Done!

    No wonder I fall short when microbiologists ask for details, ha ha! I'm so glad we're both out there David, I enjoy your blog so much. All the best! Claudia

  2. That rocked, Dave. Nice.
    I is learned good.

  3. Just call me a food geek. It is so hard for me to drop the food science since that is what I am so passionate about.

    I like yours too, and perhaps the casual listener would would prefer it. I think you could say your piece in less than a minute, so you have mine beat.