Friday, October 23, 2009

A Practical Introduction to Cheesemaking at Oregon State University

Transferring Camenbert to MoldsThis week I took part in an OSU extension class called "Practical Introduction to Cheesemaking" (See flyer here). The class was led by Dr. Lisbeth Goddik of OSU with Marc Bates, former Creamery Operator and Manager for Washington State University Creamery. The class was a basic introduction to cheesemaking, aimed at the entrepreneur interested in starting a commercial artisan cheese plant. Despite this, the class was encouraged to ask questions as technical or advanced as they wanted, and the instructors were very happy to scale down the topics to the home cheesemaker.

I also really enjoyed being with about 20 other students as interested in cheesemaking as I am. One of my only regrets is not getting more contact information from my classmates (if one of you are reading this entry, and want to be added to my rolodex, please mail me at There were chefs interested in making cheese at their restaurants, dairy owners interested in making cheese from their livestock, people really interested in starting up a creamer, and home cheesemakers like me trying to get really serious about the hobby.

We practiced making cheese in the OSU Cheese Pilot Plant. This was very exciting, as we were working with commercial scale equipment. See the flicker stream linked in the photo above (and more photos will be coming soon).

I learned so many interesting tidbits of cheesemaking knowledge that I thought I would use this blog entry as a notepad to jot them down for my own personal reference and to share with the web world. Check back and watch the list below expand as I get the time to add more entries. If you were in the class feel free to add your own in the comments section, and I can add them to this list.

  • Chlorine is used as a sanitizer commercially at a level that equipment does not have to be rinsed after sanitation. This is in the 80-100 ppm (parts per million) level. Chlorine is inactivated by contact with organic material, such as milk. As soon as the chlorine touches the milk it is inactivated and will not affect bacterial cultures, molds, or rennet added to the cheese milk. Marc Bates gave us a good trick of adding a few drops of milk to the container holding the water into which you are going to dilute the rennet to inactivate any residual sanitizer. The milk will not coagulate because it is at such low concentration.

    I found this site which shows that a 200 ppm Cl solution can be achieved by adding bleach to water in a 124 to 1 ratio. There are 768 teaspoons in a gallon, so this is equivalent to 6.2 teaspoons per gallon. To get 80 ppm, you need approximately 2.5 teaspoons bleach per gallon. I use a 32 ounce spray bottle (picked up from a hardware store), which would requires 0.625 tsp of bleach for 80 ppm (there are 128 ounces in a gallon). Free chloride is neutralized by light, so it is best to make a fresh solution for each cheesemaking session.

  • A really good source of cheesemaking information is the University of Guelph's Cheese Page. Apparently Prof. Goddik uses this like and instead of a textbook when teaching cheesemaking classes in the university.

    Other reference books mentioned were G.H. Wilster's Practical Cheesemaking (out of print), Cheese Problems Solved by P. McSweeny, Cheesemaking Practice by J.E. Scott, and Fundamentals of Cheese Science by Patrick F. Fox.

  • Tomme is a generic term for a style of cheese made by French farmers who did not want to make cheese 7 days a week. They would collect the milk from the weekend and make big batch of cheese on Monday and call it tomme.

  • Cows fed on silage or feed that has fungus spores can give milk infected with the same spores. However, rather than the spores making it through the digestive track and making their way through the udder, as one might think, they are actually sucked in from the environment into the milking apparatus which has a constant vacuum, especially when detaching the apparatus from the udder.

  • B. Linens, used in washed rind cheese, need oxygen and salt to survive, which is why they are sprayed on the surface of the cheese rather than added to the cheesemilk. Washing the rind with a 10% salt solution encourages the B. Linens, but discourages other molds and bacteria. B. Linens also require a low acid environment and so yeasts (Kluyveromyces lactis and Candida Utilis) and Geotrichum Candidum are used to neutralize the acidic environment of cheese so B. Linens can grow.

  • Recommendations for the home cheesemaker who is using freeze dried cultures and molds from packets that are meant to be opened and used once by commercial cheesemakers: Re-wrap the packet tightly and re-cool as quickly as possible. Also, do not put the spoon you are measuring with into the freeze dried packet, instead tap out the powder onto the spoon. Otherwise you may contaminate the contents for many uses to come.

  • I asked if there were any signs to look for in a homemade cheese that would indicate that the cheese might contain pathogens. The answer was a definite no, it is impossible to tell from simple examination. I took away from that it is best to use good sanitation and good quality milk to reduce the chances of pathogens growing in your cheese.

  • Cheese salt used commercially is very fine, like a powder, not course course like kosher salt. Lisbeth Goddik told me in her opinion there is no need to use cheese salt unless you are dry salting large loaves of cheddar, where the even distribution of salt is important. She uses pickling salt in her pilot plant since it does not contain iodine, which is important.

    If you really wanted to approximate cheese salt, you could put pickling salt in a food processor and run on high for a minute. I have done this in the past to make "popcorn salt" which dissolves very quickly due to its small crystal size.

  • Mixing raw milk with homogenized milk will cause rancidity almost immediately. In raw milk, the fat globules are encased in a membrane that keeps the fat separated from the water in the milk. On this membrane are lipase enzymes, which break apart fat molecules. Homogenized milk has had its fat globules broken into small droplets stripped of the external membrane. When raw and homogenized milk are mixed, the lipase in the raw milk very quickly attacks the unprotected droplets of fat in the homogenized milk.

  • I brought one of my first homemade cheeses to class, a gouda. The cheese did not taste very good, at least to me. I characterized the flavor a rancid. It was quickly determined that he flavor came from the lipase I had added (which I had done to hopefully create a sharper flavor in the cheese). Dr. Goddik described the flavor as not necessarily bad, but not in balance with the other flavors in the cheese. The lipase I used was labeled as "sharp" and suitable for Parmesan styled cheese. When tasting it again I realized what I had called the rancid flavor could be described as the sharp flavor of Parmesan in an overpowering amount. I was very pleased that the cause of this failure had been determined.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Podcast complete and published!

Editing is complete, and the podcast is up. Subscribe and listen to it on our podcast page.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen

Making Artisan Cheese
50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen
Written by Tim Smith
Quarry Books
©2005 by Quarry Books

Rather than buying a ton of cheesemaking books, I have been borrowing them from the local library. I have been placing holds on cheesemaking books and then watching online as my place in the hold queue slowly descends. A few weeks ago Making Artisan Cheese by Tim Smith became available. After reading through this book, I believe I have found a home cheesemaking book I can recommend to the hobbyist who is just starting out.

Making Artisan Cheese starts with a history of cheese and then covers some cheesemaking basics. After this it is divided into three major sections: beginning, intermediate and advanced cheesemaking. Each of these sections separates the techniques needed for the cheeses in the section, from the recipes using those techniques. This is nice because once you know the techniques you can flip through to find the recipes without wading through a lot of text. It also does not burden you with too much technique and theory too fast, and the beginner can start of quickly with making some easy, acid coagulated, fresh cheeses. Though there are a few non-cheesemaking recipes (which I find in other books make it hard to find the cheese recipes), they are nicely tucked away in small insets and in separate sections of the book.

The illustrations and photography are excellent. They need to be in order to learn about cheesemaking from a book (rather than in a classroom). The photos presented look like they are actually homemade cheeses made by following the recipe being presented. This gives me hope that the recipes are tested and well thought out.

I found it hard to skim recipe procedures, as they are written in prosaic form rather than a list of steps. It would also have been nice to include estimated times to complete the recipes and aging times to help the person who is trying to select a type of cheese to make. There were also a few technical errors that were not critical but were slightly annoying. I also miss having a recipe for plain blue cheese (there is blue stilton and blue gouda, but no plain blue).

Even with a few drawbacks, this is my new recommendation for a cheesemaking book for the beginner. It also has the advantage of still being in print, and being available from Amazon. Use this link to buy the book from Amazon and give our site credit for your purchase.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Podcast coming

This last Sunday I invited my friend Jeff Cowan over to help me record the first Joy of Home Cheesemaking podcast. We made a muenster style cheese and recorded commentary while doing it. We also opened my first Stilton, aged 4 months. The audio sounds great, but I have a lot of editing to do. I hope to have it complete this weekend. Stay tuned!

Link to muenster recipe used...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wedge Seminar Wrap Up

I spent most of my day Saturday at The Wedge, here in Portland, Oregon. This festival of local cheese is one of the reasons I am glad I live here.

I tasted a lot of cheese, and learned that the pacific northwest is filled with cheesemakers who make really good products. I attended all three seminars offered: Pairing cheese with beer, constructing a cheese plate and pairing cheese with spirits. Here are some of the highlights.

I really fell in love with the washed rind cheeses offered in the seminars. These are the type cheeses known for their pungent smell, reminiscent of smelly feet. In fact the bacteria that gives them this smell, brevibacterium linens (or b-linens), is found in human perspiration. This may be off-putting to some, but for the person who loves a strong cheese, the flavors generated by the bacteria overcome any reservations against eating the product of a bacteria that also grows in some unsavory environments. I have a large packet of b-linens in my freezer waiting for my first attempt at a muenster or limburger style cheese.

In this style I tasted the Hillis Peak from Pholia Farm, and Caldwell Crik from Estrella Family Creamery. Both were creamy and full of washed rind flavor. Hillis Peak was part of the cheese and beer pairing seminar, and I thought it went especially well with a Belgian styled ale called "Four" from Upright Brewing. The clove flavors in the beer made a wonderful combination with the cheese. The Caldwell Crik was part of the seminar concentrating on building a cheese board. Here I was surprised that matching this cheese with a honey from Ridge Farms made a wonderful combination.

Pairing beer with cheese, instead of the more traditional wine, worked quite well. As was pointed out, wine can be acidic, and can compete with the creamy texture in some cheese. The flavors in craft brews can pair better in some cases.

The final seminar matched cheese and spirits, and it was purportedly the first of its kind. Good pairings seemed to occur less often in this seminar. This may be due to the fact locally made spirits were used, and no whiskey were present (though some local whiskeys do exist). Whiskey may have been a good pairing with some of the cheeses.

One pairing I thought was perfect was Rogue Hazelnut Spiced Rum with Hazelnut Torte from Rivers Edge creamery (Hazelnuts, or filberts, are Oregon's state nut).

There was a extremely odd spirit from Clear Creek Distillery: Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir. This spirit is flavored with the green tips of new growth that form on a Douglas Fir in the spring. It has a green color and the taste was very unusual. I enjoyed its unique flavor, but I am afraid it showed how some spirit and cheese combinations do not pair well. I thought it was ok with Mopsy's Best from Black Sheep Creamery, but few others.

In the final pairing Clear Creek Eau de Vie Pear Brandy was paired with Rogue River Blue. This is the cheese that won best of show in the American Cheese Society competition this year. The cheese is wrapped in grape leaves soaked in the same brandy that it was paired with in this seminar. I had skipped ahead unaware of the natural combination and decided for myself that the pairing was good but not great. When the four judges leading the seminar tasted this combination, they raved about how this was the best pairing of the seminar. Could I have been so wrong, or perhaps the judges were predisposed to believe this pairing could not be better. Perhaps a little of both.

After all of this tasting, I feel well armed to impress the next guests to whom I serve a cheese board.