If you`d happened by the parking lot out the back of Planet Organic in the early hours of Saturday morning, I would have to forgive you for thinking that Cakes and I were waiting to buy some illicit substances or black market electronics.
What we were doing was waiting to meet Ron, who was going to deliver 18 litres of organic, non-homogenized milk courtesy of Joe Mans of Vital Green Organic Farms, about 5 hours south of Edmonton.
It all started last week when I picked up a copy of City Palate, and discovered that Joe sells non-homogenized milk. Homogenization is a different process from pasteurization, which involves heating the milk up to high temperatures to kill off any bacteria that may be in the milk. In its natural state, straight from the cow, milk fat hangs out randomly in the milk in little globules, and if you leave fresh milk resting for a while, they will all float to the top. In the homogenization process, the milk is spun very quickly in order to suspend the fat particles evenly throughout the milk so they don't rise to the top or clump up in random globules.
It`s pretty hard to find non-homogenized milk around here, and it is a must for cheesemaking as the homogenization process that commercially produced milk goes through ruins the molecular structure of the milk and makes it useless for cheesemaking purposes. It also makes the milk much harder for humans to digest and contributes to lactose intolerance. But that`s another story.
I called Joe to find out if I could get larger than usual quantities of milk for cheesemaking and was very disappointed to find out his farm was well over 5 hours from Edmonton. My daydream of a cozy trip out to the country with my husband to purchase milk for our weekend cheesemaking evaporated. Regardless, we got to chatting about how I learnt to make cheese and where to buy cheesemaking equipment and all things dairy. He is such a nice man. About 15 minutes later, Joe had kindly arranged for some milk to be delivered for me at the same time as his usual supply was dropped off at Planet Organic. He was so pleasant and generous, I agreed to send him instructions for the Camembert, a copy of City Palate some tips on where to purchase equipment and bacteria, and a sample cheese when it is finished.
Cakes and I learnt to make cheese when we lived in Australia. We went to a weekend seminar at the Red Hill Retreat and had a stellar time. We learnt to make a number of cheeses, two of which are Camembert and washed rind cheese. We made both on Sunday.
Though Camembert and washed rind cheese are made with the same process, they get different finishing treatment and the resulting cheeses are quite different.
I'm not going to include the instructions for the cheeses on this post as they are quite lengthy and technical and would probably be quite boring to most people. If you'd like the instructions click here.
The first step in making cheese actually starts the day before. I made a starter, similar to the way you make a sourdough starter, but using sterilized milk and the bacteria blend used to make this particular cheese. The bacteria blend we use is a blend of Lactococcus lactis lactis, Lactococcus lactis cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar, diacetylactis Leuconostoc and mesenteroides cremoris. The key components of this culture for our purposes are the first three bacteria, the last two are not really necessary. We buy our bacteria blends (and molds and rennets) here. This type of blend is known as a mesophyllic culture, meaning the bacteria like warm, but not hot temperatures (around 30c) and is used for soft and semi hard cheeses such including Camembert, washed rind soft cheese, cream cheese, Chere, Gouda, quark, sour cream and cultured butter.
On the appointed cheesemaking day, Cakes and I poured all the milk into our cheesemaking pot and heated it up to the correct temperature.
Once the milk reaches the correct temperature, we mix in the prepared bacteria starter and mold spores. For Camembert, as with Brie, we use Penicillium candidum for ripening. It is this mold that grows into the fuzzy white coat that characterizes those two cheeses.
The next step is to add diluted microbial rennet. While the bacteria and mold contribute to the flavour and ripening of the cheese, the rennet is necessary to get the curds to form and expell the whey.
Traditional rennet, which is seen as superior to vegetable based rennet, is made by killing unweaned, milk-fed calves and extracting the enzyme from their stomach lining.
Vegetable-based rennet isn't really rennet at all, but certain plant extracts that may or may not coagulate your milk on any given day, and which are erratic and foul-tasting at best.
Since I'm not cool with the killing of baby anythings, especially not to make my cheese, we use microbial rennet.
Microbial rennet is produced by bacteria who have been injected with the protein that makes the enzyme found in the lining of the calves stomachs. This allows the bacteria to produce rennet that is molecularly identical to that which is produced traditionally, but without the need to harm animals. This way, you get the superior rennet, without the killing of baby cows.
The addition of the rennet makes the inoculated milk coagulate into cheese curds.
We let the milk sit in its little cheesemaking pan in a water bath designed to keep the milk warm and the bacteria happy, until the rennet does its work. Our system is not expensive or flashy. Our cheesemaking vat consists of a 20 litre giant clear Tupperware-type container ($12.97) nestled in a plain Styrofoam cooler of about 35 litres ($3.97). We pour 38c water in the space between the two vessels to maintain the temperature of the cheese while the rennet is working.
After about a half an hour, we test the curd to see if it is sufficiently firm. We do this by inserting the tip of a large knife into the curd and pulling back gently to create a little gap. If the curd stays in one piece and clear whey fills the gap, we know it's time to cut the curd.
We cut the curd into smaller pieces to help the whey drain out and the milk solids further coagulate. The fancy fancy implement we use to do this is a cake cooling rack. We cut on three planes to get equal sized cubes about 1 to 1.5 centimetres square.
The curds are left to rest for a further 30 minutes at which time we gently break them up again. Some people use ladles or skimmers for this, I find just getting my hands in there works better.
Don`t worry about us having our hands in the curds. We are constantly sterilizing our hands and equipment.
Once the curds have set enough and the whey has come off, we ladle the curds into the cheese hoops to form and drain further. Cheese hoops are simply tubes made of food grade plastic with little draining holes in them. We
We turn the cheeses in their hoops every few hours and leave them to rest overnight. The next day we soak them in a sterile brine solution and set them to ripen in their little cheese house. The cheese ripening box is another fancy-pants piece of equipment: shallow Tupperware container with cake rakes set in the bottom to place the cheeses on. with a little water sprinkled on the bottom to keep the cheeses humid. We turn the fridge down low (about 9 to 13c) and let them sit in there, happily growing little fur coats.
They will live there for the next 6 weeks during which time the Camemberts and washed rind cheese will get different treatment. We will let the Camemberts continue to grow their fuzzy white coats, but we will wash the other cheese daily with a solution containing Brevibacterium Linens, which will cause a sticky reddish orange crust to form on the cheese and give it an entirely different flavour. Brevibacterium Linens is the bacteria used to give Limburger cheese its distinctive sharp taste. If you smell the rind of the cheese too closely, it will smell like old stinky gym socks. But it tastes wonderful.
I will be updating this post periodically during the next few weeks with photos of the developing cheeses.