Awhile back, I started up making cheese again. It started with a lead on a Facebook group about raw milk available in the area. Raw milk is superb for cheesemaking because it keeps its natural bacterial cultures that pasteurization kills off. Further, many of the world’s best cheeses are made with raw milk, so if I wanted to duplicate them, I needed good source materials. Keep reading to find out how the process goes.
This isn’t intended to be a recipe of what to do, as much as a fun and picture-filled guide about how the process goes. Mr. Rogers doesn’t teach you how to make crayons, but seeing the factory is still pretty cool. If you want a specific recipe, get Ricki Carroll’s brie recipe (she’s the Cheese Queen and whom I order most of my supplies from).
What’s the difference between Brie and Camembert?
Fuzzy white mold, French, kind of mild and runny… yet there are differences.
- Camembert is made with more starter bacterial culture, so it is more sharply flavored
- Camembert only comes in 250g wheels, while Brie comes in all shapes and sizes
- Camembert tends to be aged a month longer
- Brie is typically more light and buttery and Camembert is more earthy or barnyardy.
Do you eat that white fuzz?
You can, but you don’t have to. I tend to cut most of it off. In studies, it shows that it mutes the other flavors of the cheese if you have a lot of it. Nobody is going to criticize you for going straight into the guts of the cheese.
How I made my Brie.
The first step is getting absolutely everything clean. That meant pressure-cooker steaming my mold, drying mats and utensils and washing the larger parts with soap and hot water.
One also needs good milk. I have used grocery store milk and it is ooookaaaaay for cheese making. It’s much harder to get to coagulate, for instance. I had more luck with Snowville Creamery milk, which is just the best you can find in stores, but it’s also $10 a gallon. For this milk, I was using a gallon of Jersey-Gurnsey cross milk with a high butterfat content. My farmer supplies it for $8 a gallon, so it is a bit cheaper to get and fresher, too. I don’t drink raw milk, but all the suspicious things that we pasteurize out die off in cheesemaking anyway (the cultures outcompete it).
The next step is to bring the milk up to temperature. Brie goes to about 89 degrees. Inconveniently, my thermometer broke, so I was winging it the whole time! Once the milk is at temperature, you pitch in starter cultures of bacteria. They will break down the lactose and proteins and make interesting things happen. If you’ve enjoyed cheese with a bite to it, that’s the bacteria at work. Then it gets held at that temperature so the cultures can get to work. Mine stayed at this temperature for 90 minutes.
At this stage, you also add in any mold you need. Brie takes a white mold called Geotrichum candidum. That mold helps develop its flavor and strangely, also protects it from growing other molds. You can buy it as a starter mold, but it was $15 and I was feeling cheap. Instead, I scraped a little bit of mold off of a piece of brie I had in the fridge. This may have been tremendously stupid, since I wasn’t getting in a big amount of mold, but that’s why I do these experiments.
And that was the start of the “hurry up and wait” element of cheesemaking.
After it cultures, you add rennet, which is an enzyme that makes the milk firm up to something like Jell-o. You then hold it for up to another 90 minutes for it to make a “clean break,” which means that a (clean) finger inserted and lifted up will make the cheese break in a solid crack instead of looking like cottage cheese or something. This is what it looks like:
I was pleased and surprised that I got a clean break at only thirty minutes; it’s the hallmark of really good milk.
Next, I set up the form. The draining mat is a bamboo sushi roller – everyone uses them and I wonder what the French did before they had them! Next, a food grade plastic mold with small holes drilled on the sides.
Then the cheese curds get ladled in. Typically, you’d cut up the curds to get some of the whey to drain off, but I picked up this ladling technique because it is much more gentle on the curds.
One gallon of milk fully filled up the mold. The next step is to wait for it to drain. This involves flipping the mold over a couple of times in the first few hours, until it shrinks down. You can see in the third picture below that after one flip, it’s already shrinking a bit. Take note of how tall this mold is, because you’ll be surprised how little actual cheese one gets from a gallon of milk.
Here it is, unmolded in the light of morning.
See how much it shrunk?! That’s what a gallon of whole fat milk turns into.
It got a quick dusting of salt and then it went into the mini-fridge. It has to be at 90% humidity and 45 degrees or it won’t work out right. Fridges are typically 34 degrees, too cold for mold growth or maturation. I had to put a block in the fridge so that the little cheese bin would fit, but I made it work. Here it is, with the thermometer inside. Note: the humidity on the display is only the humidity in the fridge; the box has a little water in the bottom and is well above 90% humidity.
Every day, the cheese gets flipped with clean hands. This makes sure that it doesn’t stick to the mat and that the mold grows evenly. And remember how I cheaped out on the mold? Turns out, the white fuzzy mold is still growing, thanks to my tiny bit added earlier! Check it out:
It’s definitely fuzzing over. This was taken on Day Twelve. I am going to start eyeing it for eating at Day 28. I like a runny brie, so I might let this one go as long as six weeks.
With my regular milk share, I expect to be making several more cheeses soon. The big, fun ones like cheddar and comte take months to age, so I want to get those started first.
Keep an eye on the blog for cheese updates.