cheese tasting: round three

So much cheese! So much tasting! So much fun!

Colby #35

After hours of work, squirreling it all away, and then weeks and months of waiting, I’m cutting into cheese after cheese after cheese. My method: open a cheese at the earliest point, often between three and six weeks (though sometimes I cheat and open a cheese even earlier than its recipe recommends because I can’t stand the wait, and because I want to know if I’m on the right track and whether or not I ought to make more of that particular kind of cheese), and then I repackage the cheese and pop it back in the cave for some more aging and another tasting at a later date.

I take lots of notes in an effort to detect patterns between salt levels, curd moisture content, pressing times, etc. I’ve made dozens of hard cheeses (today I’m making Number Fifty!!!), as well as countless soft/stretched cheeses, and still, I feel like such a novice. Talk about a steep learning curve!

For the record, I’m not going to report on every single cheese here. The new ones, yes, and the ones that stand out, either because they’re especially atrocious or fabulous, but not all the repeats. That’d be tedious. And boring. My goal is to discover which cheeses are our favorites, and which ones are fairly simple to make, and then produce a heck-ton of them, enough that we’ll be feasting on them months (years!) after Daisy’s no longer producing milk.

Farmhouse Cheddar (#24)
While traditional cheddar involves the cheddaring process — knit-together drained curd sliced into thick slabs that are then stacked, periodically turned, milled (crumbled or cut), salted and pressed — Farmhouse cheddar is a simplified version. For this particular cheese, the curds are drained in a bag for an hour before milling. Easy! And considering how this cheese turned out, I’m not sure why anyone would bother to make it any other way. 

I made this wheel with four gallons of milk and a quart of heavy whipping cream. For the culture, I used a generous quarter teaspoon of MA11 (mesophilic culture). I cut the curd with a knife and let it rest for 3 minutes before cutting it the rest of the way with a whisk. I let it age for five weeks before opening. The bag was wet, and the cheese was slimy and stinky (all good signs, I’m learning).

My notes read: HOLY HECK FANTASTIC!! Fine, creamy, smooth, mild.

WOW. `

Monterey Jack (#27)
The main difference between this cheese (or at least the method I used, since recipes vary wildly) and farmhouse cheddar is that, in this one, the curds are held at 100 degrees for a longer period of time, drained, and then immediately tossed with the salt. In other words: both are fairly quick to make. 

I used flora danica for the culture, and the cheese was, according to my notes, “Perfect.”

It was creamy, soft, mild, and it had some small eye development. Crowd-pleasing, and a great snacking cheese.

Butterkäse (#32) 
This time — my second butterkäse — the cheese didn’t turn out great. Which is a bummer because I really feel like a proper Butterkäse ought to be both easily attainable and slamdunk delicious.

Two main problems: it wasn’t salty enough, and it had a rubbery texture. According to my notes, the curd set up quite firm, so perhaps I had a little too much rennet? As for the lack of salt: perhaps my brine wasn’t strong enough? (In the beginning, I didn’t realize that, after each brining, I needed to add salt back into the brine each time after using it, which could explain things.)

In any case, I rewrapped the cheese and transferred it to the barn fridge. It will still be good for cooking, I suppose.

Lancashire (#33)
I got the recipe for this English cheese from Gavin Webber, and, according to my notes, it’s a “fun” cheese to make.

Apparently, I forgot to let the curd drain in the mold overnight prior to pressing, but it still turned out fine: “creamy, soft, smooth, mild, nice.” (When it comes to cheese descriptors, my vocab is woefully limited.)

I’m beginning to think a bunch of the cheeses — Farmhouse Cheddar, Caerphilly, Lancashire, Monterey Jack — might be so similar in flavor that following different recipes isn’t worth the bother. Or maybe I just need to let them age longer to see the difference?

Ibores (#13) 
Ibores is a Spanish cheese, traditionally made with goats’ milk, and with a rind of smoked paprika mixed with olive oil.

The first time I opened this cheese was at the end of October when it was just a month old. According to my notes, I wasn’t convinced. The cheese was dry, with a hit of acid, and I wasn’t sure I liked the smoked paprika flavor. It did have a lot of little white holes, and the cheese itself was white and pretty. Fried, the cheese turned creamy and melty, and we really enjoyed it, so perhaps this would be a good one to add to soups, like to a chicken chili? 

I resealed the cheese, and the next time I opened it was the beginning of December. The package was wet and the cheese was very dry. It still had an acidic tang. 

I resealed it — I’ll taste it again in the spring.

Jarlsberg-Style (#26)

Another one of Gavin’s recipes (called Jarlsberg-Style, since the recipe for the orginial Jarlsberg is a closely guarded secret), this was my first attempt at making a cheese that called for the addition of propionic shermanii, the culture that creates hole development.

The process was fairly simple — the cut curd gets washed, and cooked, by adding 140-degree water — but the part that is weird is this: the vacuum-packed cheese is stored at 50 degrees for two weeks, and then it’s stored at 65 degrees for 4-6 weeks. A wheel of raw milk cheese, just hanging out in the pantry with all the other dry goods? How strange is that!

The cheese itself turned out wonderfully: lots of small holes, and with a sweet, nutty flavor.

We loved it.

Leicester (#4)
I first cut into this cheese months ago, but neglected to write my comments.

November 4

Just last week, I reopened it. This hard cheese is mild and pleasant, quite similar to a cheddar.

December 25

I think that, if left to age for a year or two, it’d probably develop the crystals that good hard cheeses are known for.

Baby Swiss (#31)
Another winner!

note the craters, signifying the eye development

This one was lightweight, riddled with gorgeous little holes, and tasted buttery and nutty-sweet. My older son thought it needed more salt; I disagreed.

When pressing, the cheese is supposed to be flipped every hour for five hours while being held at 75 to 80 degrees, a challenge in the winter kitchen. My solution? I removed the oven racks, preheated it using the proofing setting, and then set the whole press on the floor of the oven. Every once in awhile, I’d briefly turn the oven on (just the proofing setting) to keep it warm. Smart, huh?

This cheese got the same aging treatment as the Jarlsberg: a couple weeks at 50 degrees, and then just 3 weeks at room temp. (According to Google, longer aging results in bigger holes.)

Manchego-Style (#22)
Manchego cheese is made with sheep’s milk; thus the reason this one’s called Manchego-Style.

I about pulled my hair out making this cheese. For whatever reason, it took forever to set up (five hours instead of thirty minutes), and then I had to rush the pressing (four hours instead of six) and then it had to sit in the fridge overnight until I got around to brining it. Whatever. It still turned out … decent, I suppose. 

It’s quite sharp and dry, but it’s also nice. I’m assuming it’s the lipase that gives it such a sharp flavor, but I really don’t know. 

Red Pepper Bel Paese (#38)
“Bel Paese” is Italian for “beautiful country.” I got the recipe via text from one of the other cheesemakers in our group, and she, in turn, got it from a cheesemaking book (that I’ve ordered but haven’t received yet) by a semi-local (!) cheesemaker. It was my first time (nope, my second, thank you, Notes) using homemade yogurt as the culture, instead of freeze dried culture (more on this later) and it worked wonderfully.  

I added too much red pepper, though — like, way too much: three whole tablespoons! But somehow it’s not too hot. (At least not yet anyway.) I also think I should’ve left it in the brine a little longer, and the texture was a bit rubbery.

But all things considered, it was okay: a mild, nondescript cheese with a bunch of spice. 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.30.19), our apocalypse, chopped locks, throwing it down.

5 Comments

  • Janelle Myers-Benner

    So fun to see more of your cheese experiments. Over the holidays we broke into my fermented serrano pepper aged cheddar and the black pepper aged cheddar. Both are yummy! So I’m gonna have fun putting a variety of flavors in my cheddars going forward. Keep having fun!!

  • Judith Lehman

    If you ever want to help a fundraiser, you could do adventurous cheese tastings. We’d all pay to come to one and because we read your blog, we’d understand some cheeses are experimental and we could supply more adjectives.

  • Becky R.

    Boy, if I lived closer, I would be on your porch offering to taste cheese whenever you liked! I think you are very smart to keep lots of notes and decide which cheeses you actually love and which cheeses you will use consistently. But in the beginning of any “making” journey, you have to try everything, right? I love reading these cheese posts, Jennifer. I would like to know at some point which cheeses you think taste great and are the easiest to make as a novice. Someday I am going to do this, I think….

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