What is flocculation when making cheese? And how does it affect my cheese? Today I’m going to revisit home cheesemaking and talk a little bit about each of the steps to creating any cheese. I’ll pause in the middle and talk in more detail about flocculation. It can take your home cheesemaking to the next level.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
I’m starting off, as I always do, with our homestead life updates. I’ll try to put a time stamp in the notes for those of you that want to skip the homestead updates and get straight to the unique topic of the podcast. I’m not sure I know enough to make that happen, but I’m making the effort. We’ll see how it goes.
A couple of the cow matrons are showing their pregnancies. Claire will be 11 years old shortly after having her calf this year. That’s getting up there in cow years. They can live 15 or 20 years, but she is definitely old enough to start showing her age. I was out there checking on everyone a few days ago and caught Claire in the act of trying to get up from her afternoon laydown and chewing of cud. In order to make this happen, she rocked and rocked and rocked for nearly a minute before giving herself a big push, getting her up on her rear legs and then finally getting her front legs under her. She looked a little stiff but after moving around a bit she seemed pretty normal. Last year she did the same thing, but this year it seems like it’s taking her a bit longer than usual to get up. I’m going to put in a call to the vet to get some guidance just to be safe.
Same for Rosie. I need to ask the vet more details about what to look for as she nears her delivery date. Rosie is about 6 to 8 weeks away from giving birth to her first calf. We are watching her closely. Her udder is starting to form. Again, if you are just tuning in, we purchased Rosie in the fall even though we suspected she was bred and was quite young to be having a calf. Sure enough, when we got the cows preg checked, she was pregnant and due to deliver in mid-March – or so we estimated. Her age of conception would be similar to a 9 year old girl who just had her first period. Sure she was old enough to conceive, but not fully grown to an age where pregnancy is considered safe. We’ll keep you updated on that progress.
Donkeys, Goats and Sheep
The donkeys are still coming up every day for a treat and a pet.
The sheep are doing well, both flocks. There is a breeding flock out in the front pasture. Those girls, four of them, are due to start having lambs at the end of March. So they are starting to show their pregnancies also. Lambert is taking good care of his ewes. There are twelve in the back. Nine are last year’s lambs and three are ewes that we did not want to breed.
We had to make a quick change with the goats. Goats and sheep are prone to what is called hoof scald that can lead to hoof rot. We’ve never had a problem with our sheep but the goats are a never-ending disaster with these problems. This year we moved them to their own pasture away from the other animals. What happens is that as the animals stand around the hay bale and eat, they inevitably do their business. When it rains all of that becomes a thick muddy mess. This is a problem for our goats. After a good bit of rain or snow combined with cold temperatures, we will often see the goats begin to limp. We got them out of there and gave them their own space so they are not standing in that wet, poopy, muddy mess. Their hooves just don’t do well in that environment. Cold, wet, and the proper bacteria will take them down. Of course, after we moved them to their own pasture, they decided they wanted to be in another pasture. That one was also vacant so we let it pass. Everyone looks to be doing well at this point.
The quail are still being amazing and acting like winter is no big deal. Most days they are all laying eggs. If it gets too cold, they will not lay eggs. So the fact that the eggs keep coming tells me they are doing just fine in the cold.
This time of year gets me starting to twitch and itch to start growing some plants. I had not planned to grow any tomatoes this year. I’m planning on focusing on beans and peas. But just today I started thinking about, “what if I grow some tomato plant starts for folks at the farmer’s market?” I mean just because I’m not going to grow them for us doesn’t mean that other people won’t want them. And so many of you do not have the space and equipment to grow them from seed. It’s quite the operation. What do you think? Tomatoes, maybe some peppers. And what about herbs? You all likely want some basil, parsley, cilantro and so on. The jury is still out on that one. But I will say I’m leaning heavily toward growing some stuff and those sound like really good plants to make it happen.
We have opened up new Raw Milk Cheese herd shares if you are interested in regularly obtaining some fabulous raw milk cheese. A half share will provide about 1 pound of cheese per month and a full share will provide about 2 pounds of raw milk cheese per month.
The outside of the creamery is nearly complete. Walls, roof, soffit, knee walls, dormer walls and whatever else Scott did to make it work. It’s so exciting. I’m waiting for that scaffolding to come down. The scaffolding makes it look like a building under construction – and it is – but I look forward to the day when I can look at the building without it. This is the most beautiful building. Follow us on Facebook at Peaceful Heart Farm to see Scott’s updates and the pictures of the progress of the creamery.
As we talked over how the interior building was going to progress, I tried to work out if I was going to be able to make cheese in the cheese make room this year. Looks like no. At least not at the beginning. There is a small possibility that I would be able to get in there about the time we stop milking. Maybe just one cheese before the end? It will be whatever it is and I will love it no matter what. Speaking of making cheese.
What is Flocculation When Making Cheese?
I want to walk through the basic steps of cheesemaking once again. It is not as hard as you might think. If you get these steps down in your head, when you finally get the courage to give it a try, you will have the basics already in mind. Often the instructions look intimidating. But when you break it down into steps that you are trying to accomplish, it makes it much easier. If you are already making your own cheese, I hope the additional information about what is flocculation will make your cheesemaking even better. And if you don’t make cheese at all, but love eating it, these are the steps that make it happen for you.
These steps are going to be very rudimentary. And if you are at the stage of just wondering what you need to get started, I have a two-part podcast on You Can Make Your Own Cheese. These two podcasts go over the basics of space, equipment, and supplies to get you started.
Steps in Cheesemaking
Step 1 – sanitize everything.
No explanation needed here. Cheese is the result of bacteria, molds, and yeasts interacting with milk. You want to make sure you have all the right ones and none of the wrong ones. You control this by sterilizing everything and then adding in what you desire.
Step 2 – heat the milk to the proper temperature for ripening.
That means you are going to raise the temperature of the milk to a temperature where the cultures you have chosen to use in your cheese will flourish. Too cold and not enough happens. Too hot and they die.
Step 3 – add the cultures and let the cheese ripen.
Ripening happens for a specific amount of time noted in the recipe. This can be as short as five minutes or so up to an hour or even more, depending on the cheese. The cultures and ripening time are central to creating the type of cheese you desire.
Step 4 – add rennet or other acid to set the curd
This is where I’m going to elaborate a little bit. And I will be focusing on using rennet to set the curd. Rennet originally was produced solely from the stomach lining of a calf. Today, there are many kinds of rennet. In all cases, what happens is the rennet forms a chemical bond with the milk and causes it to coagulate into one giant curd. Or one giant blob of solidified milk.
The length of time it takes to get to the point where the curd is completely formed and ready to cut into cubes varies according to the cheese you are making. Once that time is reached the curd is ready to be cut. More on that in the next step.
Flocculation refers to the time when the casein matrix has begun to form, the curd has just begun to set. That flocculation time is then multiplied it by a factor. The factor is different depending on the type of cheese. Examples are to multiply by a factor of 2 – 2.5 for hard cheese like parmesan all the way up to multiplying by 4, 5 or 6 for moister cheeses like gouda, camembert, or stilton.
The curd at the time of cutting will have a different strength. The longer is sets up, the stronger the curd. A young curd, let’s say only 30 minutes of time has passed, will release more whey. Lower multipliers are used for harder, dryer cheeses. A soft brie or camembert will have a high multiplier and the curd is going to retain more whey. The time for setting the curd is going to be substantially longer.
With this method, instead of following a specific time based on the recipe, you can determine when is the best time to cut the curd with the milk you are using. There are other methods of determining the point flocculation has occurred but this one is really simple. I can’t wait to give it a try. By the way, I got this information from a YouTube channel that I love. It is Gavin Webber (spell it out). He is a master at making cheese at home. Check out his channel. Just go to YouTube and search for Gavin Webber and his channel will pop right up.
His method was so simple I just had to share it. This will truly take your cheesemaking to the next level. Simply take a plastic lid the size of small-mouth mason jar. Just about any pint-sized jar with a plastic lid will be the right size. After adding the rennet, Gavin starts a timer and waits about 8 minutes into the process. Then he takes that lid, lays the flat top of the lid on the surface of the milk and spins it. It is light and will easily float. As long as it continues to spin, you need more time. As soon as it stops spinning, note that time on your timer and multiply by the appropriate factor for the cheese you are making. That is the perfect time to cut the curd. I’ll leave a link to his video in the show notes. Now on to next steps.
Step 5 – cutting the curd.
Cutting the curd can be tricky at home. I use a variety of utensils. Ideally you have some kind of device specifically made for cutting the curd, but usually we do not have that. I use a 14” long spatula. I cut straight down into the curd in ½” increments. First one direction and then rotate ninety degrees and cut again. This forms ½” tubes. To make them into cubes requires some way to cut vertically. This is where having a tool uniquely designed for this process. A small wire curd harp is blessing I cannot describe. However, without that, we do the best we can to cut at a 45-degree angle. Again, cutting one way, rotating the pot 90 degrees and cutting again. Sometimes I will rotate two more times so that I have used the 45-degree angle cut in all four directions. This method creates curds that are not exactly cubes, but it does work. The curds need to be pretty close to the same size.
Step 6 – cooking the curds
This process involves raising the temperature of the curds and whey to the appropriate temperature for the cheese you are making. The recipe will tell you the desired end temperature, how long it should take to get there and how long to hold at that temperature. This will further develop your cultures. There may even be steps involved such as washing the curd or adding salt. I won’t get into that now. That will have to be another podcast.
Step – 7 draining and molding the curds
Once your cheese has reached the proper temperature and has cooked for the proper amount of time, you drain the whey. In a pot in a sink or on a stove, this involves dipping the whey off the top or simply pouring the curds and whey into a colander lined with a cheesecloth to catch the curds.
Transfer the curds to your cheese mold or form.
Step 8 – salt the curd
This may happen prior to getting the curds into the mold, but most cheeses are salted after being formed in the mold or immediately after coming out the mold. After the cheese comes out of the mold it might be put in a salt water brine or simply sprinkled with salt as with camembert.
Step 9 – pressing the curds
There are various presses out there to accomplish this task. The idea here is to get more of the whey out of the curds. Some pressing only requires the weight of the cheese itself. Others require the use of some kind of press or a setup where you can add weight on top of your mold. Making cheddar requires a really, really good press. The cheddaring process makes pressing a bit of a unique issue.
Step 10 – aging the cheese
Depending on the type of cheese will determine what kind of rind your cheese will have. Some cheeses offer various types of rinds. You might even use a wax or cream cheese coating. In any event, the moisture needs to be maintained for the amount of time the cheese will age. The time the cheese ages increases and deepens the flavor profile.
Those the steps.
- Sanitize everything
- Heat the milk
- add cultures and ripen
- add rennet to create a solid curd
- cut the curd
- cook the curd
- drain the curd and put the curds in a mold
- salt the curd
- press the cheese into the form
- age the cheese for the desired amount of time
- Enjoy Your Cheese
Once you understand that these are the steps and they are simply altered in one way or another depending on the cheese you are making, it all starts to make sense. You will be amazed at how a simple change in temperature, size of cut curds, amount of time and temperature to cook will change your milk from one cheese to another.
That’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed the updates on the homestead. I truly enjoy sharing our beautiful life with all of you. And I look forward to meeting many of you in the future if I have not already. Your support is amazing.
I hope this episode helped you understand the steps of cheesemaking a bit more clearly. Again, once you get those steps in mind, you can make just about any cheese you want. The method I described for determining flocculation is an easy addition for those of you already making great cheeses at home.
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