Monday, January 30, 2012

Cutting the Curds

Once the curds have coagulated into a smooth, solid mass, they naturally begin to contract and expel their whey, which consists mostly of water. The technical term is syneresis. The more surface area the curds have, the more syneresis will occur. This means the more the curds are cut, the smaller the pieces are, the less moisture they will retain. To produce a softer cheese with a higher moisture content, the curds must be left larger. Think of a moist cottage cheese  versus a dense, dry, aged cheddar.

The cheese maker watches the curds checking for firmness, to determine when they are to be cut. The pivotal decision involves critical judgement, exercised by inserting a small knife, spatula, or finger into the curd and removing a sample to see how it separates, which is called “the break.” Looking for a clean break so the curds don’t get torn, frayed or crushed, leading to mushy or ragged curds. The curds must maintain clean edges so the whey can leach out properly. If cut when too soft or firm, the leaching out process may go awry, meaning the target moisture content will be off, causing texture and consistency to suffer.

The cut curd particles should be uniform in size and shape. Traditional recipes instruct they be cut to the size of peas, walnuts, or grains of rice.

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