Monday, January 30, 2012

Milk Composition and Cheese Making

Skilled cheese makers choose their recipe based on the makeup of their raw materials. They also adapt to seasonal fluctuations. Milk with higher protein (casein) content coagulates more quickly and yields firmer curds, sheep's milk is a good example of this. Milk with lower protein content, from Holstein Friesian cows, or a cow grazing on lush summer pastures, will undergo slower coagulation and produce thinner, more fragile curds. Variation in acidity and mineral content affect the speed and character of coagulation as well.

Cheese making is controlled spoilage, and many early steps in the recipe involve putting the brakes on acidification, so it can continue at a measured pace until the elevated acid level within the curds or cheese body or presence of other agents, salt, heat, drying, bacteria, or molds cause it cease.

Successful artisan cheese making requires a gentle hand. Milk fat molecules form into globules surrounded by protective membranes. Excessive agitation causes the globules to break up and the fat molecules to separate, in which you wind up making butter. Gentle stirring allows the fat globules to remain emulsified as curds form and the whey is drained off. If kept intact the fat globules fully integrate into the forming cheese and are allowed to make a delectable contribution to the flavor and texture.

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