How to Cut Cheese Curd when Making Cheese

mozzarella cheese

Cutting the curd is an important step in all hard cheese making recipes. Once gel development is complete and a clean break is achieved, the curd is ready to be cut. The purpose of cutting the gel into equal sized pieces is to control the draining of whey from within the curds. Cutting the gel into curds increases the exposed surface area providing more places for the whey to escape.

Individual cheese recipes will indicate the specific curd size required for the style of cheese being made. In general the harder the cheese, the smaller the curd cut size and the more whey can escape.

At this point the curd is much like Jell-O so a sharp edge is not required. Your curd knife must be long enough to reach the bottom of the cheese pot without the handle contacting the cheese. A long bladed carving or bread knife can be used. A better choice is a twelve inch stainless steel icing spatula.

You will need to try to cut curds into uniform pieces; however, on a small scale it will be impossible to make all of the curd pieces the same size but try to make them as uniform as you can.

Insert the point of the knife into the gel and slice the curd from left to right into the required size slices as indicated in the recipe. Turn the pot 90° and once again cut the curd from left to right creating a grid pattern. This will create long vertical columns of curd in the cheese pot.

You will now make horizontal cuts to create cubes of individual curds. You can use the curd knife to make these cuts by inserting it into the curd mass at a 45° angle and rotating it around the pot. Adjust the angle and rotate again. Continue this until most of the curd has been cut into pieces. They will not be perfect cubes. If you want more precision and control you can make a custom curd cutter out of heavy (12 gauge) copper or steel electrical ground wire available from hardware stores. The total length should be a few inches longer than the depth plus ½ the diameter of your cheese pot. Bend the wire at a 90° angle and use it to make horizontal cuts by sinking it into the curds at the appropriate depth and rotating it around the pot.

Now you can use your knife to gently cut the oversized pieces you couldn't reach. Don't overdo it as the curds are very fragile at this point and can shatter, giving up fat and protein to the whey, resulting in lower yields.

Once the curds are cut, the recipe will call for a rest period of usually 5 minutes. During this time the curd will form a thin film on its surface in a process called healing. After this healing step, the curds are ready for further processing.

*This article is an excerpt from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheese Making by James R. Leverentz.

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