Jim answers questions for home cheese makers.

mozzarella and salami

Q: Why won’t the curds separate from the whey after I add rennet?

A. You may be thinking of Junket brand rennet tablets that are found in many grocery stores and it contains other ingredients such as starch. This rennet is different than the rennet tablets used for cheese making.

Q: I am making mozzarella and having trouble getting the curd to form a gluey mass, only a ricotta-like mass happens. I am very conscious about using non ultra pasteurized milk, but it still stays crumbly, any suggestions?

A1: If it looks like ricotta after you have let the milk set with the added rennet for 20 minutes, then you may be stirring it too much after adding the rennet. The rennet starts to form the curd as soon as you stir it in so, if you stir continuously, you are actually cutting the curd into small pieces which will be hard to come together in the microwave.

A2: If it looks like a solid mass after you’ve let it set with rennet added but looks like ricotta after microwaving, then you may not be getting the curd hot enough in the microwave. Try heating a little longer and then pressing as much whey out as you can before kneading with your spoon. Don’t change the rennet or citric acid. If the above tips don’t work, you can try making it without the calcium chloride. It is added specifically for store bought pasteurized milk which is generally lower in calcium than raw milk.

A3: Your milk may have been over-processed at the dairy. Switch to a different brand of milk if you can’t get farm fresh milk.

Q: I doubled up on your one hour mozzarella cheese recipe and I cannot get it to work. What did I do wrong?

A: Our One Hour Mozzarella Cheese Recipe is designed specifically for one gallon of store bought whole milk. You can't double a cheese making recipe as you would any other recipe because some of the ingredients that you add are not just for flavor. They cause reactions in the milk and doubling them may not give you the results you're looking for. By doubling the rennet, you formed the curd even faster and stirring it would have resulted in curd that was cut up too much. (One half tablet of rennet is actually enough to set up to 5 gallons of milk). Another factor is the increased volume caused by doubling a recipe. You need to get the curd to about 140-145 degrees F in the microwave before it will stretch. Using twice the amount of curd will naturally change the amount of time you have it in the microwave.

Q: I tried cheese making a while back and had a real problem with the subtle changes in temperature required in the recipes. I have an electric stove and trying to heat items up a few degrees is impossible. Can you provide me with any tips or tricks for raising and maintaining temperatures for the recipes?

A: Patience is your most important tool in cheese making. It’s a process that cannot be rushed. It’s important to keep the heat low and raise it slowly, being careful not to heat the milk too high. With that said, you can create a water bath for cheese making in your sink. It makes it easier to keep the temperatures required for cheese making with Mesophilic cultures. Simply use hot tap water in your sink and place the pot of milk in the hot water. Just don’t use tap water any higher than 10 degrees F higher than the temperature that you are trying to achieve. As the water cools, add more hot water to maintain or raise the milk/cheese temperature. This is assuming you are using Mesophilic cultures. If you’re making cheese using thermophilic cultures it may be a little trickier to maintain the higher temperatures in the sink.

Q: Is there any reason not to use cast iron or aluminum pots for cheese making?

A: It is NOT recommended to use cast-iron or aluminum pots because of the reaction of the acids used with the metallic salts in the pot which, when absorbed into the curd, can give it an acidic or even metallic taste and flavor. The acids can also be absorbed into the pots, corroding them and making them unusable.

Q: Can I use ultra-pasteurized milk for making your cheese recipes?

A: You cannot make cheese with ultra-pasteurized milk. The casein in the milk will not form a curd because it has been denatured due to the high heat involved in ultra-pasteurizing.

Q: I tried making a Greek Cypriot cheese called halloumi. I used ultra pasteurized goat milk and heated it to 110 to 120 degrees then added 1 teaspoon of vegetable rennet. I could not get it to curd....there were some very small curds but nothing to speak of. Is it the ultra pasteurized milk?

A: You won’t form a curd using ultra pasteurized milk but the concern I have is the fact that you are not ripening (acidifying) the milk before you add rennet. I have never made Haloumi before, but I am aware that it, along with certain Hispanic cheeses, doesn't melt when heated. These types of cheeses don't melt because of the higher heat involved in the process. Lowering the pH of the milk allows the rennet to work at an optimal level. If you're not able to get a source of fresh goat's milk, I have heard that powdered goat's milk, when reconstituted, can make cheese. You may be able to find a source on the internet.

Q: If a cheese recipe calls for the addition of cream, can I use ultra-pasteurized cream?

A: You may use ultra-pasteurized cream if it’s used in small amounts relative to the total amount of milk called for in the recipe.

Q: My One Hour Mozzarella Cheese wouldn’t melt. What am I doing wrong?

A: You’re not doing anything wrong. I’ve experienced the same result before when making the 60 minute mozzarella recipe. The reason has to do with the amount of bound calcium in the milk. The acidity of the milk affects the amount of bound calcium that remains after the curds are separated. Depending on what type of milk you’re using, you may choose to experiment with the amount of calcium chloride you add to your cheese. We include it in the recipe because store bought milk has had its protein altered when pasteurized and homogenized and calcium helps restore the original balance. If you do decrease the calcium chloride, you may get a softer curd that melts better but may be a little harder to stretch. Commercially prepared cheese is also made differently and undergoes a short aging period which renders it more meltable after two to three weeks. The One Hour Mozzarella is not meant to be aged but to be eaten within one week and is best right after being made.

Q: Could you please tell me what blue vein cheese starter culture is grown in?

A: Off-cuts (shredded remains or trim from bulk cheese) of young bland cheese or salted cheese curd are mixed and homogenized with salts and water to make cheese slurry which is then pasteurized. The slurry is cooled and incubated with Penicillium roqueforti for 8 to 36 hours. The results are then spray dried for distribution or used directly in the new cheese.

Q: Can I make cheddar cheese from raw goat milk?

A: In the book, “Goats Produce Too!” it is recommended to pasteurize your milk unless you are making an aged cheese, 60 days or longer. In researching this topic, I found the following: “The FDA permits the sale of raw-milk cheeses only if they are matured longer than 60 days because their high acid, low-moisture content prevents pathogens from thriving. But FDA tests have shown that some pathogens survive in aged cheeses as well, so many expect regulation to follow soon.” Based on this and the fact that you’ll already be achieving a sharper flavor due to using goat’s milk, I recommend pasteurizing. If you choose not to pasteurize, you have to be extremely diligent with your sanitation practices and make sure you can chill the raw milk very quickly. Again, I’d recommend against it. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized and thus produces a softer curd so the addition of Calcium chloride is recommended. Goat milk cheddar will be white. If you want color, we have cheese coloring available.

Q: My cheese has a bitter taste. I used Calcium chloride 30% solution, Mesophilic-A and Rennet tablets. The only item I didn’t keep under refrigeration was Calcium chloride. Maybe this could cause bitter taste?

A: I don't know what kind of recipes you're using but in general, we recommend that you do not use any more than ½ teaspoon Calcium Chloride per gallon of milk. I would perhaps look at the possibility that you are waiting too long before cutting your curds. This would leave excess rennet in the curd which can give a bitter taste. Too long of a ripening period can cause the rennet to remain in the curd as well.

Q: Am I supposed to press the cheese with only 4 lbs. and then 8 lbs for 12 hours? My guess is that heavier weights would shorten the aging time? Am I correct?

A: You can increase the weights by 5 or 10 lbs. if you wish, but there is no need to. Heavier weights do not shorten aging time. Aging time is a function of moisture in the cheese. Softer cheeses age more quickly. Cheddar is pressed with heavier weights since it is a dense, dry cheese.

Q: What makes the colby so different from the farmhouse cheddar, and Jack? Is it the amount of time cheese ripens? Or the salt added to the rennet for the Jack? My friend claims her three recipes didn't taste any different. Mine are still aging, so the jury is out!

A: The differences in making farmhouse cheddar, Monterey jack and Colby cheeses are subtle, but there is a difference in the final cheese. Monterey jack and Colby cheeses are washed curd cheeses; which means you decrease the acidity of the cheese by washing with either cold or warm water. This, in turn, creates a cheese with higher moisture and shorter aging times.

Q: I was looking on your website for mozzarella making and the recipe advised returning it frequently to the microwave to keep the temperature stable. But I don't own a microwave, so how did those old Italians used to do it?

A: The microwave is used in order to bring the temperature of the curds to 140-150 F so they can be stretched and you can expel more of the whey. If you don’t have a microwave, you can follow the instructions up to the point at which you remove the separated curds from the whey. Bring the pot of whey up to 170 F. Place small pieces of the curd into a bowl. Ladle some of the hot whey over the curds and work them together with a spoon or your hands if you’re wearing rubber gloves (170 F is hot!). Keep working them until they stick together and you can begin to see if they’ll stretch. You may have to add more hot whey to maintain the temperature.

This is similar to the traditional way of making mozzarella but it is quicker since the milk is directly acidified with citric acid instead of using bacterial culture.

Q: Why won't my cheese stretch? It forms a nice curd that tastes good, but won't stretch, only breaks.

A: It sounds like your curd contains too much whey. This can happen when the milk you use has been pasteurized at a higher temperature than what is required. The high temperature denatures some of the proteins, causing them to hold on to more of the whey. It still makes cheese but it is difficult to stretch. If you can find a milk supplier that minimally processes their milk, you will get much better stretching results. Look for cream line milk. This is milk that has not been homogenized. If you have a Whole Foods Market in your area, they will more than likely have good quality milk that is not overly pasteurized. If not, ask your dairy manager at your store if they know what temperature their suppliers pasteurize their milk at. You want milk that is pasteurized less than 170F. If you can't get a different milk supply, try draining your curd in a mesh strainer for a few minutes to get rid of as much whey as you can before microwaving them.

Q: I want to make mozzarella with raw cow’s milk…do I need to alter the recipe at all?

A: You may not need the calcium chloride depending on the lactation schedule of your cow. In the winter months, it may be beneficial to use ½ teaspoon per gallon of milk to compensate for the lower protein to fat ratio.

Q: Does your Mozzarella recipe make the more "American" mozzarella cheese that's harder and used on pizzas, or the "fresh" mozzarella that's served with tomato and balsamic as a salad? I'm looking for a mozzarella that's much softer than what I see in stores.

A: It depends on the milk you use. The recipe calls for using whole milk; this will give you a cheese that is softer than traditional store bought mozzarella, but a little less soft than fresh mozzarella. If you use lower fat milk, it will produce a harder, more rubbery cheese. If you supplement your whole milk with a little heavy cream, you can make a cheese that is softer. I suggest you try the recipe as is and then make adjustments according to your preferences.

Q: I am wondering if using lactose free milk in your kits gives a lactose free cheese. I would love to make mascarpone, and others, but if there is lactose in the cheese, then that won't work for me.

A: Because lactose is milk sugar and is required by the lactobacteria to make cheese, you cannot make cheese without some lactose. Lactose free milk contains a chemical that hinders the renneting (cogulation) process.

Q: I have ordered your buttermilk culture and am trying to make your buttermilk recipe, but can't seem to figure out how to keep goats milk at 185 for any amount of time. It seems impossible on a gas stove to maintain a constant temp.

A: Use a double boiler or put your kettle into a larger pot or roasting pan. Fill the second container with water and bring the temp of the water to 185 degrees. This will help maintain the temperature of your buttermilk.

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