Cheese is a solid or semi-solid food product prepared from the milk of cows, ewes, goats, or other mammals. Cheese today is mostly made from cows’ milk and it is an essential item in the diet of most people because it contains vital nutrients such as calcium, fat, and protein. It also contains high amounts of vitamins A and B-12, along with zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin.
Preparing cheese to your taste is relatively easy, and it can be preserved for a long period of time for your enjoyment.
There are six crucial steps you must note. While the recipes for all cheeses vary, these steps outline the basic process of turning milk into cheese.
The first step is acidification. During this stage, a starter culture is added to milk that will change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This changes the acidity level of the milk and begins the process of turning milk from a liquid into a solid.
Coagulation is the process of transforming the liquid into a semi-solid. When making cheese, an enzyme called rennet is added either as a liquid or paste to further encourage the milk to solidify.
Curds and Whey
As the milk solidifies, it forms curd and whey. The curds are the solid part and whey is the liquid. In this step, the curds are cut using a knife or a tool that resembles a rake.
Cutting the curds enable them to expel whey, making it more concentrated. Generally, the smaller the curds are cut, the harder the resulting cheese will be. The respective action of the enzymes, ferments, temperature and time define the cheese’s texture.
When this process is complete, the whey is drained away, leaving the curd alone to become cheese.
Salting is an important stage in the production of cheese. Salt plays an important role in the development of micro-organisms. It perfects the draining and gives the cheese its texture. Salt can be added by powdering, rubbing or brining. Brining refers to the process by which cheese is immersed in brine (Salt-Saturated water), for a long or short period, depending on the size and composition.
In this stage, each type of cheese takes its familiar form as a solid block or wheel. The cheese is put into a basket or a mould to form it into a specific shape. At the same time, the cheese is also pressed with weights or a machine to expel any remaining liquid.
Ripening is the maturation period during which the original constituents of the milk are transformed (Protein, fats, lactose). Its flavour and aroma are a result of the actions of the different natural or added micro-organisms (bacteria, yeast, mould). Ripening could last from twelve days to many months.