Monday, February 1, 2010

Cheese Old and New

Is this not a heart-warming shot? Cheese 7 months old and cheese 7 hours old. There is another significant difference. I was telling someone recently that it's really hard to make cheese using traditional methods if you're using pasteurized milk. Apart from the ultimate flavor, and need for bacterial funk, there's something wrong with the texture and the process sometimes doesn't work right. Yesterday I set out to prove myself wrong. There was another reason too: using raw milk at 9 dollars a half gallon, the cheese on the top was 36 dollars plus labor. Regular supermarket whole milk and a little butter milk as starter, with the bottom one, about 8 bucks. I also did it on the stove top rather than the very gentle water bath. And you know what? I have never had the process go smoother.

I did have to follow my own directions, and aghast, I found an infelicitous turn of phrase that I think I missed in the proofreading. But this was easier and nothing scorched or overheated as I feared it might. Now I have no idea what this will be like flavor-wise, the proof of this cheese will be in the eating.


Glenn said...

If I can ask, where do you get your starters and such? One of these days I'm just going to have to invest in my very own man-made cheese cave...

Heather said...

This cheese is a fromage blanc, non? Does the cheese require a rennet before it can be aged? I would kill for a little swab of that beaut with some honey and figs.

Ken Albala said...

Hi Folks, no commerical starter. Normally I just depend on the bacteria in the (raw) milk, as cheese was always made. But this experiment used pasteurized milk, so I added some buttermilk which has it's own lactobacillus bulgaricus, and let it grow a few hours.

Rennet it does need. But a little plastic dropper costs about 20 bucks and I think lasts forever.

It would be a fromage blanc if eaten now, but will be a white cheddar.

We Are Never Full said...

whoa... unbelievable difference in looks. i saw raw milk at whole foods for $7 (maybe it was $9?) and was so curious. i can't wait to see how this turns out. i love your food experiments.

peter said...

I just learned of a local farm that sells raw milk for $2 a half gallon. Very excited. Do you age in a basement, or wine fridge, or what?

Ken Albala said...

Hey Peter, Yes, A wine fridge. It seems to be perfect for cheese, salami and pickles, after they've been on the counter for a week or so. Nice humidity. Cost maybe 150 bucks, I think.

peter said...

Is it the kind that humidifies? I have a wine fridge, but only the temp is settable. I'm wondering how much of an issue that might be.

Ken Albala said...

Peter, I don't think it's humidified any more or less than any other wine fridge. Pretty standard low budget contraption.

Darius T. Williams said...

Wow - something I've NEVER set out to do - maybe one day.

Juana Isabella/Donna said...

Hi Ken,
Is the older cheese waxed? I'm now aging my fifth aged cheese ... and my sixth was made today and just went into pressing. I haven't waxed any of them. I've rubbed salt into the surface until a rind has developed. I'm using a recipe from a 1580's Italian health manual that uses a mixture of honey and vinegar as a coagulant. Sometimes it works and sometimes I need to add rennet. I've tried various cultures, milks, and vinegars. So far, all but the first were successes.

Unknown said...

I'm delighted to find your blog. I made one cheddar and aged it in my neighbor's beer cave. It was pretty good. I've been wanting a wine fridge to make it more accessible, so glad to hear it works for you.

Ken Albala said...

Hey Donna, Yes, these guys are waxed. My first experiment following Twambley wasn't and I think the cheese just dried out too much. Really hard. I've been trying to follow Pantaleone, or even more detailed directions in Vincenzo Tanara L’economia del cittadino in ville which is mid 17th century. Who could you be using from the 1580's?

Ken Albala said...

Travelling, It's definitely worth the invenstment ina wine fridge, for pickles, salami, everything that likes cool and damp to ferment. Oh, and I guess wine too!

Juana Isabella/Donna said...

Hi Ken,
My source is Compendio de i secreti rationali di M. Leonardo Fiorvanti Bolognese, Medico & Cirugico
(The Compendium of rational secrets of M. Leonardo Fiorvanti of Bologna, Medic and Surgeon)
This work was published in Italy in 1581. The original Italian text is available at

I used Helewyse de Birkestad translation which can be found at

Original Recipe:
Del modo di fare il formaggio ò vero cascio Cap 51
Il cascio ò formaggio che si fa, lo fanno in questo modo, cioè. Quando il latte è quagliato, lo rompono & lo mettono sopra il fuoco, e lo fanno scaldare fin tanto, che si faccia una massa nel fondo della caldara, e poi lo cavano fuori & formano il formaggio secondo che a lor piace, & poi lo salano, & lo fanno seccare; e con tale ordine tutti i pastor fanno il formaggio, ma molto di questo si guasta; e chi lo volesse fare di estrama bontà & che mai si guastarai, faccia in questo modo cioè. Piglia aceto fortissimo, & mel commune, tanto di uno quanto di altro, & fallo bollire insieme, & quando si rome il latte, per ogni trenta libre di latte, mettevi una scudella di detta compositione, & non lo scaldare troppo; e poi formale pezze del formaggio di quella forma che si vuolve, & subito che sia fatto salalo cosi caldo; e questo è il vero e gran secreto da fare il formaggio bonissimo, & che non si guasterà mai. Percioche lo aceto & il mele sono materiale incorruttibili, & per la loro virtù conservano il formaggio.

Translated Recipe:
The way of making cheese or real cheese (it may be the difference between formaggio being a molded cheese and Cascio a pressed cheese). Chapter 51.
The cheese that one makes, one makes in this way, that is: when the milk is coagulated one breaks it and puts it over a fire and it is heated until it makes a mass at the bottom of the pot. Then one takes it out and shapes the cheese, dependent on ones wishes, and then salt it and put it to dry. But many times made this way it will spoil. If one would wish to make a high quality one that never spoils make it in this way. That is: take the strongest vinegar and common honey, more of the one than the other, and put them to boil together. When one breaks the milk for each 30 "libre" of milk put in one "scudella" of this mix and don't heat it too much. Then make the pieces of cheese in whichever shape you like and immediately as it is done salt it thus warm. This is truly the great secret to make the very best cheese that never spoils because vinegar and honey are incorruptible materials and their virtues preserve the cheese.

Notes on Measurements:
Per Helewyse’s translation, a Libra is about 12 oz, and libre - plural of libra. Also, a scudella is a small bowl which holds between 430 -600ml

Ken Albala said...

Hi Donna, Thanks for posting this. There are some problems with this translation which I think may lead people astray.

First the heading is Del modo di fare il formaggio, overo cascio. Those are just two different words for cheese - not "real" cheese. overo just means "or" There's no distinction between molded and pressed or anything like that here. And both versions here assume that the milk is quagliato, congealed with rennet. Heating then cooks the curds so they solidify and stick together and the whey is pressed out. The odd addition of vinegar and honey is after the curds have been broken (rompe not rome)and before the cheese is removed from the whey and shaped. It's sort of a flavored sweet and sour cheese, and I suppose it would have the effect of aiding preservation. But they are not the coagulant.

I'm really wondering now what it was you made. I've tried using vinegar alone as a coagulatant but it curdles the cheese, and the curds taste awful later. Ricotta can be made with lemon also, or traditionally fig sap works (which he mentions in the previous recipe).

In any case, this is definitely a rennet cheese with a spoon of this vinegar honey mixture added to 30 pounds of cheese. A tiny proportion.

Juana Isabella/Donna said...

Hi Ken,
Thanks for the comments on the translation. I don't have the language skills, so I have to depend on others for translations.
Of the six times I've done this recipe, one failed completely and two were done with no rennet at all. Those two were done with raw milk and with a perhaps somewhat active culture ... feta whey from a farmstead feta for one and grocery store buttermilk for the other.
The curds for all of them have been mildly sweet, but not too much.
The three that I've eaten were all hard cheeses but quite tasty. Some of the tasters said it was Asiago like.
The most recent experiments have needed rennet and were done with regular milk. One all cow and the other 2/3 cow and 1/3 goat. These are currently in process.
Have you ever made cheese with fig sap? Any clues on how to gather the fig sap? I want to try this and I have friends with fig trees who will help, but notes on the process would be useful.
I also want to try the cardoon coagulated goat cheese recipe in Scappi.
Also, just for an identifier ... I'm David Waldon's friend who gave you a ride at the Renaissance Conference in San Francisco a few years ago. I'm the one who pointed both Jeremy (who has commented here and is excellent at bread and sausage making) and Ariane Helou (who you've met) toward you for assistance in their food studies.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Looks lovely! Bring some to our Big Fat Greek Party this April and I will reward you with wine and roasted goat...

Ken Albala said...

Donna, Yes, of course I remember you. Who could forget being thrown in the back of a truck?

I think the fig sap is just milked from a broken branch. Fioravanti calls it milk too.

The other 16th-17th c. cheese sources I used in a paper recently also mention that Jews use fig sap, because rennet would be mixing milk and meat, and hence unkosher.

Let's both try it and see what happens. Same proportion of fig sap as rennet.

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Cheese making is an amazing craft... it takes a little magic to make it...that you did it without a starter.. remarkable. Now I get to go back and read more of your posts... great find!

MightyJesse said...

So, I was *also* attempting that medieval cheese recipe from Compendio de i secreti rationali di M. Leonardo Fiorvanti Bolognese, Medico & Cirugico with the vinegar and honey, but have read some place that medieval vinegar was only about 1/3 as strong as what we get today. What do you think about this assertion? That would have a fairly significant effect on the end product, would it not?

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