Cutting the Curd

 

Little Miss Muffet, what are curds anywhey? 

Curds are the white, solid, coagulated milk protein that separates from the whey in milk after the adding of a coagulant such as rennet or vinegar, or by natural bacterial activity in milk left out at warm temperatures for a time. Cutting the curd is an essential step in the cheesemaking process, for it provides more surface area for continued drainage of the whey. Therefore some recipes will tell you to cut the curds bigger to achieve a moister cheese, and some will instruct you to cut them into smaller pieces, making a drier cheese. Most good recipes will specify the size needed for the particular style of cheese being made.

You will need a curd knife: a long, blunt-ended knife that will reach to the bottom of your pot without immersing the handle. It will have to be non-reactive, preferably stainless steel. You can purchase a perfect curd-cutting knife from a cheesemaking supply house, or you can rummage in your kitchen and find one that will do the trick. As with all your tools, it will need a good washing in hot, soapy water (perhaps with a bit of bleach added to it), and a rinse in clean water, after which you can air-dry it on a clean towel until you are ready to use it.

Before you begin cutting the curds, your recipe might tell you to check for a clean break. This is the point when coagulation is complete. To check for a clean break: Using your finger, a nonreactive spoon, or a plastic spatula, press lightly on the surface of the curd until it breaks under you, or make a small slice in the surface. Scoop your finger or tool upwards, and examine the whey that rushes in to fill the cut. If it is clear and yellow, you have achieved a clean break. If it is whitish, cloudy, or milky, you will need to wait a bit longer and check again.

When you have achieved a clean break, you are ready for curd cutting. Take the sanitized curd knife, and note the curd size called for in your recipe. Begin making vertical, uniform cuts from the top of the curd clear to the bottom of the pot and all the way across the surface of the curds. Turn the pot 90 degrees, and repeat the process, making a checked pattern on the top. Then, following the cuts you have made, turn your knife to a 45-degree slant and cut through the curds again in the same fashion, from one side of the pot to the other. Now turn the pot 45 degrees, and continue making angled cuts, but now you will work diagonally to the checked pattern previously made. Turn the pot 45 degrees again, and make another set of angled cuts. Do it one last time: turn 45 degrees and cut. Now, take your cheese spoon and gently stir the curds to bring the bottom curds to the top, and cut any large ones down to size.

Recipes for softer cheeses will sometimes tell you to use a ladle or a cheese spoon to cut slices out of the curd and scoop them straight into a waiting colander. This is the case with lactic and some other soft formed cheeses. Always check your recipe for special instructions on cutting curds, and remember that curds must be handled gently, for they are prone to sticking together (matting) and/or excessive loss of butterfat.  

 


                                                
   
Cutting the Curd


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