Sometimes, something as easy as making soft cheese can go awry. You may find that following the same method or recipe every time will not always be the magic key to great cheese. Occasionally, there are unforeseen changes in the milk, your kitchen’s environment, and so many other little things that are out of your control that may hinder your cheese’s perfect development. Identifying not only the symptoms but also the causes will help you to understand and fix or avoid these problems.
Following are a few very common problems that occur during the curd formation stage of soft cheesemaking, and some tips and ideas for the amendment of these issues.
LOW CURD YIELD
This problem may be due to weak or old rennet not properly setting the curds. Always check the "best by" date on the rennet and keep it in a cold, dark place when not in use.
Try letting the curds set for a little while longer next time. A good curd break is when the curd has slightly pulled away from the sides of your cheese pot and there are little pools of whey sitting atop the curd. The general rule for soft cheese yield is 1 gallon of milk makes about 2 pounds of cheese. This is dependent upon your milk’s quality and age, of course.
SOFT, FLIMSY CURDS THAT DRAIN THROUGH COLANDER OR CHEESECLOTH
This may be a rennet issue, a calcium issue, or the temperature could be off.
Try adding more rennet and allowing a longer set time next batch. Rennet should be increased by ⅛ teaspoons diluted in ⅛ cup water.
The milk may need to be fortified with calcium. Add calcium chloride next batch before heating your milk. The general ratio is ¼ teaspoon diluted in ¼ cup unchlorinated water per gallon of milk, increased with each batch until satisfactory curds have been achieved.
Also, pay attention to the temperature of the kitchen or cheesemaking room. If it is too hot or too cold, it may affect the development of the cheese. A good room temperature for cheesemaking is between 68-75°F.
Try using butter muslin to drain the curds. It is usually the best option for draining soft cheeses.
DRY, CRUMBLY CURDS
This is a common issue when raw milk is used to make soft cheese. The cream separates and sets on top, and the milk sets separately, on bottom, causing some of the curds to be without sufficient butterfat, and basically creating sour cream on top.
This problem can be solved by stirring the two together pretty well before draining, instead of cutting the curds. You can also stir the milk vigorously before adding the rennet and after adding the cultures. Be gentle when stirring curds.
If your curds have turned out dry and crumbled, but still taste okay, then just add a tablespoon or two of cream to them. They are still edible.
You can also try adding a little less rennet next batch, so that the curd separation is a little less severe, and there is still good butterfat retention.
This problem can also arise from trying to make cheese with old milk. If your milk has already naturally started to acidify, then adding rennet will only further dry out the milk proteins, and result in tasteless, rubbery curd. Start with fresh cold milk, but if you have souring milk that you would like to use to make cheese, first check and make sure it is not contaminated, by smelling it. If it has started to bubble and smell bad, then it’s not a good idea to try to make cheese with it. If it merely smells cheesy, and it is calmly starting to separate into curds and whey, Clabber Cheese is the best way make something useful out of it.
So, as you can see, all is not lost. If your curds are less than perfect, they are usually still edible, but with these tips you can have some idea of what went wrong, and will be prepared to amend it next time around.