Overview of Cheese Cultures: Mesophilic Starters

 

The wide world of cheese cultures can be a scary place for a beginning cheesemaker. There seem to be endless scientific names, types, and properties. Recipes are sometimes unspecific, and may leave you worrying about whether you chose the right culture and wondering if it will be a viable strain. But, in all reality, it is not so very complicated once you get the basic groups sorted out. Specialized bacteria are used in advanced cheesemaking, so getting the simple starting knowledge of the world of bacteria will help you to understand what you will need to make cheese at home. 

 

First, it is important to understand what a culture is and why you need it. All cultures use the same basic process: rapidly raising the acidity of the milk by consuming the lactose (milk sugar) and converting it into lactic acid, which disables the already-present bad bacteria and helps the rennet or coagulant to set the cheese. Starter culture also aids in development and preservation of the flavor and body of the cheese during cheesemaking and afterwards, in the aging process.

 

All cultures fall into one of two categories: mesophilic or thermophilic. We carry both types. Mesophilic cultures are the most common type, and contain bacteria used in low-temperature cheeses. Mesophilic cultures work at an optimum temperature of 86°F. Common cheeses such as cheddar, colby, feta, cottage cheese, farmer cheese, Brie, Camembert, and Gouda use mesophilic cultures, as do non-cheese cultured foods like kefir, sour cream, cultured buttermilk, and many others. 

 

Cultures are measured and described by a few things: level of acidification, level of gas production (CO2 produced by bacteria within the cultures), and level of diacetyl production (a fermentation compound that imparts a rather buttery flavor to a developing cheese). 

 

Other words to know are: 

 

Proteolytic enzymes: The protein-degrading enzymes that contribute largely to the proper development of the desired texture and flavor of your cheese. 

 

Proteolysis: The process wherein the proteolytic enzymes break down and transform the proteins within inoculated milk. 

 

Here are the names and main ingredients of commonly used and available mesophilic cheese cultures:

 

Meso I

Containing Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, this is a low-level acidifier used for milder cheeses such as cheddars and jacks. This strain of bacteria is also found in some kefir starters, buttermilk starters, and some wine and bread yeasts. 

 

Meso II

Containing Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, this culture is a moderate- to high-level acidifier with no gas or diacetyl production. This culture is salt-sensitive.

 

Meso III

Containing Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis and Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, this culture is also a moderate- to high-level acidifier with no gas or diacetyl production. This culture is known to create a clean, closed flavor and textured cheese. 

 

C101

Containing Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis and Lactococcus lactis ssp. Cremoris, this culture is a pre-measured blend used in more moderate cheeses such as jack, Edam, Muenster, and Colby.

 

MM100

Contains Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, and Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis diacetylactis. This culture is a moderate acidifier and gas producer with high diacetyl production. 

 

MA 4001 Farmhouse

Contains Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis ssp. Cremoris, Lactococcus lactis ssp. Lactis diacetylactis, and Streptococcus thermophilus. This culture is a moderate acidifier with some gas and diacetyl production. It resembles the bacteria balance in raw milk and creates an open texture ideal for many cheeses including Caerphilly, Brin D’ Amour, and Roquefort. 

 

Aroma B

Contains Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis diacetylactis, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp. cremoris. This culture is a moderate acidifier with some gas production and high diacetyl production. It is commonly used for softer cheeses such as cream cheese, crème fraîche, cottage cheese, cultured butter, fromage blanc, Camembert, Havarti, and Valancay.

 

C20G

Contains Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis ssp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis diacetylactis, and rennet. This culture is a premeasured blend with rennet added and is generally used in chevré and goat cheese.

 

Each culture producer will have different blends with varying personalities and properties, so you can ask your culture provider if you have any specific questions about the blend of cultures you will be purchasing. Ingredient lists are usually readily available, and making sure you know what is in your cultures will help you to understand what your finished cheese will be like and will also help you with any troubleshooting. 


                                                
   
Platter of Homemade Cheese


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