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Techniques and Tips for Adding Ingredients in Cheesemaking
Dry direct-set cultures generally come in little foil or paper packets. Hold the unopened packet by one edge and flick it hard a few times to get the contents to collect on the bottom. Cut the packet open carefully with clean scissors. Sprinkle the cultures over the surface of the milk. Cover and let the cultures just sit on the top of the milk for around 5 minutes to allow them to rehydrate. Then, use your perforated cheese spoon or a large whisk to stir them in gently. Stir the milk with an up-and-down motion rather than a circular one, because this helps the cultures get right to the bottom of your pot and it also mixes in any butterfat that may be rising if you are using farm-fresh cow milk. (Cultures tend to rise with cream.) Stir in this manner for 1 to 2 minutes, or as long as your recipe specifies. Once you are done mixing the cultures in, cover the pot and don’t disturb it for the duration of the ripening time, as any agitation in the milk during this period slows down acidification, which may damage your cheese.
Prepared starters are generally added in much the same way, excluding the rehydration part. Stir them in using the same methods, and don’t bother them afterwards.
Adding Colorings, Lipase, Calcium, and Mold Powders
Color is usually added to milk before the ripening period and before the renneting, because it can damage the coagulation properties of the rennet if added later. Any dilution with water must be done with unchlorinated water, for chlorine will harm the live cultures in the milk and possibly kill the rennet enzymes, too. Add coloring by pouring the diluted coloring agent of choice through your perforated spoon into the milk. Stir with a gentle up-and-down motion for a minimum of 30 seconds. If your recipe doesn’t specify the dilution ratio, it is generally along the scale of 1 part coloring to 20 parts water. Your milk won’t take on much of a deep color yet, because of the high water content within the milk, but once you drain and press the curds the color should develop nicely.
Calcium chloride is usually added when you begin heating the milk. The most common ratio is 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of milk. You can incorporate it in the same way you do the cultures and coloring, and continue with your recipe as directed except that after you have added the rennet, allow the milk to set for 4 to 5 minutes longer than called for. Then carry on with your recipe as before.
Lipase is a powder that is dissolved in water (unchlorinated) and added at your recipe’s direction. Just let the dissolved lipase sit in the water for about 20 minutes before incorporating it into your milk, to allow it to rehydrate properly.
Bacteria and molds are added according to the recipe you are using. Here is a short list of a few most popular:
This is also called renneting and is done after you have added the cultures and the milk has had time to ripen. After renneting, the milk is left to set, or to coagulate and separate. Rennet, or any coagulant, must be measured carefully. Too much rennet will cause the curd to be too firm and rubberlike, and not enough may cause the milk to not separate properly. Also, rennet is always diluted. Undiluted rennet will not distribute properly in the milk, and may damage your curd-setting and/or produce a bad curd. Rennet is diluted in 20 to 50 times its own volume of cool, unchlorinated water, or whatever your recipe directs. Powdered rennet should be allowed to sit and rehydrate for around 30 minutes before using for best results. You can crush a rennet tablet with the back of the spoon, and you should generally allow for the same amount of rehydration time as with powdered rennet.
To add rennet, pour the diluted mixture through a perforated cheese spoon into the milk to help distribute it evenly, then use the cheese spoon to begin stirring the milk slowly in an up-and-down motion. Make sure you stir right down to the bottom of the pot. Your recipe may tell you how long to stir, but continuing to stir for about a minute or so is usually good enough to disperse it evenly. Once you are done mixing in the rennet, cover the pot and don’t stir it again for the rest of the coagulation period, for if you do you will damage the developing curd and cause severe loss of butterfat, and break the separating process within the milk.
Sometimes the recipe will say to “top stir.” This just means to bring your spoon up to the top 1/2 inch or so of your milk and stir just that top layer of milk for a time with your perforated spoon to make certain that any risen butterfat has been re-incorporated thoroughly.
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