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Today I’m making gruyere for the second time, with raw milk from our Jersey cows. This means that along with two gallons of milk, I will need:

  • Propionic Shermanii culture
  • Thermophilic type B culture
  • Veal rennet (I will use veggie rennet for test #3)
  • Strong brine
  • Stainless steel pot
  • Glass measuring cup
  • My favorite waterproof yellow thermometer
  • Big bamboo spoon
  • Cheese knife (any long knife will do; mine came from a yard sale)
  • Cheesecloth
  • Cheese press with two pound mold

All of this, plus, and most importantly, lots of notes from test #1. I know cheese making well after seven years, but I still take pages full of notes…not just on ingredients and temperatures, but on the weather that day (a warm day can make everything happen faster,) other ferments happening in my kitchen, time of day that the cheese was complete, etc.

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For example, I made my first batch of gruyere back in December. I used Organic Valley pasteurized whole milk. It was particularly warm in my kitchen that day, because we heat with wood and the stove had been going all day. Everything happened rapidly that day, except for the renneting, which took longer than I expected. In preparation for today’s batch, I am calibrating my trusty yellow thermometer, just in case.

To calibrate a thermometer, simply boil a pot of water and stick your thermometer into it. It should read 212 F. It’s such an easy thing to do, but it really can make all the difference in your cheese making adventures, and it’s surprising how far off a thermometer can be before you recognize a problem. Please calibrate your thermometer at least every other batch of cheese.

Mine was reading a little low this time, which is probably fine for Gruyere but can cause problems with a more temperature sensitive cheese. (I see you over there, mozzarella. I see you.)

Onto gruyere.

First I warm the milk to 92 F. Then I turn off the heat, add in my cultures, and stir for two minutes. I let them set for fifteen minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to catch up on my note taking and shake the writing cramps out of my hand.

Next up is the renneting step, which is easy if you know what you’re doing, and hard if you don’t. If you are confused about how to properly add rennet, please see our Facebook video from a few months ago. It’s ketchup, but the technique is what you’re looking at.

After I add the rennet, I like to do a quick check and make sure the milk/curds/cheese-to-be is holding steady at the right temperature. For gruyere, this should be between 90 F and 92 F. Mine is at 91, so yay!

Once the rennet is in and the temp is right, we wait. Recipe testing can be boring if things are going well, but that’s okay. I’m busy making sure that my notes still work a second time, and under different conditions.

Someone said one time that hard cheeses are like children: mostly easy to make, but hard to raise to maturity. That’s very true for gruyere. There’s nothing overly complicated here, but I still want to make sure that my recipe works consistently before CFH publishes it.

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Once the rennet has done her work and I get a nice clean break, I slice the curds into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and stir for about 40 minutes, keeping the temperature between 90 and 92 F.

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The idea behind stirring this much is to get all of the curd pieces into the same size. Lots of people like to use a wire whisk for this, but my whisk has a very short handle, so I stick to my long wooden spoon.

We’re on the home stretch now. Next, I turn the heat on low and sloooowly bring the temperature up to 120. It takes about 30 minutes, and I stir stir stir almost the whole time.

When my curds are at 120, I turn off the heat once again (sticking strictly to my notes from last time) and wait ANOTHER 30 minutes, stirring frequently to get as much whey out of my curds as possible.

Now, with gruyere, there is a very simple way to tell that the curds are ready to be pressed. I grab a few curds and squeeze them in my hand for several seconds. When the curds are ready, they will stick together, like this:

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Still with me? Good! Because we are almost done. All that’s left is to pour off as much whey as I can (we feed whey to our chickens and pigs, but it can be saved for other things,) and press the curds. I pressed them at 10 pounds for 15 minutes, then rewrapped them and pressed at 15 pounds for 30 minutes. Then 30 pounds for 5 hours, then 40 pounds overnight.

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Last, but very importantly, tomorrow morning I will unwrap this cheese and let it soak in a brine (about 3/4 cup of salt to 1 gallon water) for 12 hours. And after 6 months of aging, I’ll have a truly amazing cheese. I know, I know…it’s not exactly instant gratification. But it’s sooooo worth it.

Next week I’ll be testing this recipe again, but in the meanwhile, I’m busy writing up a delicious gluten free cream puff post for you guys. I really hope this encourages you to try making a more complex hard cheese at home! I can’t wait to try my three batches of gruyere, even if I have to wait until June to do so.

Happy culturing!