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    Wiki: Making Brine

    This wiki article discusses making brine which is used in cheese making both temporarily bathing formed pressed cheeses for salting (examples are washed curd cheeses such as Gouda) or permanently brining formed unpressed cheeses during ripening (examples are Feta). Other Wiki articles on brine are Wiki: Brine Bathing CheesesWiki: Maintaining Brine, and Wiki: Brine For Ripening Cheese. Wiki articles on salt are: Wiki: Salt Types, and Wiki: Salt’s Function.

    Brine is a combination of water and common NaCl salt, in making cheese other parameters are acidity and calcium levels of brine.

    Salt Amount

    Cold household fridge stored saturated water based brine and water based brine ripening feta in plastic containers.

    Cold household fridge stored saturated water based brine and water based brine ripening feta in plastic containers.

    Many cheese making procedures, when using brine for salting cheese, call for brine between 18 & 23% salt. This is because:

    1. The range of brine resistant spoilage and pathogen type microorganisms that can survive in brine increases significantly at less than 16% salt and 18% provides a safety margin. Weak brines are notorious sources of contamination and thus if used, should be disposed of after using and not re-used. Weak brines also result in less moisture loss from the cheese surface, resulting in several possible defects:
      • As less salt, the body of the cheese will be higher water content and thus weaker and softer than desired.
      • Initially soft/swollen cheese from less brine inhibition and a slimy, greasy, or “melting” surface of the newly formed cheese.
      • As less salt in the cheese, the acidity development will be less retarded, resulting in higher acidity (lower pH) will favour the growth of spoilage organisms. For aged type cheeses you can get sticky and discoloured rind patches, varying from straw to bright orange, red or brown. Also, the surface will be prone to show growths of the black or grey mucor molds (poille de chat).
    2. Brines above 23% salt increases the risk that moisture will be lost too rapidly from the surface of the cheese. This can result in a very dehydrated surface layer which may hinder or reduce the further uptake of salt into the body of the cheese to reach the correct % salt in cheese, depending on cheese type.

    However, some home type cheese making recipes call for brining with saturated (typically 26% salt at 60°F/15°C) brines. This is because saturated brines:

    1. Are easier to make accurately and maintain than lower % salt brines.
    2. As easier to make accurately they provide an easy standard against which future cheese making batches can be measured.

    Brine Additives

    Four pound Gouda brining in saturated water based brine in stainless steel stockpot.

    Four pound Gouda brining in saturated water based brine in stainless steel stockpot.

    Freshly made brines, will when first used for brining a cheese, exhibit cat ion exchange whereby the calcium and hydrogen ions in the cheese surface will transfer to the brine until the brine and cheese reaches equilibrium. This transfer will cause the casein in the cheese surface to absorb water and swell resulting in a soft slimy surface layer that in aged cheeses leads to rind rot during aging. To mitigate this transfer:

    1. Acidify the new brine to a pH of ~5.0, or roughly the same pH as the cheese. This can be done by several methods listed from optimal to least preferable:
      1. Using drained whey instead of water for base of brine.
      2. Adding Citric Acid to water.
      3. Adding Acetic Acid (vinegar) to water.
    2. Add food grade CaCl2 to the brine until reach 0.1%.

    Brine Tank

    Brine tanks should have the following properties:

    1. Sturdy to avoid failure from the weight and pressure (if large tank) of dense brine fluid.
    2. Be large enough for the brine plus the cheese(s) plus the cheese insertion or removal device (i.e. hand and arm or metal device) plus a free area for mini-waves when placing and removing cheese.
    3. Made of a salt corrosive resistant material, such as plastic or high quality stainless steel. Note, most stainless steel stockpots are not of high enough quality steel to avoid corrosion and also often have easily corrodible aluminum rivets attaching handles.

    Making Saturated Brine

    Stockpot after used as saturated brine bath tank, handle rivets erroding.

    Stockpot after used as saturated brine bath tank, handle rivets erroding.

    To make a saturated salt solution:

    1. Boil amount of water you want to make into brine and pour into brine tank.
    2. Add roughly 1 part additive free (non-iodized, no dessicant) NaCl salt for 4 parts boiled water.
    3. Stir until salt is fully dissolved.
    4. Allow brine to cool to ~60°F/15.6°C application temperature or lower if storing. This will result in some salt precipitated back out of solution, demonstrating that brine is saturated.
    5. Add enough vinegar to reach a pH of 5 or to roughly equalize pH with that of cheese, typically 1 teaspoon per US gallon / 1.33 ml per liter water of standard 5% white (clear) vinegar.
    6. Add CaCl2 to reach 0.1% to reduce cat ion exchange, typically 1 tablespoon/US gallon / 4 ml/liter water of 30% CaCl2 solution.

    Making Non-Saturated Brine

    To make non-saturated Sodium Chloride brine:

    1. Pour amount of cool ~60°F/15.6°C water into brine tank that you want to make into brine.
    2. Choose your desired % Brine from column #1 of the table below.
    3. Determine the corresponding weight of non-iodized NaCl salt you need per unit of water from column #2 or #3.
    4. Scale up the weight of table salt to your volume.
    5. Weigh that amount of salt, pour into water, and stir until dissolved.
    6. Add enough vinegar to reach a pH of 5 or to roughly equalize pH with that of cheese, typically 1 teaspoon per US gallon / 1.33 ml per liter water of standard 5% white (clear) vinegar.
    7. Add 0.1% CaCl2 to reduce cat ion exchange, typically 1 tablespoon/US gallon / 4 ml/liter water of 30% CaCl2 solution.

    Notes:

    • In brines, % salt is a measure of the weight of salt divided by the weight of brine, i.e. if you dissolve 1 kg of salt in 5 liters of water, the brine will weigh 6 kg and you will have 1/6 = 16.7% salt brine.
      • Example Metric Calculation: Say you want to make 5 liters of 16% brine. Table below says 0.1905 kg salt/liter water for ~16% brine. Thus combine 5 liters water and 5 x 0.1905 = 0.9525 kg salt and stir until dissolved.
      • Example American Units Calculation: Say you want to make 2 US gallons of 10% brine. Table below says 0.1111 pounds salt/US gallon of water for ~10% brine. Thus combine 2 US gallons water and 2 x 0.1111 = 0.2222 pounds salt and stir until dissolved.
    • When salt is dissolved in water, it makes the resulting volume of brine slightly bigger depending on the amount of salt. For example the above 16% brine examples will be about 5% larger volume that the original amount of water used.
    • A very fresh egg will float in a 20% salt solution and often used as very reliable method in home brine making.

    Brine Making Table

    The table below is at standard conditions of 60°F/15.6°C and only goes up to 26% as at 26.395% brine is fully saturated (at 60°F) and any additional salt will not dissolve.

    % NaCl Salt kg NaCl Salt / liter Water pound NaCl Salt / US gallon Water
    0 0 0
    2 0.0204 0.17
    4 0.0417 0.347
    6 0.0638 0.532
    8 0.0870 0.724
    10 0.1111 0.925
    12 0.1364 1.136
    14 0.1628 1.356
    16 0.1905 1.586
    18 0.2195 1.828
    20 0.2500 2.082
    22 0.2820 2.349
    24 0.3158 2.630
    26 0.3513 2.926

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