Author Topic: Historic Cheese Making  (Read 1959 times)

Offline Gobae

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Historic Cheese Making
« on: November 01, 2012, 08:36:26 AM »
As some may have noticed from my signature line, I'm into historical stuff. And with cheese being a food that's been around for thousands of years, it got me thinking.

Ph testing, thermometers, specific cultures, sterilization, etc is all nice modern stuff, but it sure isn't needed to make cheese or our ancestors wouldn't have been able to make it 5-10 thousand years ago.

So, is there anyone out there that's using prehistoric or pre-industrial techniques to make cheese?


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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2012, 08:54:05 AM »
I do both extremes depending on what I feel like doing. Either follow rigorously studied practices from various traditions or go hyper-technical and exact. I find they are very complementary perspectives when used harmoniously.

Old style cheesemaking in many cases produced variable quality and consistency.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2012, 06:47:50 PM »
I disagree, linuxboy, on one point.

Old style cheesemaking practices, if followed properly, yield very fine and consitent results. I would bet must of the AOC's you enjoy (or other equivalent from whatever country) are made with age old techniques, and especially the lack of a pH meter.

The thing I have found is that a lot of people attempting the old practices really lack an understanding of a lot of the extra minute detail followed by the people who still do things this way.

PH meters and powdered starter cultures don't make it so that suddenly you can make the same thing over and over again. What they do for you is make it a whole lot easier to make the same thing over and over again.

It's all in the details. Master cheesemakers make consistent products by virtue of a great deal of experience and by being taught by genreations that came before them.

There is a place for techno-cheesemaking, it makes home cheesemaking accessible. Really the only way you can be effective with traditional methods is if you were well taught. I am fortunate enough to have been taught by one of the best, who was also a very good teacher. Having learned my cheesemaking high on a mountain first hand, I really am of the opinion that the precision and attention to detail necessary is not something that can be passed down in writing. You have to experience it, it is the only way you can learn it.

To answer to OP, yes there is some out here who do things the old ways. I for one, and those I learned from. There are countless cheesemakers in Europe who do things this way.

A lot of what is said today about the scientific method of cheesemaking is really a myth. It is not for one second necessary for any of the reasons they say it is, and I can prove it. You can go, for example, and sample a great number of Swiss Emmentaler AOC cheeses and always find something that is the same every time, from batch to batch. The AOC dictates this cheese be made by hand, with a whey culture. They never test the pH. Same with a great number of Swiss cheeses. The scientific method of cheesemaking would not sit well with many Swiss, almost an insult to the great traditions they have passed down for so long.

The only testing I ever learned to do was to test the acidity (not pH, but TA) of the whey culture, to make sure it was working properly. But when I was taught to do this, I was also told to taste it. Because, I was told, you can tell just as well by the taste how acidic it is as you can with phenolphthalein. You just had to do the chemical test so that there was some unit to write down on paper (the AOC wants you to record all of the details of the process. It's one way of assuring cheesemakers adhere to the standard methods accepted for cheeses of this name)

As for thermometers, well maybe this is one point where the technology is a good thing. It is possible to judge temperature with your finger, and do so accurately enough to yield consistent results (i.e. be accurate to within 1 or 2 degrees) but this takes a great deal of experience. Although not as long ago as you might think, this is how most did it.

Sterilization has ALWAYS been he rule. Even when cheesemakers knew nothing about bacteria, they knew to be sterile and to always be cleaning everything with boiling water. It does not take much to find out that a little dirtiness messes up the cheese, and then you loose your culture and your whole year's production is lost. There are records from the middle ages, mayber even earlier, detailing how clean cheesemakers were. Sterilization is not an option, it is an absolute necessity.

Also, specifric cultures is not a new thing either. What is knew is our ability to go to the store and buy whatever cultures we want, even on a whim.

Specific cultures have been important to cheesemaking traditions as long as there has been such a thing. But the process was that of isolating specific local strains and preparing the cheese and the culture in such a way as to encourage these.

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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2012, 09:37:17 AM »
You are talking about a very refined and well-established alpine traditions. I am talking about many of the valley and lowland areas that are more numerous than the mountains, and in which cheese has been made for a very long time with good mesophilic technology. These cheese traditions produced cheeses that lacked consistency, which is why mold was often used to help save them. I have tasted some terrible (to my palate) cheese made from people practicing centuries-old techniques faithfully. They loved the flavors though, so that's all that matters.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2012, 02:37:28 PM »
I have often wondered how it would work with a mesophilic cheese. The conclusion I have always come to is that it probably doesn't. You seem to have evidence that this is true, and I certainly believe you on that. It makes sense that meso cheeses would wind up being moldy, because it is actually fairly easily to target and isolate a specific wild mold and tend to your cheeses so that this will grow. This gets even easier after you have done it a few times because, like the bacteria in a thermo cheese, the mold gets stronger and will readily take over everything. It seems to me it would be very hard to isolate meso bacteria, largely because there are SO STINKING MANY.

So I will cede this to you. If you want consistancy, then maybe traditional meso practices aren't the way to go unless your cheese is barely cultured at all and flavored by mold.

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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2012, 02:44:07 PM »
The only two fabulous techniques with good consistency I have seen are to 1) isolate a complex undefined strain blend of mesos, as was done for traditional cheddars and traditional bloomy rinds, and 2) accept the mold and learn to live with it, developing a complex art of affinage where the mold is managed, preferential strains encouraged, and bad strains discouraged.

To my mind, it is far easier to do a thermo cheese and do a wash on the rind like is done in the alpine areas.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2012, 10:04:47 AM »
How do you isolate a strain of mesos? This I have never figured out. But I guess I have not tried hard, since I make exclusively thermo cheeses.

Also to be clear, the techniques used for thermo cheeses also result in a complex, undefined blend of bacteria. The technique ensures that your primary acidifying bacteria will thrive and be passed on, as well as your desirable flavoring bacteria. But there is a whole jumble of other thermos that come from the cow that survive as well. 

When we make our whey culture, first of all it comes usually from a cheese that has been heated to a high temperature. This helps to isolate certain bacteria.

But more important is how we treat the whey. As soon as the cheese is in the press, we take our whey and very quickly heat it up with a hot (boiling) water bath, and as soon as it reaches the right point immediately cool it off to incubating temperature and then put it in a thermos to incubate.

This treatment kills of most of the wild bacteria, and also by exposing the good bacteria to such extreme conditions, we make them stronger and more virulent. This ensures that when we put the culture in the next day's cheese, our good bacteria are very very strong and get to work right away, and that the bad bacteria in the culture are dead or weakened to the point that they can't compete.

By conditioning the whey like this, our bacteria are made so that they can kill off just about any competition. 

Also, when we pass on our culture we want to be as consistent in our cheesemaking as possible. The bacteria adapt to the procedures used, and also the procedures affect the balance. Any variation in procedure will change the balance of the bacteria and result in variations of flavor.
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2012, 10:24:22 AM »
Meso starters are isolated through trial and error and rely on clabber methods and relative strain dominance and robustness to work well. The technological approach is much less consistent than the IMHO very precise thermo technologies of the Alps. There are fewer tools available in meso isolation... less heat for one.

With mesos, if you're in the right area and try in the right season when lactic mesos dominate, that's used as a mother, which is then maintained by practicing consistent culture handling.

And it wouldn't be individual strains, that can only be done in a lab. It would be undefined blends of the common 2-6 species.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2012, 01:35:07 PM »
Thermo starters can be isolated from raw milk, though I must say I have never actually tried this myself.

As I understand it, you go about doing this by treating fresh milk much in the same way we treat our whey culture. Very quickly heat it up to maybe 62 C, then quickly cool it of the say around 40 C. This will jump start some of the wild thermos -especially strains of Streptococcus and Lactobacillus (we actually use at least 3 different lactobacilli for our cheese, Lactobacillus Lactis subsp. lactis, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis, and possibly lactobacillus helveticus. I am sure there are numerous other wild lactobacilli present)

Maybe doing this 2 or 3 times would be even better?

If we would incubate milk so treated, it would spoil, and give us a very runny and likely grainy yogurt. Not really good for much, but we could then use this stuff to inoculate more milk, which would produce yogurt.

This, of course, comes with the prerequisite of having good quality milk. Otherwise, you will get bad bacteria.

So then thinking about it, here is the procedure I would use if I needed or wanted to isolate thermophilic bacteria directly from my milk (that is, use native wild bacteria to make my cheese)

-Take fresh milk, direct from the cow without being cooled would be ideal.
-place the milk in a steel pot
-In a large pot, boil a small amount of water
-In another large pot or sink, prepare a small amount of cold water (even ice water)
-put the milk pot into the hot water bath and stir until temperature reaches 62 c
-immediately place the milk pot into cold water bath and stir until temperature drops to 40 c
-let the milk rest maybe 15 minutes.
-repeat the procedure 2 more times.
-pour milk directly into sterilized thermos and seal well
-let incubate overnight.

now you have a starter. I have never tried it, but would guess it will be runny and grainy and maybe will not taste so good.

-prepare hot water and cold water baths as above.
-with hot water bath, heat the thickened milk to 62 c
-with cold water bath, cool immediately to 40 c

-take a portion of new fresh milk, say 1 gallon.
-with hot water bath, heat fresh milk to 62c, cool to 40c
-add perhaps 1 cup of the previously treated milk to 1 gallon of the new milk.
-heat and cool as before
-put into sterilized thermos and incubate overnight.

-If you do not get yogurt this time, repeat until you do.

This WILL NOT WORK with pasteurized milk (I'm not 100% sure how well it will work with raw milk even)

The health and diet of the cow are super important to the success of this. If at all possible, use only milk from very healthy grass only cows. In the Alps if they did this, they would take the milk from their best cow to start the culture.
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2012, 02:33:32 PM »
I did a similar writeup, adapting how we do it in the lab to home environments http://cheeseforum.org/forum/index.php/topic,8013
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Offline Sailor Con Queso

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2012, 02:39:55 PM »
LactoBACILLUS Lactis subsp. lactis  is actually a LactoCOCCUS. Big difference in the morphology and role in cheese making. The LactoCOCCUS are true mesophiles and do not survive higher temperatures. Streptococcus thermophilus is a primary thermo acidifier, but it does not do a good job of completing lactose conversion, so it needs a companion culture to finish the job. This would typically be Lactobacillus helveticus, but can be something like Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis. However, there are many, many strains of all of these bacteria and your natural strains are going to be different from those in Europe or here in Kentucky. That's why store bought dry cultures combined with Mother Culture techniques and propagation provide a reliable alternative for most cheese makers. I have watched traditional cheese makers in Italy inoculate with whey culture AND add dry culture. The dry gives them a reliable balanced starting point, while the whey brings back a dose of the native bacteria.

You are in essence making a Mother Culture (without sterilizing the milk) and then using temperature to select only the thermos. There is an easier way. Making Mother Cultures - A Photo Essay. If you really want to isolate only the true thermos, heat the milk to 190-200F to sterilize it, cool down to 125F before inoculating, then incubate at 120-125F. Or as you say, pour into a sterile thermos bottle.

Streptococcus thermophilus will ripen a mother culture much faster than other thermos. So, because of differences in temperature and incubation time preferences, your technique for isolating thermo bacteria, with repeated heating & cooling, will ultimately favor the Streptococcus thermophilus and naturally reduce the populations of other supporting thermo bacteria like Lactobacillus helveticus. It would also kill off any desireable mesos, like L. lactis. The resulting bacterial mix will not be like the native proportions that you would find in your raw milk.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2012, 03:41:07 PM »
This is basically an application of whey culture procedures, which isolate the high end thermophiles out of the cheese and pass those down to the next batch. The main goal in this process (though they don't know it, it is just what centuries of experience figured out) is to isolate strong strains of streptococcus thermophilus. This technique is intended to work with raw milk, and for cooked alpine type cheeses.

In your linked post, Linuxboy, you talk about the notion of the whey starter being passed down over generations. Nice story. But in Switzerland at least, it's a myth. The culture is made brand new every spring.

It used to be years ago that all cheese makers would go through a procedure like this at the beginning of the season and make their own batch of starters. Nowadays, at least for Berner Alpkäse, there is a single organization that makes the starter culture and then distributes it to the farmers. This is just for an added measure of consistency across the region, from one farmer to the next. This company still produces the culture fresh each spring using pretty much the same procedure (only under a little more controlled conditions than it would be done on the Alp)

Also sailor, it is similar to making a mother culture, the difference however is that you are going through steps to isolate bacteria that are present in the milk instead of introducing them. After you have done this process 2 or 3 times, you could switch over to a simple mother culture or yogurt making procedure.

We do not want the proportions to be the same as what is in the milk. That is the whole point of producing the starter in the first place. When you sterilize milk and introduce a powdered culture, you don't have a natural proportion. When we culture our milk with our whey culture, we don't have the natural proportions. We want modified proportions. What we want for a long aged alpine cheese is a culture with strong Streptococcus and some Lactobacilli in the background. We want the strep to grow fast while we are making the cheese, and the lactobacilli to take over later, after it has been put on the shelf. The process of making the cheese is designed somewhat to give the secondary cultures (lactobacilli) a boost (such as the long brewing time between cutting the cheese and cooking the curd)

One thing I saw in Switzerland was that some makers mix a spoonful of storebought yogurt into their whey after the heating/cooling stage. This I imagine is the same as using a powder and whey system.

But we use raw milk to make our cheese as well, so we introduce a strengthened thermophilic culture into the raw milk, and then it incubates somewhere around the 85 to 90 degree range for over an hour before the cheese is heated up to the point where the meso bacteria will die off. So this gives us an added level of complexity. We have first and foremost a particularly strong strep bacteria that is there to do most of the acidifying during the make. Then we have secondary lactobacilli that will grow during the make, and take over later on after the strep has slowed down and can't compete anymore. Then as a tertiary culture, we have the meso strains that can live during the initial incubation and brewing periods. These will add a little bit of complexity to the flavor, but they don't have time to do much before we kill them off. But wait, there is also a 4th level for alpine cheeses, the evening milk is left to sit out open to the air in shallow pans overnight. During this time, meso bacteria do grow and flavor the milk to some degree (the difference is noticeable. If you drink the evening milk in the morning or use the cream skimmed from it, it has a different flavor than it did when it was fresh, and buter made from the cream in the morning very much makes like cultured butter, and is hard compared to sweet cream butter). So you can see with the traditional procedure, we are not worried that mesophiles aren't being passed down in the culture.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2012, 04:12:08 PM »
looking around for sources of lactobacilli, it seems that these are the dominant strains present in mature sauerkraut  8)
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2012, 05:52:43 PM »
Quote
Nice story. But in Switzerland at least, it's a myth. The culture is made brand new every spring.
In Italy, it is shared and passed down.

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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Historic Cheese Making
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2012, 07:16:01 PM »
In the Alps, cheese is seasonal. You only make it for 4 or 5 months out of the year. The cows are all timed so that they will dry out when it is time to come down, and there will be no milk production during the winter.

With no cheese made a good chunk of the year, it is understandable why they don't pass down a true heirloom culture, in the days before refrigeration it would have been almost impossible to preserve a good culture that long. Therefore, the most sensible thing to do is re-isolate your streptococcus every spring.

An important part of the tradition is making a lower temp cooked cheese first, before making the Alpkäse. In the Swiss and French Alps, Raclette is popular. Though among the German Swiss, Mutschli is much more common. (I am only aware of a tradition of Raclette in the southern extremities of the canton of Bern, and in the Canton of Wallis) This gives the culture a little more time to develop in its strong form before making the long-aged alpkäse.

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