Author Topic: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age  (Read 1240 times)

Offline Alpkäserei

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Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« on: January 31, 2013, 11:05:27 AM »
Decided to create a topic dedicated to this so it could be found easily.

The Alpine family of cheeses is an extremely broad and diverse group. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different cheeses in this family, and it may well be the largest single grouping of cheeses in the world. It may also be one of the oldest, with a history dating back thousands of years. The Alpine style of cheese was known to Pliny the Elder in the first century AD, and was thought to have already been ancient at that time.

However, despite the broad diversity of these cheeses, the procedures for their initial production are almost identical. There are a few slight variables that determine how one cheese will be different from another. A large part of the character of many Swiss cheeses arises from the brining and washing/rubbing practices post make, but what differences arise from the actual make procedures are a direct result on variations of one single part of the process: the cooking phase.

These cheeses are all cooked, that is after the curd has been set, cut, and stirred the 'Bruch' is raised to a higher temperature in order to contract the curds, expelling whey and altering their texture. Some are cooked directly (Emmentaler, Gruyere, etc.), placed over a fire and warmed very slowly to the desired temperature. Others are cooked indirectly (Raclette) by removing part of the whey and replacing it with hot water until the mass reaches the desired temperature.

During the entire process of producing an Alpine style cheese, this is the most important single stage. What we do here determines exactly how the final cheese will be, and the consequences of mistakes at this stage are irreversible. Assuming culture as a constant, this will determine how dry our cheese is, how hard it is, how long we can age it, how quickly the flavoring cultures will be able to work and precisely what flavor tones they will create.

In General, the rule is that a lower cooking temperature will result in a softer cheese while a higher cooking temperature will result in a harder cheese.
This carries on to result in a few additional rules. A softer cheese cannot be aged as long (a Mutschli cooked to 105 degrees should not be aged past 3 months) while a harder cheese can be aged over a long period (an Alpkäse, cooked up to 124 to 125 degrees, can be aged as long as 10 years).
This also shows another rule: A softer cheese will develop its full flavor much sooner, while a harder cheese is slower to ripen. Also, a softer cheese will develop a less refined flavor while a harder cheese develops a higher quality flavor profile. This means that soft cheeses are best mild while harder cheeses are more suited to high levels of ripeness.
A low cooked cheese will have much more flavor at an early stage, say 4 months, than a hard cheese, using the exact same culture, will have at that time or even later. A 6 month Alpkäse is bland, while a 6 month Mutschli is far over ripened.

So If we look at alpine cheeses as a single entity, with characteristics arising as a result of cooking practices, we see it is quite simple in theory to tailor our cheeses to our exact desires. Using the information here, we can pretty easily make a cheese of the texture and aging profile we want. But first, we need some more specific information.

When cooking cheeses, the time factor should be consistent, at least when starting out. That is, the cooking process, regardless of final temperature, should always follow about the same rate. So that means a lower cooked cheese is also cooked for less time. But this relationship is not linear, but rather it is a curve. This is because the cooking process must start off slowly. Not more than 10 degrees of temperature increase in the first 10 minutes of cooking time.

When we make the Alpkäse, we desire to increase the temperature slowly following this curve from about 90 degrees up to 124 degrees over a period of 40 minutes. To illustrate the time curve, lets use this for an example.
We are making a single batch of cheese from which we will draw out 3 different cheeses. We proceed with the cooking process as is normal for the Alpkäse. After about 12 minutes, we should have a temperature of about 105 degrees, and draw off part of the curd at this time to make a softer cheese. After the curd has cooked for 20 minutes, we should be around 115 degrees and will produce a semi-hard cheese. After it has cooked for around 30 minutes, it should be around 120 degrees and is in the range for an Emmentaler. After 40 minutes it should be around 125 degrees and is in the range for a hard alpine type.

Then we will also note from this that in the bottom part of the range, the difference of a single degree has minimal affect on the hardness of the cheese. However, once we near the top of the range, a difference of even half of a degree can have considerable affect on the hardness. A 124 degree alpkäse is much harder than a 122 degree Emmentaler. This means that the high end cheese are much pickier and harder to make, while the lower end cheeses are forgiving and easy to make.

Now we have assumed a constant time factor across the board of our cheeses here. This is a general guideline, and does vary to some degree. This is one area where a more advanced cheesemaker has the ability to adjust his recipe to fit very specific requirements such as hardness as it relates to aging time (if you want a harder cheese with a faster ripening time, cook it to a lower temperature but hold it there a little longer or take longer to get there.)   
Again, the higher end cheeses are much pickier about this. When the temperature is high, a difference of a few minutes can dry the curd a lot. So again, higher end cheeses require more precision and are more difficult to master. Lower end cheeses are again not as picky. A few minutes extra cooking time at 105 degrees will have very little affect.

There is actually much more to it than this. But these are simple rules that will work. To be a master cheesemaker you need a little more knowledge than this (like, how these things affect the culture, how air temp and RH enter into the mix, how the age of your milk affects things, etc). But with this knowledge you can get good results.
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Online JeffHamm

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2013, 11:16:36 AM »
Very nice post.  Lots of good and easy to understand guidelines in there.  A cheese to say thanks.

To what extent would you say these apply to other types of semi-hard/hard cheese, like cheddar types, etc?

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Offline Schnecken Slayer

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2013, 11:45:55 AM »
I will echo Jeff's sentiments.
Nicely written and clarifies the processes to get the desired results.

Thank you.
Bill.
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One day I will add something here...

Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2013, 01:09:24 PM »
I couldn't say how well these apply to other cheese types. I don't know anything about cheddar and other types. My expertise lies in the Alpine field, and I am more than content to stick with what I know (it would be like going from a Rolls Royce to a rusty old Ford ;))

I would suspect though that another cheese family would have a totally different dynamic.
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Offline Al Lewis

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2013, 01:42:03 PM »
Great post!  Very informative.  This one is definitely a bookmark. ;D
« Last Edit: January 31, 2013, 06:53:04 PM by Al Lewis »


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Offline AndreasMergner

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2013, 02:57:28 PM »
Alp, first thanks for another great post.  We all learn a lot from you.

Second, can you talk about what cheesemakers are looking for when they are cooking the curd and feeling it with their hand?  I know there descriptions such as "easily matts", squeaky, rubbery, etc., but I don't know how they affect the final cheese.

Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2013, 02:27:20 PM »
This is not an easy question to answer.

first off, it is different for every type of cheese made. So There is no single rule for how the curd will be.

Then, it is not really possible to tell you how it should feel. It is something you have to experience yourself.

But here is how it works, in general.

The more the curd is cooked, the stiffer and rubberier it will become. SO these specifics of curd texture vary with every style of cheese made.

The matting of the curd is related to the acidification. The curd needs to be at a certain point in regards to acidity in order to mat properly. The easiest way to tell how well it mats is when you squeeze it, it will stick together.

But we don't actually test like this very much. We know through other things we see and through predictable rules of the system how the curd will be, assuming we were consistent in our processes. So usually this feeling of the curds with the hands is only done to show others how the curd has changed.
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Offline Tomer1

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2013, 02:47:57 PM »
I really like the idea of creating different cheeses from a single batch of milk.
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Offline steffb503

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2013, 05:08:18 AM »
Another Thank You!
I have been working on perfecting "My" variation of an Emmentaler.
This helps a lot!

Offline Vickie

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2013, 03:08:06 AM »
Would it be possible to use this cooking temperature info to make my morbier + grating cheese (parmesan type)? (I started a thread here: http://cheeseforum.org/forum/index.php/topic,10999.0.html )

Would the 'softer', lower temperature curd need to be taken out and put into moulds first and then the rest of the curd continuing with a slow temp rise for the hard Alpine type?


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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2013, 08:58:57 AM »
The idea of 2 cheeses from 1 batch looks good, in theory, but in practice we don't do this. This is largely because in order to remove the curd, we first let it settle to the bottom and it will begin to clump. So the second batch of cheese would not be evenly cooked.

When we make our Alpine cheese. however, we use a cheesecloth to remove the curd, and are only able to do this a maximum of 3 times. After the third time, and remaining curd will be cooked too hard to be useful.

This leftover cheese is the 'Strebel' or 'Chässtebel' or 'Chäsvögeli', and is generally eaten as fresh curd. (Along with the 'Chässchnittä', the trimmings off of the edges of the pressed wheel)


So what you could do is cook semi-hard or hard cheese and not remove quite all of the curd, the remaining 'Strebel' can be taken out and will make a very hard cheese due to its longer cooking. But it will also be more acidic,, which is fine for a Parmesan type.

The hardness of these cheeses should be defined by cooking. Pressing will not generally make a cheese harder, just more solid. So the first curd removed is softer. But also a harder cooked cheese is more challenging to make properly

About Morbier:

Quote
raditionally, the cheese consists of a layer of morning milk and a layer of evening milk. When making Comté, cheesemakers would end the day with leftover curd that was not enough for an entire cheese. Thus, they would press the remaining evening curd into a mold, and spread ash over it to protect it overnight. The following morning, the cheese would be topped up with morning milk. Nowadays, the cheese is usually made from a single milking with the traditional ash line replaced by vegetable dye.

What I understand from this is that the Comte must have been of a specific size, and there would be some curd remaining as a consequence of this fact. Our practice is to make cheeses of different sizes depending on curd amounts, so we do not encounter this problem. These curds are prepared exactly the same as the comte curd, and they need to be pressed immediately.

I suspect the purpose of the ash is so that the two cheeses will be able to fuse together.

So if this is true, Morbier is really the same as Comte. It could just be seen as 2 small comte cheeses pressed together.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2013, 09:05:24 AM »
comte is really a fairly typical alpine type cheese. so you could could make a morbier-type cheese from about any alpine curd. i would recommend removing all curd together and using it to make two cheeses. the hard grating cheese would then be salted more and aged much longer.
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Offline Vickie

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2013, 04:35:25 AM »
Thank you SO much for your answer!

Can I just clarify a strategy?

We are making a single batch of cheese from which we will draw out 3 different cheeses. We proceed with the cooking process as is normal for the Alpkäse. After about 12 minutes, we should have a temperature of about 105 degrees, and draw off part of the curd at this time to make a softer cheese. After the curd has cooked for 20 minutes, we should be around 115 degrees and will produce a semi-hard cheese. After it has cooked for around 30 minutes, it should be around 120 degrees and is in the range for an Emmentaler. After 40 minutes it should be around 125 degrees and is in the range for a hard alpine type.

Should I try cooking my curd and at 20 mins, 115 degrees, take off the first lot of curd for a morbier, then cook further to 40 mins for the hard alpine type?

Or

i would recommend removing all curd together and using it to make two cheeses. the hard grating cheese would then be salted more and aged much longer.

Cook everything to 125 degrees over 40 mins, and make a smaller cheese, a morbier, and a larger Alpine, which I would salt more and age longer?

Thanks again so much for your reply.

Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2013, 10:07:07 AM »
OK, I must clarify

The illustration with 3 cheeses drawn from a single batch is just that, and illustration. It is an entirely hypothetical situation that would not work in reality do to curds matting in the vat.
I used that illustration to demonstrate how lower cooked cheeses were cooked for less time.

I don't know the specifics of Comte, but I understand that it is basically a Gruyere. If this is so, Gruyere is a fairly well cooked cheese. This would mean that we should be able to make a Morbier-type cheese out of just about any alpine type. It just seems to me that the Morbier is probably not very heavily brined, which will affect the texture significantly (less brined cheeses tend to be a bit softer)

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Offline Vickie

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Re: Alpine cheeses; Temperature, Hardness, and Age
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2013, 02:25:46 PM »
Thank you so much. This is wonderfully clear, and we now will have a clear strategy for the next experiment.

Thank you again for your time and insight.