Author Topic: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?  (Read 1417 times)

Offline Tiarella

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Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« on: March 24, 2013, 07:21:43 AM »
Hello All,

Hoping for some insights from you.  I've only been making hard cheeses for less than a year so I'm still a rank beginner.  (I'm particularly rank after cleaning the barn but that's another story!)  Anyway, because I have goats and a milk supply that has to be used up I make cheese once or twice a week whether I want to or not.  Lately, as in this winter, it seems like my curds are not getting as firm as they should.  I am making the same types of cheeses and following the same protocols and yet I'm getting these soft cheeses.  What does soft mean in this instance?  It means that on the first flip in the press it's really hard to keep the cheese in "cheese wheel shape" when I take it out of the cheesecloth.  No problem with curd knit but it's like a more blob like than cheese-shape like.  With yesterday's Tomme I thought maybe brining it would firm it up but it's been in the brine for 7 hours already and it's still softer than I like to feel.

Let me share about yesterday's make to see what red flags pop up for you.  I'll list anything I can think of that might make a difference. 
1) half a gallon of the 2 1/2 gallon make was on it's fifth day of life outside the goat. It'd been cooled quickly, smelled and tasted great but it's older than most say is optimal for cheesemaking.  Using it was an experiment and not all my softer makes have had some older milk in them so not sure this is the issue but maybe it's part of it?
2) When I raised the temp from 90 to 100 it took a bit longer by about 8 minutes and then it went to 106 degrees.  (yes, I was multitasking....didn't reallyl have time to make cheese but had to)  The curds were soft so I was not upset at overshooting my target temperature partly because I was already worried that the curds weren't getting firm enough.  I gave them extra time and they did get stirred often throughout this except for the last 5 minutes or so.  They never did that matting at the bottom in between stirrings.  There were a few little clumps but that was it.
3) I used a rennet adjustment from Pav's advice to me that has worked fine in the past.  I have Nigerian Dwarf goats and used 1/2 teaspoon of single strength calf rennet as per his amount suggestions for a Tomme made by this milk.  Like I said, it's worked before. 
4) For cultures I used 1/4 tsp. Kazu, 1/16 tsp LBC80 and 1/32 tsp MVA
5) curds were cut to 1/4 inch and rested 10 minutes.
6) I did not use floc time this make because I had to make a lightening run to the grain store between rennet addition and curd cutting.  The recipe's time estimate was 45 minutes and that's when I cut the curd.  It was certainly firm, in fact it was just starting to draw away from the edges.

No, I don't have a pH meter yet so I'm flying blind in that way. 

Any ideas?  Should I be adding some Calcium chloride during the winter months?  I'm only drawn into using older milk right now because it's the low production time when some of my goats are dried off and waiting to kid so only a couple are still giving milk.  I just can't drink enough tea and eat enough kefir to keep up with it so I have to make cheese but I suppose I could make small batches of Brie, ashed bloomies, etc. 

Oh, also want to mention that my winter hard cheeses all get a  bit softer under the rind.  (not goopy like that one strange one, just softer)  They change their shape just a bit at the corners where the wall meets the tops and bottoms. 

Also, any ideas of what to do with this soft cheese?  Is it possible I could just get creative on it and do a short ripening washed cheese?  I'm thinking of washing it with the Honey Whiskey I have maybe but am not sure if it could develop any decent flavor in a 4 week period.  Would LOVE comments on how far out to age it given how soft it is.

Alright, off to the barn. 
Kathrin


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Offline Tiarella

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2013, 11:21:47 AM »
Got back from the barn and took this cheese out of the brine after the recommended 3-4 hours per pound and am dismayed.  The cheese hasn't held it's shape well.  It is either puffy or sagging out of shape.  Can't quite tell which.  This is NOT going to be along aged cheese!   ??? :-\ 

Is there anyway to tell if it's contaminated with something?  Should I just assume it's unsafe to eat?  Or might it just be soft and not firm enough to hold it's shape?  If it might be safe I'll bind the side with some sort of bark belt and wash in honey whiskey. 

Offline Sailor Con Queso

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2013, 03:45:13 PM »
My guess is that you spent too much time at the grain store ;) and the milk coagulated too long. Especially when you say that it was starting to pull away from the edges. That will make the curds retain too much moisture. Floc time can be really important this time of year as the animals begin calving/kidding and transitioning to Spring feed and water cycles. I am starting to see huge changes in my milk already and have had to drop my rennet by about 25% just in the last 2 weeks. Proteins, fats, and moisture in the milk are all changing.

Your slumping cheese does not look contaminated to me. It looks like too much moisture. I would not do a wash on a cheese showing signs of excess moisture. I would be sure that it dries REALLY well over the next week or 10 days. Keep the humidity down to pull out excess moisture, but not to the point of cracking. Rubbing with salt can help pull out moisture. The rind should be consistently dry with no blotching or uneven spots. As the rind dries, it gets darker, so it's pretty easy to see spots that haven't dried. This is especially important if you are going to wax or vac seal. Then age normally, give it 60 days, stick a trier in it, and see how it is going. Watch it carefully to be sure you aren't weeping moisture under the wax or in a vac bag.
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Offline Tiarella

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2013, 05:43:50 PM »
Thank you Thank you, Sailor!!!  You maybe right, what you say makes sense.  I wasn't gone longer than the aimed for time but it was certainly coagulated.  We haven't yet started kidding and we have not a square inch of bare ground so feed hasn't yet changed....but it is the end of lactations and the end of a long winter. 

Okay, salt rubs it is.  At what temp should I be drying it?  70-72 or 50-55?  Those are my two choices.  The air is so dry in the house that I'll have to partially cover it with an upturned box to slow the drying and prevent cracks!

Offline Tiarella

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2013, 07:00:41 PM »
Sailor, one more question.  Do you really think something with curds this wet can ever be dry enough to age out as a tomme?  Or am I better off pretending it's some mutant washed tall washed rind cheese and just opening it sooner?  It is almost like a bean bag in it's softness.  I feel saggy spirited after a long winter and maybe this cheese is embodying my snow despair......?   ::)


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Offline High Altitude

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2013, 08:28:21 PM »
I've had a jack cheese sag like that, perhaps worse actually....very moist, but it dried out enough for waxing in a week or so.  I think yours looks just fine....consider it character!  You don't want all your cheeses to look identical in shape anyway, right  :o?!

I read in a flyer from cheesemaking.com (I think it was) that during winter months you should double the calcium chloride in recipes, so I have done that for all my makes.  (I just started cheesemaking at the beginning of this year, so I'm a complete newbie, but that said I have made some 13 hard cheeses...none of which I have been able to taste yet unfortunately.)  Let's hope the flyer advise was sage.  Note that I have not used raw milk for any of these makes.  From all I've read on this site, raw milk doesn't usually even need any CaCl. (?)
Have some (homemade) wine with that cheese!

Offline Tiarella

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2013, 08:40:55 PM »
Thanks, High Altitude!  I have never used Calcium chloride since I use raw milk but I could try that.  Did your saggy cheese dry without slumping too much?  What was the taste of your cheese like this?  How did the texture turn out?

Offline WovenMeadows

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2013, 08:53:09 PM »
Tiarella, regarding your questions and observations about your winter cheesemaking - here is what Paul Kindstedt in American Farmstead Cheese says about seasonal variations of milk, which speak to your issues:

1. Casein content (%) (and fat - see #2) rises over the season (and lactation), lower in summer and higher in fall (and presumably winter, though here Kindstedt is referencing a study done only over summer and fall). The good thing about this is it makes for a higher cheese yield relative to milk. But, he explains, "large fluctuations in the casein content of milk across seasons...are accompanied by large changes in the buffering capacity [resistance to change in pH] of the milk, being lowest in summer...and peaking in fall. Thus in order to keep the acidification schedule during cheesemaking constant across season, the cheesemaker must adjust for the changes in buffering capacity by adjusting the starter culture usage, generally by using less starter in summer and more in fall" (p. 50). In other words, all else being equal your winter milk will not acidify at the same rate as your summer milk. And acidity, of course, is a factor in the final moisture content of the curd and cheese. So a lower-than-expected acidity of winter milk will also translate to a moister-than-expected curd.

2. The ratio of casein to fat in the milk changes as well. Fat levels also rise in fall and winter, and late lactation, but proportionately more than casein. In the referenced study, Kindstedt notes the summer ration of casein to fat was 0.78 to 1; in fall, the ratio was 0.62 to 1. Then, "This is important because fat interferes with the ability of the curd to shrink and expel whey during cheesemaking, and also tends to reduce the uptake of salt by the curd during salting. Therefore, milk with higher fat content relative to casein tends to produce cheese with higher moisture and lower salt contents, all else held constant" (p.52).

3. Strength of the curd is relative to casein content. Lower levels of casein generally coagulate slower than high levels, and form a weaker curd relative to higher levels (p. 88). Applying this to the flocculation factor method, fall and winter milk with higher casein would being to flocculate sooner than summer milk, and thus reach the desired point of cutting sooner. If going by time rather than floc factor, a fall and winter curd might then be cut so as to favor a higher-moisture curd (it has coagulated longer).

Steps you might take in practice then are a) to pre-ripen the milk for a longer time, to increase acidity and starter activity to a higher level, before coagulating, to compensate for the higher buffering capacity of the higher-casein milk; b) cook the curd for a longer time at a lower temperature (closer to the optimal temperature range for the culture reproduction and acidification) before cooking at the higher temps; c) cook the curd for a longer period of time (increasing acidification and moisture expulsion), and perhaps more or more vigorous stirring.

Offline Sailor Con Queso

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2013, 09:08:53 PM »
Tia - It is still Winter here in Kentucky too and the cows have very little to actually graze on. In fact we may get 2-3 inches of snow tonight. The feed has not changed, but the milk definitely has. I use milk from a Mennonite farm and they do not feed corn at all, so the cows maintain a pretty "natural" diet all Winter long. If you look back at some of my posts a year ago you will see that my rennet dosage went down by about 1/3, before Spring vegetation had really kicked in. This time of year, I watch floc times very carefully. So even if you weren't away for too long, you might have used too much rennet.
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Offline Tiarella

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2013, 10:03:59 PM »
Thanks both of you!   :). This helps a lot.  I have a plan of action for my next batches.  Sailor, the height of the cheese has decreased a lot in the last few hours and it gives me hope that it may still firm up enough to age out for a while at least.  I'd still love to know the best temp for this drying out process.


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Offline Sailor Con Queso

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2013, 10:59:01 PM »
Of your 2 choices, I would go for the 50-55.
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Offline Back 2 The Frotture

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2013, 02:46:22 AM »
thanks woven meadows for the pertinent info.  As for the calcium, all milk loses its ability to bond over time and the cacl helps to reconsistute.  It is best to add the cacal 24hours before the cheesemaking, in the tank or buckets, cold.
As for the tomme, watch out after two to three months of aging since the trapped whey risks to release around then.

Offline Salilah

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2013, 12:53:17 PM »
Real beginners question on this (having had one very poor camembert - only one small cheese from 2.5L milk, and one complete failure with goats milk!)

I read above (at least, that's how I understood it) that
a) if your curds are too wet, you might have used too much rennet?  I thought it would be the other way round?
b) if you leave the setting too long, and curds come away from the sides, they will be too wet?  I thought this would also be the other way round!!

Thanks for the thread so far - really appreciating the learning here!
S

Offline WovenMeadows

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2013, 01:14:01 PM »
Salilah, I think your two questions are related to the same variable, dealing with the effect rennet has on the milk protein. When we add rennet, the enzyme chymosin alters the milk proteins such that rather than being attracted to and surrounded by water molecules ("hydrophilic"), their electric charge is change and they are no longer attracted to water ("hydrophobic") and are instead attracted to one another. Consequently, they begin to link up with one another and form interconnected chains - a matrix - of casein protein. This is what makes the milk thicken into the curd. This network of proteins in turn is what will trap fat and some moisture after the curd is cut, but with much whey (water and water-soluble components) being expelled from the hydrophobic curd.

So coagulation is a two-step affair: first, the nature of the casein proteins are changed, and second, they begin to hook up with one another. You may notice that after adding rennet, the milk does not immediately thicken - at this point the caseins are becoming hyrophobic but not yet linking up with one another to a great extent. The moment that they do - the first point of flocculation and coagulation - is when the second stage starts. The longer this stage is, when casein molecules are linking up with one another, the more developed - the stronger - this protein network becomes. Being stronger, it can hold more moisture than a shorter-set, weaker curd.

That's why, somewhat counterintuitively, the longer your milk sets during coagulation, the moister the curd will be after being cut and cooked. Relatedly, by using too much rennet, the point of coagulation is brought on more quickly and the curd casein network will form more quickly and more strongly, contributing to a moister curd down the road.

Offline Salilah

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Re: Why are my winter cheeses so soft?
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2013, 04:49:48 AM »
Hi WovenMeadows - thank you so much for the explanation!!
S