Author Topic: Making whey starters (thermophilic)  (Read 3846 times)

Offline linuxboy

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Making whey starters (thermophilic)
« on: August 16, 2011, 03:51:38 PM »
Mountain Maiden asked me how to make whey starters in a PM and I thought this is a question that many people have wondered about. Specifically, before modern microbiological practices and the convenience of freezers, what did people use for starters, and how did they maintain quality?

There's a decent thread about clabber already, so I will focus on thermophilic starters here. For farmstead people and traditionalists, especially ones who have cows and not goats, thermophilic whey starters are a good approach because it is easier to maintain cleanliness due to the inherent ecosystems involved and the thermizing step in making and maintaining the starters.

The tradition of whey starters goes back many centuries, and is perhaps 3,000 or more years old. The areas that have used whey starters tend to be in a Mediterranean climate, especially what is now Italy, and going up from there into the Pyrenees on the west and the Jura region on the east. Many famous cheeses rely on whey starters, including Parmeggiano-Reggiano, alpine types (gruyere), and the many thermophilic variants found in the general region.

Tradition has it that whey starters are something special passed down among generations learning the art, and that when a new maker began, it is of crucial importance that a master transfer an established starter to a new location. The variety of microorganisms in starters contribute to regional variations in flavor and characteristic cheese aroma, taste, and texture.

All this begs the question that someone somewhere must have done it originally, and that not all whey starters were transferred from a single genius who invented the process. And this is quite right. In fact, it is relatively straightforward to create your own whey starter and stabilize it for use.

First, a primer
- Whey starters contain predominantly thermophilic bacteria consisting of strains from the lactobacillus and streptococcus genuses. Often, they contain multiple strains of L. helveticus, L paracasei, L. delbrueckii ssp., L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. plantarum, etc.
- The variety of flora is obtained over time until the strongest bacteria that can survive the harsh acidic conditions of whey predominates and forms a stable ecosystem.
- A stable whey system is very resilient to contamination, provided that it has a chance to respond to stress and adapt to the new situation. It vital, therefore, in whey systems, to be as repetitive as possible in maintaining conditions
- Bacteria in whey systems, because of their complexity, tend to be fairly phage resistant.
- To maintain whey starters, it is crucial to create conditions that favor the growth of thermophilic bacteria
- It is possible to keep a whey starter and not use it immediately the next day, but it decreases consistency

The process:
1) Take fresh, raw milk and heat it to a temperature of 125F. Maintain this temperature for 20-30 minutes. This kills mesophilic bacteria and common pathogens, but does not kill off resilient lactobacilli.
2) Cool milk down to a temperature of 110-115F. Keep it there until the milk coagulates. This may take several days. Keep in a closed container. Traditionally, this was accomplished by natural means, such as taking an earthenware/clay container, and setting it outside in the hot summer sun where it would remain at a constant temperature suitable to the growth of thermophilic bacteria.
3) When the milk coagulates, retain 10% of the volume, and use the rest. Feed to the animals, strain for a lactic cheese, use in cooking, etc.
4) Begin the process in step 1 again. When you arrive at step 2, add the retained, coagulated milk from the previous batch and add to the fresh milk when the temperature is 110F-115F. You are now selectively inoculating the next batch and concentrating the native thermophilic bacteria in your environment.
5) Repeat this process 7-20 more times until you can achieve consistent results. Meaning the curd looks the same (like yogurt), tastes the same, has no off-smells or flavors, etc. It is crucial to repeat this process to obtain a stable culture.
6) When you are happy with the batch, make a very basic hard cheese following a thermophilic recipe, such as for parmesan. Use the culture as your inoculant at a rate of 5% (for the first cheese). When you strain the whey, retain it.
7) Take the retained whey and keep it at 105F until the next day. The next day, make the same cheese, using 2.0%-2.5% starter. By now, the starter should be active, stable, and consistent. For a pH quality control point, the starter should be about 4.0-4.2 when you add it.  It could be a little lower or higher, but not much.
8 ) Retain the whey from the second batch and the next day, use it for a third batch.
9) Repeat the batches another several times, until about a month has passed from when you originally started at step 1. By now, there have been many generations of bacteria, and they will have formed a stable ecosystem.

At this point, you can use this whey in place of any thermophilic starter. This process does not always work, and tends to work best during the summer. If you make a particularly good batch of starter, be sure to retain it and use it for the future.

To save starter:
- Freeze the whey in a bag or ice cubes
- If using within several months, use as is at a rate of 1.5-2.5% by weight (depends on the cheese and recipe, and the starter acidity curve)
- If reconstituting saved starter, start at step 1 and go through several generations of propagation without making cheese, until the culture is stable again.

With this method, your starter will produce very similar cheese in taste regardless of the recipe you use. For example, a parmigiano-reggiano clone will be somewhat similar in taste to its northern cousin, Montasio. This is because the strains of bacteria are predominantly responsible for the flavor.

If you have any questions, please post. Sorry, don't have pictures.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2011, 04:00:25 PM by linuxboy »
Taking an extended leave (until 2015) from the forums to build out my farm and dairy. Please e-mail or PM if you need anything.

Offline zenith1

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Re: Making whey starters (thermophilic)
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2011, 03:55:23 PM »
LB- the only thing I can say is .....thanks from all of us for sharing your knowledge so freely! A cheese for you my friend.

Offline Trey Magnus

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Re: Making whey starters (thermophilic)
« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2011, 05:51:16 PM »
Yes another cheese for you LB.  This is a question I have been wondering about for a while now.  How did they do it way back when before all the fancy lab and store bought stuff.  I have been reading the Book "The Fabrication of Farmstead Goat Cheese" by Jean-Claude Le Jaouen (someone on this board recommended it) and I just got to the part this morning about using natural bacteria vs commercial DVI starters.  So far he has not gone into the detail you described above and also I prefer Cow over goat and have been searching trying to figure out how it was done.  Low and behold, like a gift from heaven I log on today to see what has been posted (since I last logged on) and here it is, one of the main questions that I have been looking for an answer.  Thank You!

Personally I question, with all that is going on, whether or not our society (here in America) will be able to continue to exist (as we currently know it) for much longer.  One of my reasons for learning to make cheese is (just one of the many things I am doing) to try and prepare for The End Of The World As We Know It.

This is a huge piece of the puzzle and I can't thank you enough for freely giving of your time and knowledge in providing this information to us.

Just as a side question.  Will this also work for a cheese similar to cheddar?  If our society does fail and we take a few (hundred years worth of steps) back in time, if I can make Mozzarella, Cheddar and Parmesan, (along with the other preparations I have made), this will improve my family's quality of life greatly and my main goal in learning to make cheese will be accomplished!  ;D

So next on the list,  what do we do without rennet?
Somewhere on the list is also figuring out how to build my all natural underground cheese cave here in South Central Texas.  How deep do I have to dig to get a constant 55 degree ground temp?  :o


Offline linuxboy

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Re: Making whey starters (thermophilic)
« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2011, 06:00:41 PM »
Will this also work for a cheese similar to cheddar?
Not for a classic cheddar, no. That uses a classic O type culture. You can make an O culture in a similar way, but it is really a big pain to do properly because you cannot thermize the milk, and you have to really go through multiple generations before what you have is pure enough. An easier cheese that you can do with meso mother starter is something like a gouda, which can use undefined, multi-species starter.

You could make a thermo cheese and cheddar it. It doesn't come out exactly like traditional cheddar, but it is quite good.

If you want similar cheese to cheddar, there are old British classics that are more conducive to using clabber. Like lancashire. Or the French Cantal. Honestly, modern cheddar quality wasn't achieved until modern microbiological methods, unlike thermo whey starters.

You can make your own rennet. I have already posted the preparation methods on this forum. You can also make a wide variety of coagulants using plants.

I'd have to look at the charts for the area to tell you how deep you need to go. Probably 4-5', maybe more.

My end point in all this is that if you have no modern conveniences, there are some cheeses you cannot easily make because they rely on modern conveniences. Or if you do make them, the attributes (taste, aroma, characteristics) will not be exactly the same. Cheeses like parmigiano-reggiano can be made with no modern conveniences whatsoever and will last a long time without refrigeration. Similarly, a fior di latte, or mozzarella di buffala can also be made easily in the field with no more equipment more than a kettle and the raw milk.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2011, 06:09:39 PM by linuxboy »
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Offline cheeseymama

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Re: Making whey starters (thermophilic)
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2011, 06:57:21 PM »
I had the luck to work making cheese nearly everyday for over a year with a fourth generation Italian cheese maker, who is unfortunately for me -now deceased. It is interesting that he told me that his father and grandfather used whey to start many kinds of their cheeses, and they even had different wheys for different cheeses, some of which they coveted. I learned to save whey from him and have used it for a long time in making my cheeses. And not only for thermophilic cheeses, I make a lot of fresh mozzarella according to the method I learned from him. I use saved whey for inoculating milk for making Italian style soft fresh mozzarella cheese. Each summer I start out fresh by using a pure mesophilic starter to make the first mozzarella of the season. Then, for the purpose of inoculating my next mozzarella batch of cheese, I save a bit of the whey out, before making ricotta, that is, when it is relatively cool, and continue this practice after each batch thereafter.  In my opinion this is mostly a mesophilic culture. This works well for me if I am making mozzarella every day. I do find I need to refresh the culture every once in a while by adding milk started with a pure mesophilic to the culturing pre-mozzarella milk. I keep the whey in the frig between cheeses. The quality of the culture deteriorates when you don't use it daily.
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