Cheesemaking Update

Gruyères-1/29/06
Gruyères at 5 months, 2 weeks and 1 week of age

What you see here is a picture of three homemade cheeses at various stages of aging. They were all made according to Margaret Morris' "Gruyère-style" recipe on p.188 of her book The Cheesemakers Manual, and each one has a fatal flaw. However, "mistakes are the portals of discovery," according to James Joyce, and I intend to use these flaws to improve future batches. I have yet to taste these cheeses, so I don't know exactly what effects these mistakes will have, but they are nonetheless identifiable.

The frontmost specimen is the oldest, at roughly 5 months of age. This was the first one I made, and predictably suffers from the most mistakes. First of all, I didn't add nearly enough rennet so the coagulation process, which should've taken 25-30 minutes, actually took 90 minutes. The effect of this will probably be higher acid than normal and in turn lower moisture than there should be. This is evidenced by the fact that this cheese is hard as a rock. Though it may still be edible, this is certainly not what I was going for. The Swiss Alpine cheeses like Gruyère are relatively low in acid, a trait that is part of what imparts the characteristically sweet taste as well as the slightly elastic texture. Another flaw in the cheese, and I'm not sure how it happened exactly, is that the rind is quite greasy. I think this means that milkfat was forced out of the cheese during pressing (probably from too much pressure too quickly).

The cheese in the back on the left was made two weeks ago and suffers from too much rennet. I guess I overcompensated for the fact that there was too little rennet last time, because this time it took only 15 minutes to set. This will probably mean that the cheese will be too bitter, since the vegetarian/kosher rennet that I use has been known to cause bitterness in aged cheeses. Because of this, I think I will age it for less time than the suggested 5 months.

Finally, the specimen in the back on the right was made one week ago. This time the amount of rennet was perfectly right. The cheese set in 27 minutes, right smack in the middle of the suggested time frame (25-30 minutes). However, I wasn't careful enough when I was cutting and pressing the curd, and consequently there is an uneven density throughout the cheese. One of the deleterious effects of such a flaw is improper rind formation. The rind is formed during the brining phase, when soaking the cheese in saltwater causes moisture to leech from the surface. When I brined this particular cheese, because of the density gradient, it tended to flip itself over so that the densest part was always toward the bottom of the container. This means that the less dense portions of the cheese spent most of the time peeking out of the brine, preventing moisture removal and inhibiting proper rind formation. In the picture above, look at the left side of the cheese--it appears paler than the rest. This is the area of low density and malformed rind. The other problem this density gradient will cause is a gradient of moisture level. Certain parts of the cheese will retain more moisture during the aging process, which can lead to unwanted bacterial growth. Again, because of these problems, I plan to age this cheese for less time than the suggested 5 months.

So what did I learn? Well, I finally know how much rennet to add, so that's good (2 mL for 2 US gallons of raw cow's milk). But in future batches, I need to have better control over moisture levels. I need to make sure, first of all, that the curds are cut into pieces of roughly the same size (this helps keep moisture levels constant), and second of all that the press is lined up properly to avoid density gradients due to pressing.

I hope to make another batch in the next few weeks, as well as taste the 5 month old batch and see what it's like. I'll post updates here in due time...