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Because sometimes bad things happen to good cheeses

For what is success without defining failure?

Yesterday, for reasons, misc., I kinda stuffed up my cheesemaking. I was riding the wave of success from Friday’s triumphant feta (best cheese yet, I might must add): I was probably a bit cocky. I was also tired and grumpy and my pants weren’t on straight. And the sun was in my eyes. Anyway: reasons. I heated the milk to 40°C instead of 30°C and then, since I wanted to go and get the shopping done, I let the culture do its bacterial thang for a scant half-hour instead of the full hour necessary. The bacteria get bizzy with the lactose and turn it into lactic acid, and that raised acidity encourages the proteins to clump together and form solids. Then you add the rennet, which is an enzyme that further sets the curd. I *think* what I did wrong was add the rennet too early, so the curds and whey hadn’t really separated enough for it to do anything. I could be wrong, though — I had the temperature of the lot up way too high, and then I went for a walk while we were out shopping, so I left the rennet to process for about ninety minutes instead of sixty. Let’s recap:

  1. Milk too hot.
  2. Bacterial culture not given long enough.
  3. Rennet given too long.
  4. Milk too hot.

So when it came time to test for a clean break — WAUMP WAUMP. Murky, swishy break. Ordinarily, if you don’t get a clean break, the recipes urge you to be patient and check again later. But this was already way over the 45-60 minutes recommended, so I concluded I was unlikely to get anything better. So I proceeded to the next step: cutting and warming the curds to encourage further separation from the whey, and then ladling the curds into the cheesecloth to drain.

The suspense!

The suspense!

I bundled it up like a fat little numbat and left it to drain. In the picture above, you can see that the liquid draining off is still very white: when you get a clean break, the liquid is yellowy and translucent. So that’s whey that still has a lot of the milk proteins, sugars and fats in it.

Take note of my excellent draining mechanism! This setup is perfect. After I’ve bundled the curds into the cheesecloth, I tie it in a bunch of knots and make a big loop, and then thread the mop handle through that loop and suspend it over my whey pot (an enormous stainless-steel stockpot) in the laundry tub. Perfect! I can shut the door and not be distracted by the constant trickling/dribbling sound, and whenever I need a hit of that sweet smell of whey, I can go visit the laundry. After letting the cheese drain for a wee while, I got my cheese mould and press, with the intention of pressing the drained curds for a couple of hours. But when I gave it a little press by hand, I noticed that the curds were breaking down and passing through the cloth. This curd is clearly not strong enough to endure pressing: I’d lose the lot. So I left it draining.

I planned to make haloumi, but if the curds weren’t strong enough to be pressed, they were unlikely to be strong enough to endure haloumi’s pressing and poaching. Fortunately, once you’ve read enough cheese recipes, you start to realise there’s striking similarities, so I knew this batch wasn’t a write-off. I left it to drain overnight, as I had done with the feta.

Allo allo allo

Allo allo allo

And what do you know? There was a big ol’ pot of whey (milkier than usual) and a bag of thick, drained curds. The pressure of the sides of the cloth, drawn in by the weight of the curds, was enough to press them together into a solid curd. While not as firm as my last feta curd, this was still firm enough to be solid. Not the slight crumbliness instead of squalchiness:

Crumbly crumby close up

Crumbly crumby close up

So I cubed the curd, dusted it with salt, and popped it in the fridge alongside its brethren feta.

Cubin' the curdz

Cubin’ the curdz

The biggest difference between the two (the deliberate feta and the well-now-what-do-I-do feta) is the milkiness: the second batch is sweeter and a little milkier than the first. I deliberately lowered how much salt I put in it, to preserve that slight sweetness. I attribute the sweetness to the higher amount of lactose remaining in this feta, which would be understandable if the whole messy-break process was a result of the bacteria not having enough time. But I’m no scientist: I’m just guessing.

Saved!!

Saved!!

I saved the cheese! From break-failure to a triumphant creamy feta! I celebrate with cheese! Worship me as your dairy saviour!

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