Now let’s talk about cultures, powders, rennet, & even cheeses you don’t need all that stuff for!
There are two basic varieties of cultures Mesophilic or Thermophilic. Actually, they are more like starters. They set the stage for some of the cheese we do. We like them because they give us much more variety in cheese. With so much milk…………..we need all the help we can get!
These two ‘starters’ come in DVI or Reculturable. Meaning one you use like sourdough starter, use part of the ‘mother culture’ once inoculated and save some to replenish your starter/mother culture. Then there is DVI – or Direct Set, are freeze dried starters you add a small amount directly to your milk.
We’ve used both…..both have advantages and disadvantages.
With Reculturable (mother), Easy to use, just follow the directions on the starter. You start with inoculating, or setting your mother culture. Use part for your recipe, adding some to ‘freshen’ your mother, saving it for next time. Just like Sourdough. Sometimes your mother needs to be freshened with additional steps and sometime you just have to start a new batch.
With DVI (direct set) Once you use all of it, you have to buy more. It stores wonderfully for year or two in the freezer. The amounts you use are minimal, usually 1/8 tsp to ¼ tsp. So a little in the freezer goes a long way.
So let’s talk about the two basic starters, both come either as ‘Direct Set’ or ‘Reculturable/Mother’…..
Mesophilic cultures are non-heat loving cultures, meaning the temperatures of the milk are lower when you add the cultures (88 to 102 degrees). These cultures include: buttermilk, Feta, Chevre, Farmhouse, and plain old Mesophilic.
Thermophilic cultures are heat-loving cultures, meaning the temperatures of the milk are higher when you add the cultures (up to 112 degrees). These cultures include: Yogurt, Thermophilic B & C cultures.
Both these come with slight variations, like A, B, or C, depending on WHERE you buy them, but don’t let that confuse you. Look to what cheese these are recommended for and buy them that way. Here’s an example, they have a Mesophilic starter sold at the Cheese Maker, that is sold for specifically for Feta. So these are actually considered basic names for starters. So wherever you buy your starter from, read their description to get the starter that will work best for the cheese you want to make. Honestly, you can use yogurt or buttermilk for starters!
There are some extras we have used in our cheese making experience, that you may come across. Those of you who have made the ‘Quick Mozzarella’ have probably used Citric Acid powder – this gives the higher level of acidity that you need for the nice stretch we all love. We use it for our Provolone. Another one is called Lipase powder, we use this to give our Feta its strong piquant, sharp flavor.
There’s Calcium Chloride that will be needed if you use store bought milk, we’ve NEVER used the Calcium chloride because we prefer RAW milk for all our cheese making experiences. There are color additives for cheese as well, again, we prefer our cheese without coloring additives.
(Ultra Pasteurized: Don’t try making cheese with Ultra Pasteurized milk, you’ll only be disappointed. You can lightly pasteurize raw milk for making cheeses, if it makes you feel safer but we find raw milk is the best for making everything: cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.)
These are bacteria used to age certain cheeses or give them a specific trait/flavor like the blue in traditional blue cheese. Because we haven’t used these we aren’t going to cover them here in detail. But examples are Penicillium Candidum (white) , Penicillium Roquefort (blue), and Bacteria Linens.
All of these cultures, powders, molds, etc. can be kept in the freezer to extend their life. They can also be purchased at many cheese making places like: New England Cheese Making Supply Company or The Cheese Maker (our favorite).
This is what is used to ‘curdle’ the milk, to make the cheese curds for draining, pressing, etc. Some people use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to accomplish the same thing. However, we do prefer the rennet because it gives us more cheese in the end and is more consistent than using lemon juice or vinegar.
Rennet is traditionally made using calf, lamb, or goat stomach. Because we don’t know how the animals were raised, we prefer using vegetable-based rennet. You can find them in liquid or tablet form. This makes it easier to find more kosher rennet or at least those made from organic plant materials.
The tablet rennet is far easier to store, can be kept in the freezer and last for well over a year. We have successfully used two year old vegetable-tablet rennet. Different brands usually come scored, precut indentions, to make it easier cut or break when needed. We have found liquid rennet loses its strength as it ages and you have to adjust how much you use on a regular basis. By far, the vegetable-tablet rennet has been our favorite to use. We found differences in brands of rennet, some will work with even older milk, while some need fresher milk to work constantly.
Instead of rennet you can use acidic products to form curds, like lemon juice and cider vinegar. We find that you have to heat the milk at higher temperatures to get this to be more consistent. We feel that some of the milk’s best qualities are lost by using such high heat.
Again, you can make cheese without these starters, or without rennet. But we enjoy the variety the starters give us, the additional flavor, and the more flexibility we have. In part 3 we will go over some actual recipes!
Say Cheese Please!