Hi, my name is Marlies and I am here to tell you that the best way to work a hairnet is with some unruly eyebrows and a sarcastic look on your face at all times. It’s awesome because then no one wants to talk to you. People, it is impossible to take someone seriously when they look like a cupcake. But apparently, we are into “hygiene” and “food safety”, so I endure this every day for you. You’re welcome.
Since I can hardly get myself to work on time when I am scheduled at 7am, the probability of me getting up two hours earlier to document the earliest steps in the Cheddar-making process was slim at best. You didn’t miss much, I promise. I was like, “I could get up and get them a picture of milk sitting there doing nothing, or I get two more hours of sleep.” So this is what happened when (hopefully) all of us were in dreamland: a) Pasteurization of 1250 liters of milk. b) Starter (a low-key word for good cheesemaking bacteria) is added to the milk and that starts getting all happy. c) The milk is pumped over to the vat. d) A vegetable rennet is added to the milk and it is stirred like mad for about two minutes, then pretty chill for about 20 seconds. This sits for half an hour and turns into weird milk jello. Then there are two rotating knife paddles that swing around and cut all that jello into little squares. It takes about 10 minutes for the curd to be cut to the right size. Then it’s time to get toasty. We heat it by running blazing hot water through the “jacket” of the vat. The water runs through the lining within the stainless steel tub to heat it, and then it stirs for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
*Enter Marlies* (About 15 minutes late, with a 24 oz drip coffee and my hair tied on the top of my head which looks unbelievably ridiculous in a hairnet). I totally forgot today was the cheddar day so I went about my business, boxing up the paneer with my bud Yuvani. When I realized what day it was, I took Yuvani’s phone and hauled my tush back to the Gouda room and saw the curd in the middle of its toasty hottub time of getting cooked. It’s pretty mesmerizing. Happy little milk pillows bouncing around getting smaller with each bump.
If you are like most of us, you are a fan of the cheddar. Cheddar is classic, cheddar is life. But man, cheddar is work. It also takes patience. Okay it is really not SO hard, it’s just kind of annoying. We usually corral the curds up like awesome cheese-cowboys using the strength of the actual vat, but with cheddar, we get no help. It’s just us and the curd. Real hands-on stuff. We drain off the whey by sliding a stainless steel mesh screen against the side and push that little stubborn thing as hard as we can away from the drain to push the curd towards the center of the vat. We push so hard while bending over, which is pretty much the worst. I always end up all red in the face because I am weak and have no endurance. Whatevs. We hand scoop all the curd away from the mesh screen so that the whey can float out the drain.
We are left with a bunch of little curds strewn all over the bottom of the vat. We then pick up our handy-dandy SUPER special cheese-making tools (shovels. they are white plastic shovels.) and pile all the lil’ curds on one side of the vat. It sits there for an hour while we go sit on our bums and wait (JUST KIDDING we go do a million other things while we wait). After that hour is up, we cut it and flip it, and a half hour after that, we cut it again and stack it on top itself.
Guys, this part is magic. So the curds, back when it was first drained, were little oblong circles. Think cottage cheese curds – quite similar. Through the process of stacking the cheese higher and higher upon itself incrementally every half hour, the curd begins to stretch. It is almost like it is melting in slow motion!
So at first when you tear it, you see little craters of breakage. But after a few flips, you tear it, and you see these beautiful long strips of curds, fusing together as it stretches and it looks almost like muscle tissue. This makes it stronger, and creates a really awesome elasticity in the final product.
Next week we will go through the rest of the process, which includes things like milling, some colorful sciency stuff that I absolutely do not understand, salting, guessing how much garlic and dill to put in and getting it wrong EVERY TIME, and a profile of the two awesome products: cheese curds, and cheddar.But for now, I’m out. I gotta go shower because I smell like cheese.