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From milk to cheese

This interactive explains the processes involved in making traditional Gouda cheese.

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1. Milk source

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

I think the quality of milk is crucial to cheese. As you know, cheese is made 100% out of milk so the quality of the raw product directly correlates to the end product.

For our cheese in particular, it’s from the farm that we’re located on.

In fact, we’ve actually got an overhead line which connects us directly to the milk vat where the cows are, so in the morning, within 3 minutes or 5 minutes after they’ve finished milking the cows, we’re starting to produce that milk into cheese, so you can’t get much fresher than that.

2. Pasteurisation

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

Pasteurisation is the process of heating up milk and cooling it back down in an effort to minimise the bacterial risk of that product.

The key to pasteurisation is to heat the milk to 72 degrees for no less than 15 seconds. Once you’ve done that, then your legal framework’s done and you can carry on making cheese.

Harvesting milk from cows can be quite a dirty process. Cows in the yard are pooing and weeing all over the place. All over their environment are nasty bacteria – E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria. The pasteurisation process gets rid of and minimises the risk.

3. Coagulating the milk

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

The beauty of cheese is that it takes a long time to go off, and part of that reason is in the acidity and then adding of the rennet, which reduces the moisture from the cheese.

Rennet is an extract from a calf’s stomach. It nowadays can be synthetically made. We choose to still use a natural calf rennet to keep in line with our traditional product.

So once we’ve pasteurised the milk, we add a starter culture, so this is a mesophilic anaerobic culture. Once it grows in the milk, it slightly acidifies the milk.

We add the rennet slightly after the starter and then we give it quite a lot of time to rest and then to coagulate, and that’s the solidifying of the milk. I think that’s the magic of cheese is, once you add the rennet, it forces the milk solids to come together and the milk liquid, which essentially is water, to leave that solid behind.

4. Cutting the curds

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

Cutting of the curds is important to be able to release the moisture from the milk. So once you’ve added the rennet, you end up with quite a jelly-like structure – coagulated milk.

The important part of this is to make sure you have a small enough curd that the moisture can actually be released from the curd. So the cutting of the curds is really important – important that you keep them at a similar shape – that means they all mature at the same time in the cheese vats. So if you’ve got a bigger curd and a smaller curd, the smaller curd’s going to release whey much more quickly than the bigger curd, so when it comes to putting them in the moulds, the larger curds aren’t going to be ready and then you end up with a soft spot in the cheese.

5. Releasing the whey

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

We want to keep removing the moisture from the curd, so the best way to do that is to release the whey that you’ve already removed from the curds, add more water, preferably hot water – that way the reaction occurs faster, more moisture leaves the curds quicker.

It will always happen, but if you remove the whey and dilute the whey that’s already in there, then the reaction occurs faster.

That’s usually twice but it’s all dependent on the time of year, how we feel about the milk. It’s what the cheesemaker has to be aware of, so if he thinks the milk is quite fatty and the whey is too rich and you see a lot of fat on the top of the milk, then you‘ll be looking at doing it three times. Very occasionally, we’ll release the whey four times.

6. Moulding the cheese

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

By removing the whey, you end up with a lot of curds left over. We bunch that up into the cheese vat, and then we cut that into squares, and then we end up putting those square blocks into the round cheese moulds. So you’ve still got a lot of whey in that curd, which is quite solid –  you can hold it at that stage. And then we put lids on it and then put them into the presses.

Pressing is an important part of the process – it helps the moisture continue to be pressed out of the cheese. It helps form the shape of the cheese, and the pressing helps also develop a thin rind. So you can imagine if you’re pressing the curd that the outer edge is actually going to be pressed a lot more than the inner cheese. So you’re actually developing a rind, and that’s the first protective layer that the Gouda cheese gets.

7. Brining

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

Cheese is a way of preserving milk. Brining is another part of that process – getting the salt onboard the cheese. Some people would put salt directly into the cheese vat. The way we do it is brining. Brining is, once the cheese has been pressed and moulded, we take the cheeses, put them into the brine racks and lower them into the brine.

The brine is saturated with salt, and the cheese will take up a certain amount of salt until it’s full. We give it about 3–4 days depending on the type of cheese. It’s definitely really crucial for the preserving of cheese but it also adds to that flavour.

The salt also helps develop a bit of a rind. The salt is more concentrated on the outer edge of the cheese than it is in the centre, and again that’s another barrier of protection on the Gouda cheese.

8. Coating and maturing

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

Coating is the protection of the cheese. It’s semi-permeable, so moisture can still leave the cheese and the cheese can breathe, as it were, and so the maturing process can continue. Maturing of the cheese is just leaving the cheese on a shelf and letting it age, developing those flavours, giving the time for the curds to knit together in the cheese. The bacteria can still grow inside the cheese, moisture is still released and then the flavours concentrate. If you mature it for a long time, you get a stronger flavour.

Between 16 and 18 degrees is what we feel the best temperature for the maturing process. Humidity is about 80%. The humidity dictates the rate at which moisture is released. If the humidity is too low, moisture’s going to come out too quickly– too high, and it’s not going to come out at all.

The turning of the cheese is very important. If you’ve got a cheese sitting there, the under layer still wants to release moisture but obviously it’s sitting on something so it can’t do it effectively. If you flip the cheese every day, then both sides have just as much chance to release the moisture. You end up with a good full-bodied flavour throughout the cheese.

9. Packaging and storage

Miel Meyer
Meyer Gouda Cheese

Once the cheese is mature, we want to stop it from maturing any further, so we package it, vacuum pack it, remove the oxygen – so oxygen is one of those things that help the maturing process – remove it from those elements and then put it into a 4 degrees chiller, and that stops the bacteria from working. It doesn’t kill them, but the 4 degrees sort of stops everything.

Traditionally, packing of cheese would have been cheese coat and that’s it. Nowadays, we’ve got supermarkets, we’ve got delis, everyone wants a nicely presented cheese or a prepackaged cheese, so we do everything from whole wheels right through to 150 gram prepacked pieces, with plastic stickers on it, best before labels, and that’s all part of the food chain in the supermarket industry.


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