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Cheese 101: Kosikowski’s Eight Basic Steps of Cheesemaking – Step 1: Setting the Milk

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The Lady’s nose is buried in Max McCalman’s latest book, Mastering Cheese and just finished the chapter that outlines the eight basic steps of cheesemaking. Max used the work of a Dairy Science Professor. The Lady shared this information with me and I made an executive decision to include this information in our Cheese 101: Learning the Basics to Make You an Expert.

In 1983, Cornell University’s Frank V. Kosikowski announced his intention to create the American Cheese Society. He did, serving as its first president. This event helped launch the renaissance of artisan cheese making in the United States. Sally Jackson was already making cheese in Washington State after obtaining a government grant during the Carter Administration and both Laura Chenel and Mary Keehn were making chevres that would become award winners… the American cheese game was on…

As a dairy science professor, Kosikowski developed the eight basic steps in cheesemaking. As with all artistic endeavors, these steps aren’t etched in stone, unless you are a sculpture…, but it’s a great general outline in what goes into basic cheesemaking.

The Lady and I thank Dr. Kosikowski for his work in making this outline and Max for sharing it in his book. We will share this information in several installments here on the blog.

Step 1: Setting the Milk.

Every cheese starts as clean, fresh milk and it must be acidified and coagulated to make cheese.

Acidification can occur if milk is allowed to naturally sour; however, this is a slow method and today most cheesemakers get a jump on the process by using starter cultures developed by scientists. Commercial starters offer the advantages of always getting the same results; consistency in taste and control of the acidification.

When acidification is complete, the starter bacteria die and release their enzymes. This breaks down the proteins and fats – critical for cheese ripening and flavor creation. The bacteria convert the lactose into lactic acid. The rate of acidification also determines the pH of the cheese and its eventual moisture and mineral content.

Secondary cultures are also added at this point which also affect the final cheese. In chatting with Adam at Beecher’s Handmade Cheeses, The Lady learned that the secondary cultures in Flagship Reserve kick in during the second year of aging.

For milk to become cheese, it must be coagulated which separates the curd from the whey. This is done using rennet. Originally only animal rennet was available, but today scientists have developed microbial rennet and many cheesemakers are using vegetable-based rennet. Vegetarians, who choose to not eat products that require the death (or harm) of animals, can now eat cheese made using alternative rennet. Also, with decrease in demand for veal, the cost of animal rennet has risen drastically making the alternatives less expensive and more attractive… follow the money…

Coagulation is the result of two chemical reactions; the fermenting of the lactic acid bacteria and the clotting action of the enzymes found in the rennet.

Up next: Step 2: Cutting the Curds

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