Yesterday, Stu made a 1,100 litre vat of Wensleydale cow cheese. We got about 120kgs from it – 60 x 2kg pots. And an excellent job he made of it too. Crumbly, creamy, full of flavour – very nice. There was a lovely, rich, creamy smell wafting around the dairy.
How We Make Wensleydale Cow Cheese
Pasteurised milk in the vat
We pasteurise the milk straight in to the vat. Our little pasteuriser may be an antique but it can
View down the vat, pasteurising 1,100 litrespasteurise 1,000 litres in one hour, which is not bad at all. Stu always practices a forced divert by turning off the heat and he initials the thermagraph. This is clipped to a copy of the make sheet along with the intake sheet for the milk. Ripening We add the starter culture slightly before we reach the desired temperature (mostly to save time) and ripen for one hour and 20 minutes. Renneting Stuart stirring in the rennet
We use double strength vegetarian rennet. We find the rates are different to achieve a good set for cow’s milk and goat milk. For cow’s milk, we use 0.18ml of rennet per litre of cow’s milk and 0.16ml per litre of goat’s milk. Depending on the ambient temperature, it normally takes between 45-50 minutes to achieve a good set. We have a rule that you do not take more than three minutes to stir, otherwise you may over stir and cause a bad set.
Stuart sliding the knife in to the curd
We use a wide bladed knife to check the set of the curd. We slide the knife into the curd at about a 45 degree angle and very gently lift it upwards
Splitting the curd
about a 45 degree angle, flat surface downwards and very gently lift it up until the curd splits. If we get a nice, clean, straight split in the curd, it is ready to cut.
Stuart making the first cut
We use the curd cutters to cut the curd into about 1cm cubes. First the horizontal cutter, very gently so as not to split or fracture the curd, followed by the vertical cutter. Stuart puts the cutter very gently into the vat at the corner first of all, at an angle and then straightens it up, cutting with the cutter as vertical as possible so as not to damage the curd.
After cutting, we leave the curd to settle and rest for a good five minutes because it is very delicate at this stage and we do not want to over handle it as it can break and fracture, losing valuable yield.
Unlike some cheese makers, we do not scald our Wensleydale cheese, we let it settle with regular gentle stirring with our hands until we achieve the desired acidity. This usually takes about 1 hr 30mins after cutting before we take the whey off – ours is a long, traditional, slow make.
I didn’t take photos of the why off as we had visitors, but I did get one of Stu pushing the curd back.
Pushing the curd back prior to whey off
When we have achieved the right acidity, and you can usually tell this by looking at the size and feeling of the curd particles, plus taking a TA, Stuart pushes the curd back to shallow end of the vat so that we do not lose pieces disappearing into the sieve.
We take the whey off very gently, again, so as not to lose yield. This takes about 15 – 20 minutes in the big vat for just 1,000 litres. Taking the whey off is my favourite part of cheese making, I am always in wonder at the small mountains of curd getting higher and higher as the whey is drawn off.
We cut a channel out of the middle of the curd to allow the remaining whey to escape and cut the curd into blocks, pushing them down each side of the vat. It is then occasionally a game of seeing how many turns you can get in before the acidity reaches the point you need to cut at.
Stu cutting the curd into blocks - notice the channel
We try to get three turns in. If the make is slow-ish, then we turn every ten minutes, if
The curd after the first turn
fast then every 5-8 minutes.
We then cut the blocks into approx 2″ squares and Stu shovels
Shovelling the cubes of curd
and shovels, turning, to release whey so that we can reach the acidity we want. Stu says this is his daily exercise routine! Incidentally, the shovels are blue horse manure shovels, but are also food grade; I got them on ebay. In fact, one of this year’s BRC minor non conformances was that the shovels did not have sufficiently rounded edges for our auditor. Hhhmmm. I got Noel to round them off with a file.
Stu with the salt
After the right acidity level has been reached, Stuart then pours salt on to the cheese squares and shovels it to ensure an even distribution. It is now ready for milling. Thank goodness for the peg mill! I used to do this myself, by hand – nightmare. We have found with cow’s milk, you need to mill immediately after salting, otherwise you can get a blotchy curd when it is pressed.
Sprinkling salt on the curd
Milling the curd
After the curd is milled into fine crumb, we scoop the curd into pots with our hands and place
Stu with Edith helping to pot up
them three high on the curd table. We did have plastic, food grade scoops to do this, but in the end, we all use our hands. we take the pots full of curd from the vat to the curd table and stack them three high. Whey comes out of the pots and we collect the excess in a bucket which gets piped up into the whey tank.
We swap the pots around so that the bottom becomes the top, the top the bottom and the middle one stays the same. This is our chance to top up pots if they look a bit light, drain of whey and to allow the curd to knit together. Once the curd has set, and it doesn’t take long at all, we turn the pots upside down and put them into a cloth, then into the press.
Pots piled three high waiting to be clothed
We have a horizontal press. We stacks the pots inside each other, usually ten to a section, then a board to separate and more followers with the next ten. This sectioning helps to ensure that the pots do not bow out. We press at around 40psi, but building up to this over a day or so. The cheese gets an initial overnight gentle press. We usually take it out of the press after about 2-3 days.
And finally, wash down, which takes about an hour or so, of one person does it, less if Edith or I help.
And there you have it, Stuarts’ gorgeous, golden, creamy Wensleydale cheese.