Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cheese Making in Ballymaloe Cookery School

I can't believe how fast the first week flew. Its already Sunday night and I am just getting ready for the next week ahead. This week we will have four full days in the kitchen and one theory day in the middle  so I am really looking forward to it.

Last week was a brilliant week and I have learnt so much already. My cheese has been well looked after and had a lovely babysitter called Hannah for the weekend!! ;-p

Ballymaloe Cookery School Dairy
So I'll just give you a bit of background information about Ballymaloe's dairy and how they started making cheese. In Ballymaloe, they have just 3 cows that are milked daily by Tim or Eileen with the help of a student. They then make yoghurt, butter and cheese a few times a week for the school with any surplus milk.

The dairy is a converted hen shed and the work was done about 2 years ago. It is the perfect scale for what Ballymaloe require for a small amount of production, just for the school. The regulations on cheese making are far too strict for Ballymaloe to consider selling their dairy produce and would also mean that the students could not be involved in the process.

Tim explained, that he has learnt a lot about the cheese making by trial and error. He watched cheese being made for many years and decided he would love to do it himself. An excellent French-Canadian cheese maker came to Ballymaloe to share with Tim the tricks of the trade when he first started off.

The temperature of the room is about 20C for the production of cheese and everything must be kept meticulously clean. The vat they use in Ballymaloe can hold 60 litres of milk. The milk is heated to 30C, at which time they then add the culture to the milk and leave it develop and set over a few hours. You will know the curd is set, if your hand can cut through it cleanly.

Once the curds are set, you can begin to cut through the curds, as you can see Tim doing below.

Using your hands, you continue to break up the bigger bits of curd into smaller pieces until you have a scrambled like consistency. It reminded me a lot of the texture of tofu at this stage! You can eat it at this stage, and apparently they do serve a lot of curd in America as a side to a meal.

The whey is then drained off as much as possible and the curd cut through a few times more to release any excess whey. They curd is then salted and mixed thoroughly before being transferred to the moulds. For the 8kg of curd, I believe there was approximately 170 grams of salt. It may seem like a lot, but the salt is necessary for the magic to happen over the few months of maturation.

Once we put the curd into the moulds, we covered them with a gauze, then a plastic disc and finally a few weights on top to compress the curd to achieve a good cheddar style cheese. The moulds have tiny little holes to allow the whey to be pushed out and released by the weights.

We then turned the cheese in the moulds every few hours for the first day. The following day, we removed them from the moulds and placed them in the fridge that is kept between 4 and 8C for the maturation process. We will turn the cheese once a day for the next few months to make sure the moisture is evenly distributed and also so that the cheese doesnt stick to the wooden shelves.

As you can probably tell, it is quite a slow and physical process to make cheese. It really has made me appreciate the effort and dedication that goes into making the delicious cheeses that we have. I hope that mine will taste that good after my 3 months here!! I could leave the cheese to mature for a few months longer also, if I want the flavour to develop more.

I am looking forward to seeing how I could make cheese on a domestic scale in my kitchen at home. I hope we will be doing this in the weeks to come!

Do let me know if any of you have made your own cheese and any tips you have. I would love to hear!

Thats all for now,

Laura xx

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