All you need to know to make an educated decision when using cheese

Date: 10-Jul-2010 News Blog



Cheese is one of life's most amazing natural products and here at kirkfod we strive to provide you with superb handmade varieties from all over the globe. Watch as the range evolves, we have some incredible cheese just waiting in the wings. So you should probably know about what we mean by incredible cheese and what you may encounter when you receive your first delivery


Specialty cheese is a living, growing dairy product. Yes, it's alive! In some cases when you first open your box of cheese there is a good chance it may knock your socks off and send dog scampering for the back door. Rest assured, we have over 100 years combined experience with cheese procurement and cheese manufacturing, so we'll only be sending you the best examples available.


Cheese is a fermented milk product that with the introduction of good bacteria and good cheese making techniques, gives us a wide array of tastes, textures and aromas some of which might be a new experience for you. You may be called upon to taste new flavours, be prepared to allow your taste buds to be adventurous! Have an open mind and the rewards can be spectacular.


From farmlands where animals graze in lush pastures, high quality milk is used to make cheese in different sizes, shapes textures and flavours.


Some cheese is made to be eaten straight away, while others are made to be matured for two years and longer. Some are made in small mountain dairies, while some are produced in modern efficient factories in essentially the same way process however in more automated and mechanized ways.


Historically, cheese has been inextricably linked to the territory and region where it has been produced, and therefore deeply ingrained within that culture. This in turn has had broad ranging impact on a region's cuisine, the economy, employment, landscape and environment - even their identity.


Our purpose is to instill in you some of the history, culture and passion for these cheeses in such a way that you become confident about the product you are serving. For most Europeans this comes quite naturally if they have grown up in the environment where cheese is an everyday part of life. For the rest of us we learn this from experience, develop our knowledge and then share our experience with others. Ultimately, we want to be able to give our friends and family an unforgettable cheese experience.


History of Cheese

Milk production is most likely to have first begun around 11,000 and 9,500 years ago when archaeological evidence suggest sheep and goats were first domesticated in Eurasia. These smaller animals would have been ideally suited to milking, and much easier than the larger cattle, which appear to have been domesticated by humans around 8,500 years ago.


Rock drawings from the Sahara indicate that dairying was known by 4000 BC and the earliest remains of cheese have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2300 BC. Cheese is one of the world's most ancient forms of manufactured food, and being a concentrated form of milk would have been extremely popular with farmers due to its ability to be stored for periods of time when milk is both in over supply and then able to be eaten later when scarce.


There are in fact many analogies linking milk with abstract ideas such as abundance and creation itself. The Old Testament refers to the Promised Land as the land" flowing with milk and honey". Also from the Greek word "gala" for milk we get galaxies, or "milky way" - the origin of our galaxy. We also have references in Homers Odyssey, from Ancient Greek mythology where Ulysses and his men hide in Cyclops cavern while the one eyed giant milks his ewes and goats, curdles half the milk, drains the curds and sets them aside in wicker baskets.



What is Cheese?

The essential ingredient in making cheese is milk, a complex liquid made up of:

- Globules of milk fat

- Various proteins and salts

- Dissolved sugars

- Vitamins.


Milk fats are the crucial component as it is what gives the cheese its taste and texture.


There are many proteins in milk, the most important are curds and whey and these can be distinguished by their reactions to acid and rennet. Rennet is the enzyme from the stomach of a calf that is used to make cheese.


When rennet is added to warm milk, the curd protein casein coagulates and forms solid clumps. The whey proteins, principally among them lacto globulin, remain suspended in the liquid.


When curds are pressed and their whey expelled the solid mass can then be formed into moulds for maturing. The addition of salt helps to give the cheese protection from spoilage, and is also essential for giving cheese its flavor because a cheese with no salt at all would be quite bland and tasteless.


The cheese making process in AUSTRALIA


To produce cheese there are several distinct stages in the process. Here are the steps involved in the art of cheesemaking:


1. Standardisation

Most cheese made in Australia is made from standardised milk. During standardisation the ratio of proteins and fats in the milk are adjusted to a preset value to ensure the cheese composition is uniform. Some smaller cheese makers may not standardise their milk.


2. Pasteurisation

Most cheese made in Australia is made from pasteurised milk. Milk is quickly heated to 72?C for 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled.

This process destroys pathogenic (harmful) micro-organisms, provides a more consistently safe cheese product and improves the keeping quality of the cheese. Hard cheeses which are matured for more than three months may be made from un-pasteurised milk providing strict rules are followed.


3. Cheese starter cultures

The type and quantity of starter culture varies for each style of cheese. Almost all cheese have acidifying starters which produce lactic acid from the milk sugar (lactose). Some cheeses have additional cultures to assist during maturing. The cheese starter cultures are specially selected bacteria which assist in developing the cheese's texture and flavour.


Each type of starter gives the cheese its unique characteristics.

Mould spores are sometimes used in cheese making, depending on the type of cheese being made.


For example:

* Penicillium candidum grows as a white mould on Brie and Camembert.

* Penicillium roqueforti are the Blue mould spores which promote blue mould growth in blue mould cheese.

* Gas producing starter or Propionibacterium shermanii known as 'Props' bacteria are a gas producing bacteria that create the eye formation in Swiss cheese types.

* Aroma cultures or Brevibacterium linens are used for rubbing the surface of washed rind cheeses to produce colour and flavour effects.

* Geotrichum candidum is used on several surface ripened cheese to modify the flavour, aroma and colour of the cheese.


4. Coagulation of the milk

Coagulation of the milk is the first step in converting the liquid milk to a solid cheese. Milk for fresh cheese is coagulated by the lactic acid from the starters. For matured cheese an enzyme, known as chymosin found in rennet, is added to the milk used to form the curd. More recent technology has enabled cheese makers to use rennet from non-animal sources such as yeasts and fungi.

Neither the starters nor rennet used in cheesemaking contain any genetically modified ingredients.

When the milk is set, the curd releases whey thereby concentrating the curd.


5. Cutting the curd

Syneresis, the release of moisture from the curd, occurs after the curd has been cut. A finely cut curd has a large surface area and thus releases more whey to produce a drier cheese. For example, the curd for Parmesan (low moisture) is cut the size of rice grains while the curd for a Brie or Camembert (high moisture cheeses) is usually cut to about 2cm cubes.


6. Stirring the curd

Stirring keeps the cut curds apart and helps to release more whey. The type of cheese being made will influence the length of stirring required. Generally soft cheeses require less stirring than harder cheeses.


7. Heating

Cooking the curds is a gentle heating process which helps remove more whey. Most fresh cheeses are not cooked whereas drier matured cheeses are. Cheddar is heated to 38?C Romano to 46?C and Parmesan and Gruyere to 54?C.


8. Salting

Salt enhances the flavour and preserves the cheese. It also helps reduce the moisture level and can restrict the growth of undesirable bacteria. Except for Cheddar types, which are dry salted by adding salt to curd chips prior to hooping, most other cheeses are brine salted. The cheese is placed into a brine solution of 20-26% salt for a fixed time. The time in the brine depends on the cheese size and desired salt level.

Some cheeses also have their surface (rind) washed with a brine solution during maturation. This helps restrict mould growth and aids the development of the rind.


9. Hooping

Once the curds have achieved the correct firmness and acidity, they are placed into hoops or moulds to form the shape of the cheese. The cheese stays in the hoops for up to 16 hours.


10. Pressing

Most semi-hard to hard cheeses are pressed in mechanical presses whilst most soft cheeses are not pressed. Pressing assists curd fusion, closes the texture and helps remove more whey.


11. Maturing cheese

Maturation of rindless cheeses usually takes place in temperature controlled cool rooms. For example, Cheddar requires 8-10?C for 3-24 months. Rinded cheeses require humidity as well as temperature control. For example, white mould cheeses require 95% humidity and 11-14?C.

During maturation the enzymes in the cheese break down the fats and proteins allowing textural and flavour characteristics of the cheese to develop.


The main enzyme sources are the milk, starter and rennet, whilst hard Italian-style cheeses may also have lipase added to accelerate fat breakdown.


12. Wrapping

The style of cheese dictates how and when the cheese is wrapped.


Fresh cheese is packaged soon after it is made. As it is generally soft, it is often placed in a sturdy outer box to prevent damage during transportation.


White mould cheese must be able to breathe through its wrapping as it continues to ripen. The wrapping therefore plays a big part in the successful maturation process.


Blue cheese is generally wrapped in laminated foil to prevent the rind from drying out.


Cheddar is most commonly wrapped in a vacuum-packed bag. More traditional methods such as waxing and wrapping in cloth are used for specialty cheddars.



Cheese Types and Classification

Cheese is largely differentiated by its flavor and texture. There are many different ways you can classify cheese and I would suggest the most useful categories as follows:


Fresh Curd - Soft: eg ricotta, goat's curd, cream cheese, Milwawa chevre logs


Fresh Curd - Textured: eg fresh mozzarella (bocconcini), Pomella buffalo mozzarella


Fresh Curd - Matured: eg Kytren chevre Rondelle


Fresh Curd - Marinated: eg Yarra Valley Persian Feta, Kytren Cabecou in oil


White Mould - Brie, camembert


Blue Mould - Stilton, gorgonzola,


Washed Rind - Epoisses, Livarot, King River Gold


Cheddar - Maffra Long Hold, Quickes, Ashgrove, Kirks Vintage Club


Semi Hard Cooked Style - Gruyere, Comte, Tilsit, Raclette


Hard Cooked Style - Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano


Different Milks for making cheese:

1. Cows


2. Ewes


3. Goat


4. Buffalo


The Cheese Course


The cheese course these days is generally offered after the desert course or within the dessert menu, although some people in formal surrounds will still offer the cheese course directly after the main meal and before the desert menu, although this tends to be quite rare. The great benefit that can be drawn from offering the cheese plate is that it offers you the chance to experience the fun of matching certain wines with the cheese.


Cheese Selection - Quality before quantity

Firstly deal with a reputable operator, and remember that quality of the cheese and how it is handled is more important than variety. It is preferable to deal with a merchant who deals directly with factories for example, and maintains their limited range in pristine condition, as opposed to one who is focused more on quantity of sales. This then is reflected in your own selection offered to your friends. Here at iDELI we deal directly with local and overseas producers and specialty cheese exporters in Europe.


Learn to choose by sight first and taste second. A visually unappealing cheese is most likely in this condition because the cheese itself is faulty. Dry cracked rind indicates poor storage and handling. Too liquid centre may indicate a faulty, secondary fermentation has occurred. Insufficient blue vein and yeasty appearance may indicate incorrect curd formation. So be prepared to study extensively to learn for good and bad attributes in cheese. In time your eye will tell your taste buds what is best and they will work together.



The most important aspect about cutting cheese is to ensure everybody has the opportunity to enjoy all parts of the cheese from the rind to the heart. Don't just hack away at a cheese, slicing at whim. Learn the appropriate way to cut according to the size and the shape of the cheese.


There are some French Cheese which when ripe are actually best suited to being served by spoon, particularly boxed cheeses such as Epoisses and Petit Sapin Vacherin.



It is important to not only select a good cheese. Once opened and partly used it is imperative that the cheese be perfectly stored to maintain its presentation and its flavour. A poorly stored cheese will deteriorate rapidly if not stored correctly.

Remember, cheese contains living organisms and will need air to breathe, however at the same time we don't want it to dry out.

In most cases the cheese can be stored in its original wrapper. This is because most are specifically designed for that cheese, whether they need to breath or if they need to be confined to stop drying out or a combination of both. Some surface ripened cheese will need a combination of both. If the original wrapping is not available then either greaseproof or waxed paper is ideal. Plastic food wrap is a last resort although preferable to having the cheese dry out. Some cheese can be stored in an airtight container and some like cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano can be wrapped in damp cloth, just make sure to keep the cloth damp.


Above all ensure that they are adequately refrigerated. Unless you have a climate controlled cellar suitable for ripening cheese, you will need to store the cheese at about four degrees Celsius. Otherwise fresher cheese will deteriorate and spoil quite quickly, or the hard cheese (such as a sheep pecorino) will start to weep.

Don't freeze fresh cheese because in most cases the structure of the cheese is broken and the result will be a sloppy wet disaster. It is acceptable in some occasions to freeze cheese when absolutely necessary however it will be a case of trial and error.


Matching cheese and wine

As every cheese and wine has its own unique characteristics, so too does everyone's own tastes. So it is important to think of wine and cheese matching as an open journey of discovery that is unique to each person.



Cheese Terminology

Affinage Ageing, ripening process of cheese

AOC Appelation d'Origene Controlee

Artisinal Used to describe cheese made by hand

Brine Salt water used to introduce salt in cheesemaking

Brique Rectangular Shaped Cheese

Buche Cylindrical shaped cheese, often chevre

Casein The main protein in milk which seperates into curd or whey after rennet is added

Cendre Cheese that has been dusted with grapevine ash

Chevre Goat's milk cheese

Coagulation The process of milk clotting together usually after the addition of rennet

Curd The coagulated milk fat and milk solids

Dry Matter The remaining solids in cheese after moisture has been removed

Fat Content The total fat of cheese in dry matter only (FDM)

Formaggio Italian term for cheese

Fourme Old French word to describe cheese from the mould in which it was made

Frais, Fraiche Fresh

Fromage French ternm for cheese

Fromager cheesemaker or cheese merchant

Fromagerie A cheese factory, or cheese shop

Lait French word for milk

Mould wood, metal or plastic container used to shape cheese

Natural; or artificial fungus used to form the rind or blue veins in a cheese

Pasteurisation Exposing of milk to a high temperature, usually about 72°C for 10-12 seconds, in order to destroy certain micro-organisms and prevent fermentation

Rennet the enzyme produced from the forth stomach of a calf or goat, used in cheesemaking to break down the solids in milk, helping coagulation

Whey Liquid residue after most of the fats and other solids have been coagulated into the curd

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