3 April 2012

Homemade camembert cheese - 1

The last time I made camembert cheese was on 19 May 2007. This is what I said after doing it:

The entire process took all day and half way through it I realised that cheese making is not "my thing". I'm too impatient for it. But I persevered and produced a decent enough Camembert. I've told everyone who would listen to me that I won't make cheese again but I doubt that's true. I just have to put space between myself and the event and just like childbirth, I'll be back for seconds.

And true to my word, I came back for seconds, albeit five years later - that must have been the space I was talking about. :- ) It seems I have changed a bit over those years because this time I was much more organised and calm and mixing up a batch of raw milk cheese didn't seem like such a palaver this time. In fact, I enjoyed it although it wasn't without its dramas.

I bought a Mad Millie camembert kit from the local stockist at Maroochydore. The kit contained two hoops to help form the cheeses as well as the cultures and rennet needed to make it, or so I thought. I made the first batch up on Friday, I came to the second addition of culture and it looked like I had two cultures the same. I rang the shop. I was assured it was right, she remembered me, and encouraged me to add both cultures. The cheese didn't set. I sat down to read a cheese troubleshooting page on the web. There I read the cheese would not set because the bacterial count was too high - adding that second batch of the same culture ruined the cheese. I rang back and told her, she said the rep was there and he'd bring the right culture over to me. I appreciate that he did that, but that doesn't excuse her bad advice, the fact that she didn't apologise and that I had to throw out four litres/quarts of fresh milk. The high bacterial count made it unfit for the chooks. I won't be using Mad Millie or that stockist again - for cheese or brewing supplies. 

I'm going to try Australian Home Cheese Making for my next batch of cultures. They run courses so I'm guessing they know their cheese. It looks to be the most reasonably priced Flora Danica at $17.50, enough for 250 litres/quarts of milk. These cultures are stored in the freezer so it's fine to buy a larger amount. If you're interested in cheese making, stay tuned because I'll continue to try different suppliers and let you know which ones offer the best service and value for money.

I had four litres of milk left so early Saturday morning I started up again. Four litres will make up two fairly large camemberts. To make camembert you will need:
  1. A large saucepan - like an 8 litre soup or stockpot
  2. A slightly smaller saucepan that will fit inside the larger pot to act as a double boiler OR a double boiler capable of holding four litres of milk
  3. A slotted spoon for stirring
  4. A milk thermometer - I am using the candy thermometer I use when making soap
  5. Two hoops - you can buy these or make them using food grade plastic plumbing pipe that you drill many drainage holes in
  6. A long knife
  7. A syringe to measure out very small amounts of liquid
  8. A wine fridge or an old fridge modified to a set temperature with a thermostat. Narelle has a post on making these modifications on her blog Just like my nan made. We bought a wine fridge at Aldi for $79. Don't pay any more than that because you need to keep your costs down to make it good value for money. I'm pretty sure I'll include cheesemaking in my monthly kitchen tasks from now on, so we should recoup the cost of our fridge in the next 12 months.

This is my double boiler - a soup pot with a 4 litre capacity saucepan resting in it. The soup pot contains water that heats up and allows the milk in the top saucepan to warm gently and stay warm during the process.

You'll need a slotted spoon with a long handle. This will help you gently stir the milk without incorporating too much air into the mix.

To make the cheese:
Everything you use must be scrupulously clean and the milk containers and utensils must be sterile. The kit contained some sterilising liquid to add to water and I used that this time but in the future, I'll use something else.

  1. Put the milk in the pot on the stove and bring the milk to 32C/89.6F
  2. Stir in the starter bacteria Flora Danica according to the instructions on the pack. Don't stir too vigorously, this bacteria doesn't like too much air.
  3. Turn off the heat.
  4. Let the milk sit for 90 minutes with the lid on the saucepan.
  5. After 90 minutes stir in the mould spores - Penicillium Camemberti
  6. Add the diluted rennet. I used 0.5ml vegetarian rennet and diluted it in 2ml water.
  7. Stir for a minute using the slotted spoon.
  8. Cover again and let sit for 60 minutes. Check that the temperature is still at 32C/86.9F. If it's gone down a little, turn on the stove for about 45 seconds to bring it back up to the correct temperature.
When 60 minutes is up, the milk should have set and if you touch the top of the milk, it will be soft, but not liquid anymore. Your milk is now more like cheese and now you'll cut the curd and take off the whey. I'll write about forming the cheese in the hoops, turning it out and maturing tomorrow. Unlike my earlier attempt at camembert I found making this cheese was easy and well within my skill level. I enjoyed the entire process and I know that I'll make much more cheese after this. So come back tomorrow and see what this milk turned into. Hopefully you'll be inspired to make your own cheese too.

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