Friday, June 6, 2014

Washed rind cheese experiment

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was given a cheese on my visit to Lonely Goat to see how it went when I looked after it at home.  As best I can determine, Rae from Lonely Goat had washed some of her medium style cheeses (about 1.2kg rounds) once or twice with a solution containing B.linens, and had then vacuum sealed the cheeses.  The cheeses had been made in mid august 2013, so by the time I was given mine in December I estimate it would have spent 3 months sealed up and refrigerated at 4°C, with no further rind development.  So I was interested to see whether I could re-establish the rind flora at home and what sort of rind would develop.
First I had to find myself a spare fridge I could operate as a small ripening cave.  Thanks to Trade Me, I found a cheap fridge and also a temperature controller (the type used for controlling cool rooms) so that I could select a specific ripening temperature and have reasonable control rather relying on the fridge thermostat.  Finding and purchasing these, and then giving the fridge a really good clean took me a while, so by the time I was ready to get the cheese out of its sealed bag and into my new ‘cave’ it was already 7 months old.

So in the middle of March 2014, I removed the cheese from its bag, wiped it down, and put it on a rack in my fridge/cave.  I started by washing the rind every few days with a weak brine solution (about 3% salt in a cup of boiling water, then cooled).  i didn't have any B.linens culture to add to the brine, so had to hope there was still something left on the cheese surface (and in the "environment") to get a decent rind culture to develop.
The cheese on day 0 after the first wash.  At this point it was already 7 months old but looks quite young, almost like it was recently made.

Initially I started with a temperature of 10°C.  A day after the first wash, the rind was just tacky, I thought it was too dry.  So I put an ice cream container of water in the fridge next to the cheese to help add moisture and keep the humidity up.

Three days later, with another wash in between, I thought the rind was still a bit dry, so I increased the temperature to 12°C to try and reduce the amount of moisture condensing through refrigeration, and I also placed a plastic cake container over the cheese to help create a high moisture environment.
Ten days after starting, there was an obvious pink/creamy coloured culture forming on the rind.  It was what I had been hoping for - slightly tacky to the touch, but not wet.
The fridge cave environment.
After 10 days, a culture is developing on the rind.

A week later, I removed the cake container as I didn't want the cheese getting too moist, but I gave it a few more brine washes.

After a month in the fridge/cave, I stopped washing with brine, and instead just used a damp cloth to clean up the rind and just keep it moist.  At this stage, the rind had large areas of lighter colour which were dry, and I assumed these to be some sort of combined growth of bacteria and mould.  For the remaining few weeks, I didn't quite give the cheese the care I should have, what with travelling for Easter etc.  A weekly wipe was all it got. 
After 3 weeks.

When we cut the cheese open to taste, it was nearly 9 months old, and had spent approximately 7 weeks in my fridge cave. The rind was dry with flaky, powdery areas which we assumed to be minerals drawn to the rind due to the pH rising on the surface as the rind flora grew.  These powdery patches could easily be scraped off with a knife to improve the appearance of the cheese.
Cheese was cut 7 weeks after we first removed it from the vacuum bag and put it in the fridge.  

The cheese was reasonably crumbly inside, so I suspect it had lost a reasonable amount of moisture, but also the texture suggested to me that the cheese was probably reasonably low in pH originally.  However the texture was pleasant, with a moist mouthfeel.  Unfortunately I don’t know what the cheese tasted like when I received it, so I can’t really compare it to that.  But I can describe what it was like when we had finished ripening it.  The flavour was slightly goaty but not in an unpleasant billy goat way, and with a little contribution from lipase activity. There was a slight bitterness.  The rind tasted slightly earthy but not “smelly”.  

It was a tasty cheese, but it didn't quite all balance together as a cheese to eat on its own – however it has been an experiment so that is to be expected.  It was very nice on a cracker with some of our home made crabapple jelly, and was also great in a frittata and salad.  

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