Wednesday, May 09, 2007

When is a good time to flocculate?

Flocculation is the name of the game.

Carrie Carrie and I had the cheese room to ourselves most of the day. Little Carrie had the day off and Steve was flitting in and out working on projects in the garden. We prepared a batch of truffles and had feta that had to be transfered into airtight buckets.

I am exhausted today. I've been working non-stop since the day Jim left – eight days straight without a break. I can't work like this for very long. I need a break. Just because he likes to work all of the time doesn't mean the rest of the world wants to. I am tired. I could hardly get out of be today. My mother comes in late tonight so I won't have a very restful break for another week. She wants to drive to Floyd to buy some pottery. No rest for me this weekend.

While we were drinking my morning cup of tea, Steve asked if I wanted to make a batch of Providence. I almost sad no since I am so tired. I knew that I'd learn nothing by not doing it so said, "Sure, I could do that, but I don't know how." Steve said it was easy and wrote out most of the instructions and told me verbally how to do it. He helped me get started by loading the milk into the vat and started the heating process. When the milk was up to temperature he let me take over, "I'll go work in the garden and I'll be back up around 11:30 to check on you." Uh….o.k. I wasn't to sure it was a good idea for him to take off and leave me with the vat. Carrie was busy working on filling orders while I made the cheese. I added the culture and stirred it in. I then left the cheese to ripen 30 minutes per Steve's instructions. I checked the pH of the cultured milk at 30 minutes and I seems to have climbed much higher than normal. It should be dropping. Hmm. Carrie suggested that I look back at Steve's notes in the log book and see how long previous batches took to ripen. The last one took 50 minutes. I waited. I checked the pH again. It still isn't right. I rebuffer the pH meter and check again. Still no luck. Steve reappears and takes a look at the meter. He rinses out the buffer solution and starts over. It works fine for him. The pH has dropped and we're ready to add rennet.

"Add your rennet and calcium chloride and stir the milk 30 times. Then stop the milk by back stirring and walk away," he instructed. He then walked out of the room to go tend the garden. At this point I really could have used a bit more guidance. It takes experience to know how fast to stir and for how long. I know that you should never stir for more than three minutes because rennet starts to set up fast. It turns the milk into a gel and does not work well if you continue to stir after it begins to set up. The moment when milk turns from liquid to a gel is called the point of flocculation.

I add the calcium chloride and the rennet. I begin to stir. I stir at a moderate rate trying to make sure the rennet is thoroughly incorporated. I count to thirty. One, two, three…ten, eleven, twelve…. I can feel the milk getting thicker as I stir. Hmmm. At about the count of twenty I notice the curd is getting visibly thicker and I see particles floating, milk solids. I tell Carrie that the curd is setting up, we've reached flocculation, but I haven't stirred the curd 30 times. She says to stop stirring. I stop and she comes over to take a look. She's not sure if I over-stirred or not. She doesn't count to thirty. She just stirs for two minutes. I put the top on the vat and set the timer for 30 minutes. I am afraid I've over-stirred. I really wish Steve had not walked away. I need someone to help me and watch while I'm making cheese for the first couple of times. I always have questions because the make process isn't a textbook procedure. You have to constantly adjust for variables with each batch of cheese. Only experience can guide you. I don’t have much experience, so I need someone to advise me. I'm frustrated. Sometimes Steve doesn't listen when I try to tell him what I want or need. Today is one of those days.

Steve enters the cheese room shortly before it is time to cut the curds. I tell him my concerns about overstirring. He takes the plastic covers off of the vat and takes a look at the curd. We both notice that the whey on top looks different. Instead of looking slightly yellow, it is green and a bit cloudy. The curd is not a solid mass but is a clumpy spongy mess. Yes, I over stirred the curd. I was correct. I felt terrible. 72 gallons of potential pig food. Ugh.

Steve admitted that he screwed up and should have been there to help me. I should not have taken his instructions literally and should only have stirred the curds for two minutes and stirred faster. I stirred it gently (per his instructions.) "Well," he said, "we all learned something today, you learned not to over stir and I learned to give you better instructions." I added, "You also learned not to abandon your intern when they're trying to make cheese."

We scooped up the curds and put them into moulds as an experiment. The curds have lost some of their butterfat, but they felt ok. We'll see how they turn out in the morning. Perhaps we just made a new cheese. I have my reservations, but who knows. It could be delicious.

I still feel awful. I have potentially ruined $288 worth of milk. An expensive error.

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