Soon after collection in the milking shed, the fresh milk is conveyed straight from the cow’s udders to the refrigerator , and from there, through a short duct, to the nearby dairy avoiding the stress normally associated with transportation and any contact with the outside world. This is where the cheese-making journey begins.
Stage one in the process is pasteurisation, during which the milk is heated to a temperature of 75°Celsius for about twenty seconds.
The milk comes out of the pasteuriser at about 40°Celsius. Then from a tap it flows into a vat where milk enzymes are added. It takes about an hour for the enzymes to act and make the milk ready for suitable curdling.
It’s at this point that the magic of cheese-making starts. Within a short period of time, thanks to the effect of natural calf rennet, the casein in the milk starts to clot. It takes about 30 minutes for the curdling to be complete – the curd is now ready to be broken up by means of a tool called a whisk or curd cutter.
The broken up curd releases most of the whey which separates and comes to the surface. Whey is a nutrient rich substance, the farm uses in the diet of our dairy cows.
>>> Once all the whey is separated from the curd, the latter is left to ferment in the vat for 2-4 hours – the time varies according to climate, temperature, degree of maturation of the milk, and the type of cheese one wants to obtain.
The degree of maturation of the curd varies with the type of stretched curd cheese one wishes to make. In the main there are three different levels of maturation with less matured curd being used to make caciocavallo, which is usually the first stretched curd cheese of the day.
A more mature curd is used to make scamorza and provolino whilst the curd with the highest degree of maturation is for making mozzarella.
For instance, to ascertain whether the curd is ready to make caciocavallo it is enough to first immerse a small lump of curd in boiling water, and then if it is “glossy and pliable” when kneaded you’ll know that you can proceed.
The skill of a true cheese maker is fully demonstrated by their ability to recognise the level of maturation of the curd and seize the moment when it is ready for stretching according to the type of cheese one wants to obtain.
Once matured the curd is broken up in large pieces and transferred from the vat on a bench for 10-15 minutes to allow the excess whey to drain away.
Before proceeding to the actual stretching of the curd one last operation must be carried out: cutting it with a curd knife and putting it through a spinning machine.
Spinning is a highly delicate stage in the cheese-making process. Indeed maximum concentration is required when preparing curd meant for mozzarella-making. At that time the cheese maker wants everyone to stay away! Just one moment of inattention can destroy the whole process!
Up to this point, the only substantial difference in the making of stretched curd cheeses has been the degree of maturation of the curd. But once this is cut and transferred into the spinning machine, caciocavallo, scamorza, provolino, mozzarella, and caciotta each takes a separate way and has its own story to tell.
But before moving on to the various cheeses there are a few things worth mentioning.
After the curd has been stretched to the right consistency, it’s time to give it a shape, and to this end the curd is automatically moved into a moulding machine, where some of the cheeses (e.g. scamorza) will assume the final shape. For other cheeses, say caciocavallo, the cheese maker has to mould them by hand.
Salting is another crucial aspect in the art of cheese-making. In fact salt may be added at two different stages and in two different ways. In the case of mozzarella, for instance, salt is added to the hot water in the spinning machine, whereas provolino is salted in a brine solution.
Finally, early in the morning, we make another delicious cheese. It’s called casolino and is the only non-stretched curd cheese made in our dairy. A cheese for all occasions!