Camembert on a Winter Saturday
What better way to spend a very cold winter weekend than by making cheese? I love the fact that even a fairly involved cheese like Camembert has such simple ingredients: milk, bacterial culture, mold culture, rennet, and salt. I've previously blogged about the milk that I use for this cheese. This milk requires planning ahead, as it's only available every other week. I order the milk on a Monday, and pick it up a week later. Then I need to keep it in the fridge until the following weekend, because the process takes too long to do in the evening when I get home from work. It's about 8 hours start to finish- though this is mostly long periods of letting it sit, interspersed with brief bouts of activity.
The bacterial and mold cultures do a lot of complex things to the milk (including imparting a lot of the good flavors that will be present in the cheese). I use two species of mold in my Camembert, Pennicillium candidum and Geotrichum candidum. Together these will help form the rind, particularly the white, powdery coating on the outside of the cheese. The rennet is a solution of enzymes, that include a mixture of enzymes that degrade proteins. They clip the long molecular chains of casein, the primary protein in milk. When this happens, the casein transforms from a fairly spherical form to a more linear chain. These chains do not stay in solution well, but form a gel-like semi-solid network. That's the curd. The milk in the photo above has already been converted into curd.
Traditionally, rennet was a mixture of digestive enzymes obtained from the lining of a cow's stomach. I use rennet obtained from a fungal source, so my cheese is OK for vegetarians.
When the curd first forms, it's a single custard-like mass in the pot. I use a long knife to cut it into cubes. Most recipes then involve a period of very gentle stirring. As the curds are stirred, the shrink and give of liquid- that's the whey.The curd cubes become progressively less fragile through this process.
When the curds are ready, I let them sit for a few minutes and settle to the bottom of the pot. This lets me pour a lot of the whey off of them. I ladle the curds into plastic molds. The molds have open tops and bottoms, and small holes all over the sides. As the curds sit in the mold, more liquid is given off and drains awhey (sorry). The curds knit together into a solid mass. For five hours, my role in the process is to flip the molds over hourly. At the end of this time, the rounds of unripe cheese are unmolded, lightly salted, and moved into a wine chiller for aging.
I had my first ever molding failure on this batch. The upper right round of cheese fell apart during the first flip. It will still be good, but I won't serve it to guests (more for me!). This cheese will be ready in about 4 weeks. I wish I had been able to start this batch two weeks earlier in the milk purchasing cycle. Unfortunately, I will not have any home made cheese ready to take with me when I go down to Florida late next week.