While there are thousands of types of cheese, the process for making them is very similar. Time, temperature, and culture...as well as the aging process, account for the differences in flavor and texture. The most important thing is to start with good milk.... here is Jared with 400 gallons of our 100% Grassfed, Certified Organic milk in our raw milk cheese vat. Of our approximately 20 types of cheese, this batch will be Hot Pepper Jack. Yummy, one of our favoritest!
Raw milk is very slowly stirred, and gently heated by water piped in from our outdoor wood furnace. Flavor molecules in milk are very complex and fragile, and rough stirring or pumping makes for insipid cheese. When the sun-golden milk reaches about 80 degrees, the proper culture is added to the milk. The milk is golden due to extremely high levels of Beta Carotene (vitamin A) present in the milk, which comes from our beautiful Jersey cows eating nothing but green grass or fermented hay. After a period of ripening at about 92 degrees, the cheese-maker will then 'cook the curd'. At approximately body temperature (98-102 degrees), he will add rennet, and leave it sit until it coagulates, forming a firm "curd".
When the curd is sufficiently firm, Jared uses a frame with thin wires, called a curd knife, to cut it into half inch pieces, and leaves it to separate into "curds and whey". After separating, the whey is drained into a holding tank through a hose attached to the bottom of the cheese vat.
Sea Salt, and any herbs or spices, are added and stirred in (hot peppers, for our pepper jack, in the picture), and the curd is shoveled into 40 lb. press boxes, called 'Wilson Hoops'.
The boxes are loaded into a press frame, with levers and weights, and the loose curd is pressed at specific pressure, time and temperature into 'green' (or 'unaged') cheese. The cheese is fairly flavorless and rubbery at this point. This fresh cheese is then either vacuum packed in bulk loaves, or left to age in a 'cave' environment with only a natural rind to seal the cheese.
All of the biodynamic qualities of the grassfed milk are preserved in this process that has been repeated, unchanged (until the modern 'food factory' era), for thousands of years. Our government inspectors allow us to sell this raw milk product to you after at least 60 days of aging, without any pasteurization, because the aging process allows the 'good cheese bacteria' to overwhelm any potential 'bad bacteria' that could (theoretically) have gotten into the milk. After a period of anywhere from 60 days to up to 3 years, the cultures and raw milk bacteria will have lived, and reproduced, and died for many hundreds or thousands of generations... all the while producing enzymes and other amazing molecules that work their marvels on the cheese, breaking down proteins and creating a startling array of 'affinage (aging) tastes', as well as 'Terroir (farm specific qualities from the soil and hay) tastes' that could never exist without the miracle of life in this 'living food' we generically call 'cheese.'
After aging in our aging 'cave,' the cheese is packaged, and ready for you! The pictures above show part of our 'cave aging' room where 12 pound wheels of Gruyere are settling in for a year or two of' 'hibernating' at 95% humidity and 50 degrees... not a bad life for a wheel of cheese! Jared keeps careful track of their ages and development. Here, he is washing the rinds of each individual wheel.
The whey which was drained off is fed from a holding tank to the frantically feasting piggies... organic, grassfed, raw whey is much more highly anticipated than boring pig food! The most highly anticipated pig food, however, is when something goes awry (seldom) and the pigs get a batch of 'flop' cheese... producing an entire day of the happiest pigs on the planet! The picture above shows our skid-loader draining several hundred gallons of whey into the whey troughs.