When I wrote the cheese post almost a half year ago, it may have appeared to be the beginning of a glorious new cheese-filled future for waterinfood.com. Needless to say, 5 months and zero posts later, any such hopes have been dashed. The main reason for this is that making cheese is quite a bit harder than I thought it would be. Making cured sausages isn’t easy, and cheese is more difficult than making sausage. My first batch devolved from provolone to queso fresco due to a series of small but crucial mistakes.
This is not to say that no cheese was made. In addition the the accidental queso fresco (which was tossed a couple of hours later) a colleague of mine did put together a successful batch of provolone that has now been sitting alone in our curing fridge for many months. Here are some pictures of the actual production of the cheese:
Keeping the milk the proper temperature was the most painstaking part of the process.
Cutting the curds
Stretching the curds
Cheese boules – each about 4 oz.
One reason I picked Provolone is because the stuff from the grocery store is often nothing more than a poor imitation of real Italian provolone (or so I’m told by an Italian friend). Store-bought has no character or sharpness, but the recipe promised that aging the cheese for 6 months would give it this flavor. One major mistake committed during the aging process was neglecting the humidity of the fridge. It often dropped into a region below 10%, which left the cheese as hard as a rock. Luckily, the inside of the boules is still cheese-like, as opposed to the outside skin, which is injection-molded -plastic-like. This allowed us to taste the cheese as well as test its water activity.
Here’s what it looked like:
And on the inside:
The interior of the cheese measured about 0.75 aw – really not that low considering how dry the fridge was. You may recall we were going to test water potential on these cheeses to measure minute changes in their water activity – no need to do that now, as we have little but hardened chunks of milk and cream. The exterior of the cheese was not very good – it smelled of baby puke and tasted stale. The inside (which still smelled of baby puke) was a different story. After 5 months it had developed a sharpness that was quite pleasing, without any of the staleness of the exterior. I think it would be wise to declare this initial project “not a total failure”, although at the same time “not remotely close to a success”. We’ll try again shortly. I’ve also been wanting to make more of the cured salami and peperone – how soon this can be done remains to be seen.