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"The cheesemaking process"

générique fromage

The cheesemaking process relies on the action of bacteria and rennet on properties in the milk, which transform the latter from its liquid state into a compact mass with a varying degree of solidity.

The process of transforming milk into cheese comprises 3 stages: coagulation, also known as “curdling”, draining and salting, and ageing (or maturing).
Coagulation occurs as a result of acidification, lactic fermentation (for fromage frais) or by the introduction of coagulating enzymes or rennet - or both. The temperature at which the operation is performed varies according to the type of cheese. Once the process is complete, a gel-like substance is obtained.

Draining consists of separating the curds from the whey. Approximately 80% of the curdled milk's water content should be extracted at this stage. Draining is influenced by two factors:

  • biological action: acidification which determines the curds' porosity;
  • mechanical and physical action: a more complex combination of activities including cutting, stirring, heating and pressing. This stage determines the smoothness and firmness of the future cheese. To produce fromage frais, which has an acidic taste, lactic fermentation must be encouraged. After approximately 48 hours at 20°C, ferments develop which create acidity by transforming lactose into lactic acid. This lactic acid demineralises the curds by removing a large proportion of its calcium and therefore its flexibility. This results in what are known as “lactic curds” which have high porosity and which drain slowly and spontaneously.

Hard cheeses, on the other hand, require much faster processing at a much higher temperature (30 to 40°C) and draining is done mechanically. The curds are cut into small cubes using a hand-held tool called a cheese harp. This creates spaces through which the whey can run off. The drained curds are then slowly and gradually mixed and heated, with the combined action of heating and stirring causing them to contract and eliminate the whey. This produces the rennet curd which is then placed in moulds. The cheese is subsequently pressed at varying degrees of pressure depending on the desired level of firmness. The entire production process is performed quickly and is complete in about 2 hours, which means that acidification does not have time to take effect and no demineralisation occurs - the resulting cheese is therefore very supple.
All different types of cheese can be produced by combining these factors to different extents:

  • favouring lactic fermentation results in fromage frais style cheeses which are produced in the smallest of formats;
  • favouring a mechanical process results in hard cheeses which can be produced in much larger formats.

Salting can either be performed on the curd mass, that is by applying the salt directly to the curd grains, at the cheese's surface (dry salting) or by placing the cheeses in a salt bath. This stage helps to form the rind.
With the exception of fromage frais cheeses which are packaged as soon as draining is complete, cheeses must undergo maturing, known as affinage.
The maturation time varies from one cheese to another, ranging from several weeks for a Camembert to several months for a hard cheese. Moreover, different types cheeses mature in different ways: hard cheeses only mature from the inside ,blue cheeses mature from the inside outwards and soft cheeses from the outside in.


Some cheeses to discover ...