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Cheese-Making Tools and Machinery, Part I

By Wood, Paul | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., March 2009 | Go to article overview

Cheese-Making Tools and Machinery, Part I


Wood, Paul, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


This article, the first of two on cheese making, deals with subsistence and commercial cheese making on the farm. The second article, which will appear in the next issue of The Chronicle, will describe cheese making in the factory and will conclude with an examination of the many different types of cheese presses. A two-part article on butter-making tools and machinery is planned for the following issues of The Chronicle.

Cheese is an ancient dairy product created by the complex action of microorganisms on milk. The superior keeping properties of cheese allowed excess milk to be converted into this less perishable food for family use and for sale to neighbors and local stores. Cheese could also be shipped to distant markets - not possible for the more perishable butter due to the slow animal transport over poorly-maintained roads. After circa the 1870s, butter shipped in ice-cooled railroad cars to large metropolitan areas gradually displaced cheese as the Northeast's primary dairy cash crop. The lower cost of milk production in Western states resulted in the gradual westward migration of cheese and butter making; the use of rapid long-distance rail transport also allowed shipment of these products to Eastern markets. It was, however, not economically feasible to ship fluid milk from the West over long distances. By the early 1900s cheese and butter production had moved West, and fluid milk had become the major dairy product in the Northeast. In recent years, the Northeast has seen a resurgence of small artisanal cheese makers using the milk of goats and sheep as well as cows.

Making Cheddar Cheese

Many types of cheese were made in the United States, but cheddar cheese and its relatives, made from cow's milk, were and continue to be one of the most popular. Cheddar originated in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England, and has been made since at least 1170 AD. Cheddar cheese making is a seven-step process: setting, cutting, heating, cheddaring, grinding, salting and pressing, and curing. In this article, the nineteenth-century cheddar cheese-making practices of the subsistence farm and the commercial farm will be recreated using examples of cheese-making tools and machinery. Sufficiently ripe (sour or acidic) milk was gradually heated to 82 to 86 degrees (all temperatures are given in Fahrenheit). Enough rennet, about two to four fluid ounces of 40-to-1 dilute rennet per 1,000 pounds of milk, was added and stirred in. Dilution of the rennet in cold water slowed the clotting - or curdling - process and helped to insure uniform distribution of the rennet throughout the milk. Rennet is curdled milk, containing the enzyme rennin, and is obtained from the stomach of an unweaned calf. After the rennet had been added, the milk was continuously agitated, and it gradually thickened within ten to fifteen minutes. After an additional thirty to thirty-five minutes, a solid casein or curd formed. At this point, the cheese maker pushed a finger obliquely into the curd and then slowly lifted it to the surface. If the curd broke cleanly and the whey that was released from the broken curd was clear without milkiness, the curd was then ready to be cut. The whey is a fluid released by the curd consisting of water, proteins, and milk sugars. Cutting was performed to facilitate further contraction of the curd and expulsion of the whey (Figure l). A knife was used to cut the curd into 3/8-inch to ½-inch cubes. As soon as the curd was cut, it was gently agitated until the curd cubes formed a "skin" or membrane surface and would not stick together.

The cut curd was heated while constantly being stirred until the temperature gradually reached about 98 degrees (blood heat). The rise in temperature caused further firming and contraction of the curd cubes. In the process, additional whey was also released due to both the direct action of the heat and by the effect of the increased temperature on lactic acid in the whey.

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