This month's Cheesepalooza challenge was to make Gruyere at home. We hadn't even started making the cheese and I already knew it would be hard to refrain from cutting open the finished cheese to see if it was forming the signature holes inside it yet.
This is the first cheese that we have made using a thermophilic starter, I had expected the process to be different from the other cheeses we've made, but instead it was comfortably familiar. We are definitely getting the hang of creating the curds and pressing them. Now we just need to work on controlling the environment that the cheese ages in. Both my mom and I start out with good intentions but at some point the humidity in our cheese cave (aka a wine fridge) drops, or a certain impatient food blogger keeps poking at it daily instead of rubbing it with brine or whatever else it requires.
The process starts out the same as the other cheeses that we've made: clean and disinfect the pots and tools, add the delicious, creamy, non-homogenized milk to the pot and slooowwwly bring it up to 90F.
With previous recipes we had struggled with increasing the temperature slowly with the pot on the stove. Now we use my mom's sink as a hot water bath and suddenly the whole cheese-making process transforms from an exercise in frustration to a nice way to spend the afternoon. What a difference!
We use one thermometer to monitor the temperature of the hot water in the sink (luckily the tap water comes out nice and hot so we only have to occasionally boil water). The other thermometer monitors the temperature of the milk or the curds. The slow, gentle heat of the water bath brings the milk up to 90F over 20 minutes. Then we added the starter and let the milk ripen to wake up those cold and sleepy bacteria so that they can transform the milk into cheese!
Next we added calcium chloride and rennet and let the milk sit at 90F until it had formed one solid mass.
Cutting the curds is still my favorite part of the whole process. Once we had let the cut curds rest we brought up the temperature of the water bath to 122F over the course of an hour. This entailed slowly increasing the water bath temp from time to time with small amounts of boiling water. It gave us a chance to make some lunch, answer some emails, all while occasionally glancing over at the thermometers to see where we were at.
Once the curds had reached 122F we gently stirred and stirred them...
Then we packed them into 5 inch molds. The recipe called for an 8 inch mold, but in previous recipes when we used the 8-inch ones our cheese was pressed far too thin.
It was a good thing that we went with the 5-inch.. one batch only filled a single mold! There was a little left over to make a mini-misshapen cheese that we plan on cutting open early just so we can take a look inside.
After pressing, flipping, and then pressing overnight the cheese was soaked in a near-saturated brine and then dried at room temperature.
Now we have moved the cheese into our 'cheese cave' and I've written daily reminders to take care of it for the entire duration of it's aging process. So far this entails making sure that the cave is nice and humid, and brushing the cheese with brine twice a week for three weeks. Fingers crossed that when we cut it open there are lots of holes in our (hopefully) delicious Gruyere.
My mom and I are on a year long cheese making adventure along with the otherCheesepalooza participants. We are working out of Artisan Cheese Making At Home by Mary Karlin and will not be posting the recipes for the cheese online. You can join Cheesepalooza at any time!