Making Cheese

In prehistoric times someone must have discovered that when milk turns sour the white curd tastes good and moreover, that it keeps well. Cheese primarily consists of the solid elements of milk: the fat, the proteins and the vitamins and minerals. Ten kilos of milk are required to make one kilo of cheese.

Cheese is made by curdling the milk. The homogeneous fluid changs into a mixture of solid particles and a pale yellow liquid. These are seperated and the solid elements make up the curd. The residual fluid is called whey.

< Cheeses in single file taking the plunge into the brine-bath.

The curd is pressed into moulds, after which the cheese goes into a brine bath for several days. Subsequently it is stored and thus gradually matures into the delicious product we can buy in the shops.

Through the centuries numerous versions to the cheese making process were found resulting in many hundreds of regional varieties.

Farms and creameries
The cheesemaking process on the farm and in the creamery is basically the same. The method and the ingredients used are laid down by law, and if made differently, the product cannot be called `cheese'.

The major difference between farm and creamery cheese is their starting ingredient, the milk. On the farm raw milk, which is the cooled milk of the previous evening and the milk, still warm from the morning's milking, is the basis.

At the creamery the milk is first pasteurised, which means that it is heated to a temperature of about 65 degrees Celcius for fifteen seconds thus eliminating any bacteria. The second difference is that the milk is standardized, in other words the fat content of the milk is constant. On the farm the fat content may vary.

A third difference between farm and creamery is that on the farms cheese making is still a craft and made by hand. Cheese making in the creamery is a highly automated production process, during which the cheese is not handled. Moulding, turning, brining, is all completely computerised. Gigantic robots, moving independently, transport the cheese in and out of the warehouse. Modern creameries produce daily some 5,000 cheeses each weighing between 2 and 15 kilos.

The control stamp
Inspectors of the Central Dairy Inspection Service control the quality of the product. Samples are taken at the conclusion of the production process when the cheese leaves the brine bath, and also during maturing. The cheese is tested for e.g. moisture, fat and salt content. At the same time random checks are made for pollutants, such as PCBs, aflatoxin and any remainders of herbicides.

In addition to official inspections, Dutch cheese is subject to further tests. Cheese Quality Managers and Traders regularly take samples to judge structure and taste. They smell, feel and taste. The best cheeses are entered into competitions where the honour of the creamery and its Cheese-Maker are at stake. Producers and Traders also participate in the annual contest for `Gold Cheese Scoop', a trophy for the best Cheese Quality Manager.

Every cheese is given a control stamp with its own number. >

In the past low-fat cheese was sold as `full cream' cheese. This dates back to the sixteenth century when the States General of Holland issued a decree regarding cheesemaking, `The degree touching on the falsifying of Sweet Milk and Cheese made thereof'. The emphasis was put on the fat content of the cheese. Nowadays, we have the control stamp which gives the fat content, cheese type and a number indicating batch and creamery. It also indicates the cheese complies with all statutory regulations.

Gouda cheese contains, on average, 40% water and 60% `dry matter'. When the fat content in the dry matter is at least 48%, which is the legal requirement for Gouda cheese, we speak of full-cream cheese.

Edam cheese, which is made from skimmed milk, has a fat content of 40% in the dry matter. There are other cheeses with fat contents varying from 20% to 60%.