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SOFT CHEESE MANUFACTURE
THERE is no doubt that the manufacture of soft cheese is the most profitable branch of dairy farming in France. We have for many years paid much attention to this subject, in the hope that the system might be established in this country; but, chiefly, perhaps, from want of knowledge of the system of manufacture, and to some extent from want of enterprise, our dairy farmers still allow the French to supply our markets, hesitating to take up a class of work which careful investigation would show them to be extremely profitable. The following remarks are not based upon theory; they are the result of a considerable amount of labour devoted to the study of the processes of manufacture of the leading varieties of soft cheese made in France. We were led to investigate the subject from the fact that no information was obtainable, and in spite of considerable help from personal friends in France we found great difficulty in arriving at really correct methods, while success was only achieved by continual experiment and practice.
BRIE. — In an article in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, speaking of the Brie cheese, I pointed out that in five parishes in the Brie district alone six million cheeses were made annually. Assuming that each cheese weighed, upon the average, 4 lbs., this quantity represented the yield of 25,500 cows, assuming each cow to produce 450 gallons of milk per annum. Reference to the agricultural returns will show that in a large number of our English counties the cows kept do not reach this number. It has been urged that if every dairy farmer took up the manufacture of a particular kind of soft cheese the market would rapidly be overdone; but it is beside the mark to suggest what never has taken place and never will take place in connection with any industry, especially in this country, where farmers are proverbially careful in the extreme.
The prices realized for Brie in Paris are often considerable, sometimes reaching a shilling a pound. The Parisians are large cheese-eaters, consuming about 12 lbs. per head of the population per annum; and the money annually spent in the wholesale markets of Paris in this one variety of cheese alone is estimated at about four million francs. The Brie is a large, round, flat cheese, varying from three-quarters of an inch to an inch in thickness, and from 8 to 12 inches in diameter; but in a market like that of London, where the consumption is not large, chiefly, perhaps, because of the difficulty of placing the cheese before the public in prime condition, it is seldom offered in more than one size. In my own practice (for experimental work was followed by systematic manufacture) 10 lbs. of rich milk or 12 1/2 lbs. of ordinary milk were required to make a cheese which sold at 1s. 6d. The milk must not be skimmed, as the creamy character of the cheese is by this process very much diminished, as well as the mildness of its flavour.
The plant required in the manufacture of soft cheese is neither considerable nor expensive. The draining-table should be made with a slight fall to the front, on the edge of which should be a narrow channel to carry off the whey; wooden tables are usually covered with metal, but slate or brick-built stands faced with cement are still better. In either case the whey is enabled to run by gravitation into the channel, and is carried by the same force into a receptacle made for the purpose. The floor of the dairy should be of smooth hard cement laid on concrete, and the walls either of glazed bricks or smooth-faced Parian cement kept washed with lime. The utensils necessary are round wooden tubs with lids, stools on which to stand them — preferably with rollers on the legs — a large metal skimmer without perforations, a thermometer, a rennet measure, moulds made of tinned iron the exact diameter of the cheese to be made, boards made of seasoned wood so that they will not shrink, and sufficiently large to place the cheeses upon, mats made either of rush or fine rye-straw and large enough to cover the moulds, a salt-dredger, and some round osier plaques or plates, called by the French clayettes. The plate is intended for the cheese to rest upon instead of a plain board, so that air may penetrate beneath it. The mould is in two pieces, the bottom having a rim into which the upper portion fits. The object of these two pieces is that the cheese may be conveniently turned, as we shall presently see.
In the process of manufacture, the milk is strained into a ten-gallon tub, wood being used to prevent loss of heat, and the rennet added at a temperature of. from 82° to 86° F. A little practice will show the manufacturer which temperature suits his milk best, and which to adopt at different seasons of the year. The curd should be fit to remove into the moulds in four hours, the apartment in which the work is performed being kept at from 60° to 62° F. Great care must be exercised to set exactly the quantity of milk required for the manufacture of a given number of cheeses, and, as far as possible, each mould should be filled equally. Before moulding, the boards must be placed upon the draining-table, a dry, clean mat being laid on each, with the moulds on the top. The curd, which must be elastic, not sticking to the finger or the thermometer when inserted, is removed in large thin slices into the moulds. If the slices are thick the whey escapes with greater difficulty. When the moulds are filled the curd is left to drain, and in three to four hours, perhaps more in colder weather, the whey will have escaped and the curd have sunk into the lower portion of the mould. In this case the upper portion is removed, a mat is placed over the lower portion, followed by a board, the whole is rapidly inverted, the bottom mat and board removed, and subsequently cleansed, when the bottom of the cheese will be seen to be marked by the straws. On the following morning the same operation will take place again, so that the cheese will be marked on each side; but with this turning the new mat is placed so that the marks will be crossed, causing a number of little points to appear on the surface of the cheese, instead of lines. These points will subsequently be covered with mould. In a few hours the last turning takes place, and again in from four to six hours the curd will be sufficiently firm to stand alone; the mould will then be removed and the cheese fit to salt, this being done with extremely fine salt distributed by a dredger. Unless every portion of the crust receives salt the mould will not appear. Salting on the second side occurs some hours after the first salting: the cheese is then removed on its mat to a clayette and taken to the drying-room. Here it stays for a few days, being systematically turned until it is covered with white mould. In some cases it may stay in this apartment: in others a third room will be essential for the development of the blue mould, which gradually appears until the whole of the cheese is covered, so that at the end of from three to four weeks it is salable. In France, however, consumers of Brie prefer it in an advanced state of ripeness, and the. blue cheese is therefore taken to an underground cave until it becomes so creamy that upon the breaking of the crust it runs, and in this condition it realizes a higher price. I venture to think, however, that the English taste would prefer the blue cheese, which is milder and more substantial. No Brie is thoroughly ripe until the white and somewhat solid curd has become yellowish and creamy throughout. Ripening proceeds from the outside, and on cutting any soft cheese of this character while this process is going on, it will be seen, if the ripening is not complete, that while beneath the crust the cheese is creamy, in the centre it is still solid and to some extent insoluble. It has been pointed out by Duclaux, a French chemist of considerable eminence who has studied this question perhaps more than any other investigator, that the moulds which grow upon Brie and similar cheeses practically remove the acid present through the medium of what we may crudely term their roots, or mycelium, and that until this acid is removed the bacteria which are responsible for the ripening process are unable to complete their work.
CAMEMBERT. — Several years ago, I had the opportunity of inspecting a number of the most important Camembert dairies in the north of France, having already a close acquaintance with the system of manufacture. In one of these dairies — that of M. Roussel — 1800 cheeses were made daily from 800 gallons of milk, the produce of 400 cows. I estimated at the time that if M. Roussel produced Camembert during only five months of the year he would turn out 107 tons of cheese, which at that time was realizing a somewhat extravagant price. It is therefore not surprising that the Camembert makers were able to save money and to buy the farms they occupied. From investigations made in the county of Calvados, in which Camembert is chiefly made, I learned that there were large numbers of farmers who each made from 10,000 to 160,000 cheeses per annum. There were 50 farmers manufacturing more than 25,000 per annum, and large numbers making smaller quantities. From the station of Lisieux 655,000 kilogrammes were dispatched; and from the village station of Mesnilmauger 12,500 cases containing 62,000 dozen. In some other counties the manufacture was also considerable, but now it is possible that it is doubled. Certain it is that Camembert is much more largely consumed, and that the bulk of the cheese which arrives in this country is produced from milk which has been partially deprived of its cream. Camembert was invented during the Revolution of 1791 by the ancestress of M. Cyrille Paynel, a large maker in Calvados, recently dead, whose acquaintance I made on my first visit to the district. It is well known in every part of England, and would be certain to sell in much larger numbers than at present if its production were taken up as an industry. A gallon of rich milk produces about 2 1/4 cheeses, so that a cow yielding 600 gallons would make 1350 cheeses, which, at 4 1/2d. each — which I believe to be the wholesale price of average cheese — would realize £25 6s. 6d. without the whey. The manufacture of Camembert, in a word, enables the producer to realize from 10d. to 1s. per gallon for his milk during the summer season, when Cheddar realizes only 5d. to 6d. a gallon (slightly more or less according to its quality), and butter about 4d.
The following is a description of the system adopted in the manufacture of the cheeses made in my own dairy, which gained the £10 prize at the Royal Agricultural Show at Newcastle, and the silver medal at the London Dairy Show. Seventy-five pounds of milk was set in the morning, and a similar quantity in the evening, at a temperature of 80° F. The quantity of rennet added to each lot was 2 1/2 cubic centimetres. The curd was fit for removal into the moulds in 8 1/2 hours. The moulds are small, deep cylinders, the inside diameter being equal to the diameter of the cheese. They are perforated, and are placed close together on an inclined draining-table upon large mats. A hundred and fifty pounds of the milk used, which, by the bye, was of high quality, produced three dozen cheeses; the 36 moulds were, therefore, nearly filled with the curd of the morning. In the afternoon the curd had sunk more than half-way down the moulds, which were again filled to the brim with the curd of the evening. On the following day, the curd having become partially firm by drainage, each mould was inverted on fresh mats. This is a somewhat delicate operation, and skill is only acquired by practice. Turning continues until the cheeses are firm enough for the moulds to be removed. They were then salted alternately on each side and placed in batches upon clean mats, which were laid upon boards made for the purpose, and left upon shelves which were fixed above the draining-table. Here they were regularly turned until the white mould commenced to grow, when they were taken to the séchoir or drying-room. In this apartment they remained until the blue mould commenced to grow, when they were removed to a cave, which was excavated in the chalk. Here great attention had to be paid to ventilation, and to the hygrometric condition of the atmosphere, and until this was perfected it was impossible to obtain first-class cheese; but once the condition was acquired there was no further difficulty. With the continued growth of the mould, ripening is pursued; insoluble curd becomes soluble, the flavour is acquired, and the cheese becomes fit for market. In some cases it may be necessary to heat the milk up to 86°, while some makers in France do not remove the curd until four hours, and others remove it in two. Small quantities of milk are always renneted in preference to large quantities. Great care must be taken in preventing a damp atmosphere either in the drying or ripening rooms. During fine weather both rooms are well ventilated, cross draughts being arranged in the former apartment, but during wet weather draughts are excluded and the room is kept as dry as possible. With excessive humidity the white mould changes to black, a variety known as the Aspergillus niger, while the blue mould, which is responsible for so much work in the process of ripening, is the common Penicillium glaucum — the shape of the tiny filaments known as hyphae, which are responsible for the propagation of the spores of the mould, resembling a painter's brush, hence the Latin word Penicillium. It is curious that these tiny fungoid plants should have so important an influence in the ripening of cheese. The blue mould is unquestionably the dominant fungus in the atmosphere of the dairy; it will not only grow luxuriantly at the temperature at which soft cheese ripens, but at a still lower temperature when it is provided with a suitable soil or feeding material. It has been assumed by some writers that it is essential to cultivate the moulds common to cheese; but this is not the case. It is common to every household, and its spores or seeds are so easily dispersed by the movement of the atmosphere that wherever such a material as cheese is placed it is certain to be attacked. The maker of soft cheese should, therefore, observe the recognized rules of cleanliness which apply to all dairies: lime, boiling-water, and the scrubbing-brush being used with absolute freedom, and without any fear of eradicating the fungus, the aid of which is so essential to success.