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ON THE BEST METHOD OF MANUFACTURING STILTON CHEESE
THE process of making a Stilton cheese has more similarity to that of the manufacture of some of the Continental cheeses than any other British make. Despite this fact it is a British cheese, and the county of Leicestershire can justly claim the honour of being its home. Indeed many people consider that it is impossible to make the real article outside the county named. This, however, is an error, as with suitable buildings and utensils, with perfect cleanliness and with sufficient skill on the part of the maker, prime Stilton can be made in any district. The cost of producing a Stilton is however rather greater than that of a Cheddar or Cheshire. This is owing to the greater cost of the buildings, the greater amount of labour, the longer time taken in curing, and lastly, to the fact that less ripe cheese is obtained from a given amount of milk by the Stilton method than by the methods just mentioned.
The Stilton is popularly considered to be a cream-cheese, but at the present time it is nearly always made of whole milk without the addition of cream, and yet the quality produced leaves nothing to be desired. Nevertheless the milk intended for making Stilton should be of at least average quality, and that produced by cows grazing on rich old pastures is the most suitable. The giving of large quantities of cake to the cows is not to be recommended, as this usually produces a milk that causes trouble during the making of the cheese.
In the method of manufacture about to be described, two separately made curds are used. This method is the one by which the best Stiltons are made. One reason why this is so is found in the fact that separately made curds do not unite as closely as curds made at one operation. The consequence is that we get a great amount of air space in the body of the cheese, and therefore fulfilment of one of the conditions essential to the development of the mould which it is the pride of the Stilton maker to obtain.
Before commencing operations the maker should have in remembrance the leading characteristics of an ideal Stilton. These are as follows — A drab-coloured rough wrinkled skin, a texture salvy and mellow but not soapy (indeed, as the old Stilton maker's maxim says, "beware of chalk and beware of soap," which implies medium texture, and avoidance of hardness on the one hand and soapiness on the other), a marbling throughout the body of the cheese due to the growth of a blue mould (Penicillium glaucum), and the possession of an unique flavour.
The following is a list of the requisites for the manufacture of Stilton — (a) Building. The building or dairy must be divided into at least three separate apartments, or better still if into four. These are — (1) A setting-room and draining-room. One room may be made to serve the double purpose of setting and draining, or a separate room may be used for each purpose. (2) A drying- or coating-room. (3) A storing- or curing-room. Besides these a cellar is a great advantage, as the cheeses can be taken there when they are ripe, or even before they are ripe if the weather is hot, and the ordinary rooms are out of condition. For Stilton-making it is imperative that all the rooms should be high and well ventilated, and that they should be so constructed as to allow of cooling them in very hot weather. Further, they must have apparatus for heating purposes, as during spring and autumn artificial heat is a necessity. (b) Utensils. Briefly enumerated these are — (1) A renneting-vat made of tin; (2) a curd-ladle or scoop of about half a gallon capacity; (3) straining-cloths; (4) a curd-sink made of glazed earthenware; (5) a draining-sink lined with tin; (6) perforated metal moulds or hoops; (7) boards (9 in. x 9 in.); (8) draining-shelves; (9) turning- and bandaging-table; (10) knife, bandages, &c.
MANUFACTURE. — Milk. The milk for Stilton-making should be perfectly fresh, and not slightly acid as is the case in the making of some British cheeses. This necessitates the renneting of the milk as soon as received into the dairy, and that which has never lost its animal heat is the most suitable..
RENNETING. — The rennet is added when the temperature of the milk has fallen to 84° F.; and the amount required is 1 1/2 drachms to every 60 lbs. of milk. Most makers consider that prepared rennets are inferior to the home-made ones. Yet we know that the use of home-made rennets is not essential to the making of the best Stiltons, as these are constantly made from prepared rennets. It seems probable that in using prepared rennets the makers accustomed to the home-made article make no allowance for the greater strength of the former, and consequently add too much. This results in an inferior cheese, but the fault is due to the maker and not to the rennet. After adding the rennet to the milk, thorough mixing of the two should be brought about by stirring. Let this be continued ten minutes, by which time mixing will be complete and there will be no danger of any cream rising. Now allow the contents of the vat to set for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, according to the state of the curd. This, although a somewhat prolonged coagulation, is not unusual in the making of sweet curd cheeses.
CURD DRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT OF ACIDITY. — When ready, the curd is ladled out of the vat into straining-cloths, placed in the curd-sink. These cloths are about a yard square, and hold from three to four gallons each. In the act of ladling the curd is cut into thin slices, whereby the drainage of the whey is facilitated. The curd is allowed to stand for half-an-hour in its own whey, or longer if it is soft. The whey is then let off, and the curd tied up by bringing together the three corners of the straining-cloth and using the fourth as a binder; and here in the curd-sink it drains until evening. To aid the draining, tighten the cloths every hour during the first eight hours. This tightening requires to be done with care, so that no curd is crushed in the operation. In the evening the curd is cut up into squares of about four inches and laid in the draining-sink with a light cotton cloth thrown over it. Here it remains over night, and during this time it slowly oxidizes. The evening's milk is treated in the same manner as the morning's milk, being allowed to drain during the night whilst in the curd-sink. In the morning cut up the evening's curd, and then allow the two curds to develop the requisite amount of acidity. If acidity does not develop rapidly enough, tear up the curds to aid it, or place them upon racks and keep them warm with hot water.
SALTING. — When the curds are ready, i.e. when they have developed a sufficient amount of acidity, and are of a certain mellowness, they are broken up by hand into coarse-grained pieces. It is always difficult to decide when the curds are ready, and experience is the only teacher. The following, however, are some of the signs that guide the maker as to the fitness of the curds — The first curd made should be clean, flaky, decidedly acid, and free from sliminess or sponginess; the second should be in about the same condition, but not so acid. It takes usually thirty-six and twenty-four hours respectively before the curds show the above signs. After these are broken they are mixed together, and a rather coarse salt is added at the rate of about 1 1/2 per cent. by weight of the curd. If the curd is wet add more salt, if dry add less. It is usual to obtain 18 lbs. of curd from 12 gallons of milk.
HOOPING. — The curd, after a thorough mixing with the salt, is put into hoops holding 20 to 24 lbs. each. If the cheese is for sale in a wholesale market let it be made full-sized, as such cheeses are easier to sell than small ones. The temperature of the curd at the time of hooping should be about 60° F. Before commencing to fill the hoops, place them on a board covered with a piece of calico. In filling, the curd should be firmly pressed at the bottom, and lightly at the sides, and the larger pieces should be put into the loosely-filled centre. By taking these precautions a cheese is obtained that presents a good surface.
CHEESE-DRAINING. — When the hoops are filled, they are carried, together with the board and cloth on which they stand, to the draining-shelves. The temperature of the room in which the shelves are placed should be 65° F. The hoop and cheese should be turned after standing two hours, an operation performed by inverting them upon a board and cloth similar to those on which they stand. The turning should be repeated before leaving for the day, and it must be performed at least once each day for the next nine days. Neglect in turning at this stage causes unequal ripening of the cheese, and the ends become uneven. If the curd does not settle properly it should be skewered through the perforations in the hoop, and a little salt should be rubbed on each end.
SCRAPING AND BANDAGING. — In about nine days the cheese is taken out of the hoop, and if ready it is scraped with a knife. It is known to be ready for scraping when the cheese leaves the side of the hoop, when it is creamy on the outside, and when it has a smell similar to that of a ripe pear. The scraping makes a smooth even surface, fills up cracks, and aids in the production of the much-desired wrinkling of the coat of the cheese. This last result is brought about by the consolidating effect of the scraping on the surface of the cheese, and the comparatively loose and free state in which the central portion remains. In consequence of this difference the external portion of the cheese settles less than the internal portion, and consequently a wrinkling of the coat of the cheese follows. After the cheese has been scraped, a bandage is tightly pinned round it, a cap placed on its upper end, and the cheese is put back into the hoop. Next day remove the hoop and bandage, and scrape the cheese, then tightly pin on a clean bandage round the top. Allow the bandage to hang loosely down, invert the cheese, and loosely fold the bandage over it. The cheese is then put upon the draining-shelves without the hoop, and there it remains until the coat begins to appear, which usually happens about the eleventh day counting from the day of hooping.
FORMATION OF THE COAT. — About the eleventh day the external surface begins to show signs of white mould, also dry patches appear on the bandage. These are the first signs of the coat, and on their appearance the cheese is ready to go to the drying- or coating-room. This room should be cool and damp, have a temperature of from 55° to 60°, and if possible it should have a gentle, cool, moist draught passing through it. By thus keeping the air of the coating-room cooler and moister than that of the draining-room we minimize the loss of moisture, and consequently avoid lowering the quality of the cheese, and at the same time we prevent fermentation becoming too rapid. If the coating-room is too dry, and the cheese shows signs of becoming hard, cover it with a moist cloth. The cheese on going to the coating-room has no bandages on it, but there is the small cloth on the board on which it rests, and this requires changing each day when the cheese itself is turned. Turning goes on for a fortnight, and by the end of that time the coat should be firmly fixed.
CURING. — When the coat is firmly fixed, the cheese is ready to go to the storing- or curing-room, which may be an airy cellar, or a cool upper room kept at a temperature of from 55° to 60° F. If the temperature is too high excessive evaporation ensues, and as a consequence a hard dry cheese; if too low the ripening of the cheese is retarded. The shelves of the curing-room must be kept quite clean and free from mites, and the cheese turned daily. It takes a Stilton from four to six months to ripen, but some people try to shorten the period by skewering. This, however, is a rather doubtful proceeding, and yet it is permissible if the cheese is close, and there is a lack of mould-growth. When such a plan is followed, care must be taken that the apertures made in the cheese are closed up, so that flies and mites will not be able to enter. The skewers should be put into the cheeses from each end, not at the sides, and their ends should pass each other.
Besides this two-curd system of Stilton-making there is a "wet-curd" system. The essential difference between the two is to be found in the length of time during which the curd is allowed to stand in its own whey. In the wet-curd system the whole of the whey is not drained off until the curd is ready for vatting; whereas in the method just described the curd stands in its own whey about half-an-hour.
Before concluding, we may with advantage briefly sum up the points of difference in the making of a Stilton, and in that of the better known and much more widely made Cheddar. In Stilton-making the rennet is added to a perfectly fresh milk, in Cheddar-making to slightly acid milk; also less rennet is added if Stilton is to be made. It is owing to these two factors that the coagulation in Stilton-making is more prolonged than in the case of Cheddar. Again, in Stilton-making the development of acidity is not pushed by scalding as is the case with Cheddar, and instead of taking eight hours, it takes usually twenty-four and thirty-six hours. It may, however, be noted that in Cheddar-making acidity is allowed to develop in both milk and curd, whereas in Stilton-making it is only allowed to develop in the curd. Less salt is added to the curd of a Stilton than to that of a Cheddar, but this is more apparent than real, for when the curd of a Stilton is ready to salt it is much moister than that of a Cheddar. Lastly, the curd in Stilton-making is put to drain in a much softer condition than in Cheddar-making, but no pressure is applied to the former, whereas a ton and upwards is required for the latter.
Finally, we feel fully justified in stating that a well-made Stilton stands without rival amongst the better known varieties of cheeses; and we know from experience that by the system just detailed it is possible to produce an article of prime quality.