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CHESHIRE cheese is of more local than cosmopolitan repute; indeed the making of it is practically confined to Cheshire and the counties that border upon it. The locality in which this cheese is made is really restricted to that wherein a demand for it exists, as its fragile nature renders it unsuitable for exportation purposes. The general conditions as to the food of the cow producing the milk intended for Cheshire-making are similar to those applicable to Cheddar. The dairy required is also similar. It consists of three apartments — a making-room, a pressroom, and a curing-room. The press-room in Cheshire-making, however, must contain, in addition to the presses, an oven, wherein the cheeses Can be placed immediately after hooping. This so-called "oven" is merely a recess in the press-room wall, so situated as to have the kitchen fire at the back of it. The utensils required are such as are used in any process of cheese-making, but the hoops are usually perforated, the vat is jacketed and rather shallow, and the curd-mill is fine-toothed, so that the curd can be ground down to a rather fine state of division.
There are three methods of manufacturing Cheshire cheese, each of which produces a special type of cheese. The three methods are the early ripening, the medium ripening, and the late ripening, named after the predominant characteristic of the cheese produced, i.e. an early ripening cheese, a medium ripening cheese, and a late ripening cheese. The two latter of these cheeses are of much higher quality than the first named. Yet at the present time the quick or early ripening cheese is much made, and this probably is one of the causes of the prevailing low prices.
The method of manufacture about to be detailed refers to a cheese which will take about three months to ripen, and is therefore classed as a medium ripening cheese. The qualities looked for in such a cheese are — a rather high colour produced by the addition of colouring, a looseness, granulation, and openness in the body and texture known as "meatiness," a certain amount of crumbliness, and a mellow, rich, tasty flavour.
PREPARATORY TREATMENT OF THE MILK. — Strain the evening's milk into the vat, and keep it at such a temperature that it will be about 68° F. in the morning. In the morning skim off the cream, and heat it to 95° F.; then pour it along with the morning's milk into the vat. If the correct amount of ripeness has been developed (and this is of the utmost importance), rennet the milk; but if not, either keep the milk in the vat at a temperature of 94° F. until it is ripe enough, or add sour whey, which latter is the more common method. A little before this stage is reached the colouring is added, indeed it should be added ten minutes before renneting. When the colouring is added immediately before the rennet, there is great liability of getting a discoloured cheese. This, although one of the causes of discolouration, is not the chief one. At the present time white or uncoloured cheeses are being made, a method that is to be recommended, as it avoids all danger of discolouration from improper mixing of the colouring. But unfortunately the public demand is for a high-coloured cheese, and therefore colouring is still added by most makers, although it is so risky.
RENNETING. — When the milk is ready to rennet, it should give a rennet test of twenty-two seconds, which is rather longer than is required in Cheddar-making, or in other words the milk is sweeter. The temperature of the milk at the time of renneting should be 86° to 88° F., and the amount of rennet required is one oz. of rennet extract to twenty gallons of milk, or such an amount as will produce a curd that is ready to cut forty-five to sixty minutes from the time of adding it. After adding the rennet, stir the mixture in the vat for five minutes. Next cover the vat with a cloth, and when the curd is firm enough, cut it with the American horizontal knife, and then with the vertical knife until it is in a rather coarse condition. Just after the curd is cut, a little whey is usually drawn off for adding to the next day's milk, to aid the development of acidity. Next clean down the sides and bottom of the vat, and with the hands stir well for about fifteen minutes, when scalding should begin.
SCALDING. — The scalding is only partial, and the curd at the termination of it is considerably softer than that produced in Cheddar scalding. The scalding should be gradual, and a rate of I° in five minutes is very suitable. Scald until a temperature of 92° to 94° is reached, and during the whole process careful and continuous stirring is required. When the correct temperature is reached, continue the stirring until the curd is quite firm, and the corners are rounded. Then allow the curd to settle for about an hour, or until it leaves the sides of the vat. Next cut the curd up the middle, roll it up to one end of the vat, and let off the whey.
DRAINING THE CURD. — When the whey has drained off cut the curd into blocks, and place it at one end of the vat. Then put a rack in the bottom of the vat, spread a cloth on it, and place the curd upon it, carefully covering it with a dry cloth. Turn the curd every ten minutes, and at each turning break it up into pieces of about two inches diameter. The turning is repeated until the curd is sufficiently dry and acid, and four or five turnings are usually required. After the last turning grind the curd twice, making it finer than the curd of a Cheddar. The object of the fine grinding is to produce the granular, open, crumbly texture that is so much sought after in a Cheshire.
SALTING. — Salt is added at the rate of 7 to 8 ozs. per 20 lbs. of curd, more being used if the curd is wet, less if it is dry. The temperature at the time of salting should be above 70° F., and below 80° F. If below 70° the curd will not take the salt, and the cheese will afterwards become black in the centre. If 80° or above, there will be loss of fat during the after treatment of the cheese. Thoroughly mix the salt and the curd, and then put the salted curd into a hoop lined with a coarse cloth. After hooping take the cheese into the press-room, and place it in the cheese-oven, where a temperature of 75° to 80° is maintained. Here the whey slowly drains from the curd, the curd itself contracts, and the amount of acidity gradually increases. The escape of the whey is facilitated by the insertion of skewers, and their occasional removal. After the cheese has been in the oven for four hours it is turned, put into a dry coarse cloth, placed back again into the oven, and there it remains until morning.
PRESSING. — Next morning the cheese is removed from the oven and put into a fresh cloth. It is then placed in a press, but no pressure is applied, or only a very little. On the next three or four mornings the cheese-cloth is changed, and the pressure is gradually increased. By about the fourth morning whey will have ceased to exude, and when such is the case the cheese should be removed from the press and taken into the curing-room.
CURING. — Before taking the pressed cheese to the curing-room a bandage is pasted on to it, the paste used consisting of flour, boiling water, and borax. Over this bandage, an ordinary cheese-bandage is placed, and the corners of the cheese are often ironed with a hot iron to render them smooth. When the cheese is bandaged take it to the curing-room, which should have a temperature of 60° to 65° F. The shelves of this room are frequently covered with straw, upon which the cheeses are placed. Such a plan tends to produce a growth of green mould on the external surface of the cheese. The cheeses require to be turned daily for the first week or two; then gradually lessen the number of turnings until once per week is reached, and this must be continued until the cheese is sold. The cheese will be ripe in about four months.
Although we have just detailed a method of making Cheshire cheese, no exact data can be really considered to represent the Cheshire method, since it varies considerably with different makers, and according to which one of the three kinds of cheeses it is intended to produce. The aim throughout each system is undoubtedly to produce the best article of its kind, and the following principles, considered along with the details of the medium process just described, will roughly indicate the variations that have to be made in order to produce the different types of Cheshire cheeses: — The milk to be moderately sweet when the rennet is added; the temperatures throughout the process of manufacture to be varied according to the moistness of the curd required; if a dry curd is wanted the temperature should be comparatively high, if a wet one comparatively low; the quantity of rennet used to be varied according to the time the cheese is intended to ripen in, more being used if for quick ripening, and less if for slow ripening; the size to which the curd is to be cut depends on the amount of whey that is to be left in it, and this again depends on the kind of cheese; for a quick-ripening cheese leave a deal of whey in the curd, and cut into large-sized pieces; for a slow-ripening cheese expel the whey thoroughly, and cut the curd into very small pieces; the amount of acidity to allow to develop in the curd whilst in the whey must be greater the sooner the cheese is required to be ripe; the size of the particles of curd on salting also to be varied according to the time in which the cheese is wanted to ripen; the shorter the ripening period the coarser should be the curd, and vice versa; the pressure to be regulated according to the amount of whey required to be expelled, i.e. according to the dryness the curd is wanted; for quick ripening expel little whey, and therefore apply little pressure; for slow ripening expel all the whey possible, and therefore apply much pressure; a quick-ripening curd on hooping should be coarse-grained, and saturated with acid whey; a slow-ripening curd on hooping should be fine-grained, dry, and contain very little free whey.
Throughout the Cheshire systems the endeavour is to develop more or less of acidity after the curd is hooped, and hence the use of the oven.
The already described medium ripening process produces a good Cheshire cheese of such quality that when ripe it will keep a few months, should the markets necessitate such a plan. This clearly indicates one of the advantages of adopting this process (and this remark is also applicable to the late process), for should the early ripening one be adopted, the produce must be sold as soon as ripe, or else be wasted, as it has no keeping properties. On the other hand, the quick-ripening process produces a greater weight of cheese than the other two processes, and it also gives quicker returns, but the quality of the cheese produced by it is not first-class, and the risks as above indicated are great.