How to make Parmesan

Cheesemaking in South Auckland? Who would have thought! We discovered that Jean Mansfield who owns a farm near Waihi (outside of Tauranga) is teaching cheese making classes in South Auckland.

We signed up and for the cost of $ 190.00 to learn how to make Parmesan, Camembert and Ricotta. The price included a hearty lunch with a glass of wine served on Jean’s deck, overlooking a lovely garden. When you walk in the house has a real “country feel” and one wonders if she keeps chickens and cows in the backyard in the middle of South Auckland (I’ve seen stranger things).

We arrived at around 08:30 in the morning and were greeted by Jean’s husband and of course Jean Mansfield herself. She has been making cheese for many years and has been fortunate enough to even teach her classes on a cruise ship.

The group we joined was small, a total of six people. Small enough to get to know everyone. So we all rolled up our sleeves, put on our aprons (a very cute one with cows on it in my case) and got excited about making cheese.

Our goal was to make three cheeses for the day:

  • Parmesan
  • Camembert
  • Ricotta

I won’t go over all of them, but I have to say that I was quite impressed and surprised that I was going to learn how to make Parmesan. I’m not a big Pasta Lover, but every once in awhile a little pasta tossed in some garlic and butter sprinkled with Parmesan is absolutely lovely.

Of course Parmesan is also one of the main ingredients in Pesto which I love, so I was very excited to make my very own Parmesan.

If you’re going to give this a go remember that it takes patience to come up with something as delicious as cheese. The keys to be successful are many, but the one thing to keep in mind is always not to overheat the milk! You can always warm up the milk to higher temperatures, but you cannot solve the damage once you’ve gone over your high temperature in a recipe.

Below are the ingredients we used:

  • Whole Milk – This can be pasteurized but should not be homogenized
  • Lipase – This adds the intense flavor to our Parmesan
  • Calcium Chloride – Calcium Chloride helps to set firmer with store bought milk
  • Thermophilic Starter – Thermophilic Starter is used if milk is heated above 35C
  • Rennet – Is the catalyst, can be from calf, mushroom or microbial form

We began by making up a lipase solution which meant that we mixed the powder in some cooled boiled water. We let it stand for a good amount of time to let it ripen.

We then warmed up the milk in a double boiler and added the thermophilic starter. That of course meant that we were going to warm up the milk above 35 degrees. After stirring in the starter we let the milk ripen for about 30 minutes, maintaining the same temperature.

Then we added our lipase solution which is what gives Parmesan the pungy flavor we all love. If you imagine the texture of Parmesan then you’ll realise why for this cheese you will need to add some calcium chloride. Calcium Chloride essentially is an inorganic salt that helps the curd to be firmer.

At last we added the rennet, stirred it around, as otherwise it does tend to clump all in one place. We covered the milk and let it rest for another 30 minutes.

Can you imagine our surprise when we uncovered the pot after 30 minutes and we could see how the curds had formed!

Jean showed us the technique to test whether the curd was set enough. By cutting straight across and then cutting the curd at an angle you will notice if it separates cleanly once you lift it up. If it does and you have a nice amount of whey forming around the cut then you’ve been successful!Parmesan Curds

What makes Parmesan cheese a little more difficult to make is that you have to “cook the curds”. This term refers to the fact that once you’ve cut the curds you then heat up the curds to a higher temperature. We first raised the temperature to 38 Celsius while stirring slowly. Once it reached 38 degrees we then slowly heated up the milk to 52 Celsius over the next 15 minutes. Stirring helps to expel the whey from the curds. If you taste the curds at this stage you’ll find that they are a little squeaky on your teeth if you decide to chew some.

We then took the pot off the element and let it rest for 5 minutes. Once rested we ladled the curds into the mold and placed the follower on top.

What is a follower you ask? In this case it was a round disk that went on top of the cheese, fitting quite tightly into the cheese mould so that the cheese can be pressed. I was instructed to press the follower quite hard for 5 minutes with my hands. Once done we turned over the cheese and put a 5kg weight on for about 30 minutes. We probably left it a bit longer, but it will all depend on how much whey is expelled. You’ll get the feeling for it after a while.Parmesan Curds ready for pressing

The cheese was then turned over again and pressed with roughly 7 – 8kgs for about 2 hours. The waiting time is wonderful, as it gives you time to do some other things in your life. In this case Jean Mansfield talked to us about all different kinds of moulds as well as how to make your own mother culture (more on this later).

Jean Mansfield taught a wonderful class on how to make Parmesan, along with Camembert and Ricotta. It was an amazing day and if you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend taking one of her classes if you happen to travel to New Zealand. But if you cannot, then you can get the full recipe in her book How to make cheese with Jean Mansfield here: How to make cheese.

Her book is written for the novice. The recipes are easy to follow, just remember that you’ll need to have lots of patience.

My Parmesan had some issues as it went along. It developed some brown mould that I scrubbed off with a salt solution. It is now looking absolutely beautiful and I cannot wait to try it. Does it not look yummy?

Finished Parmesan

So you want to make home made cheese?

Cheese has always been part of my life while growing up in Switzerland. Fondue is one of the best known dishes in Switzerland and has been part of Switzerland’s culture for many years. What is it that makes Fondue special? It’s actually not about the cheese itself, although it’s yummy of course. But the best cheese fondue of course would be made with my own home made cheese I suspect.

Fondue is much more about sitting around the family table and sharing a meal. It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with the whole family while having a satisfying meal. If you want to add some fun you make the person who loses a piece of bread in the mixture buy a bottle of white wine. Why white? It’s good for your digestion, after all, fondue can sit in your stomach like a piece of concrete.

So all my life I had dreams of one day making my own cheese. Of course these thoughts come and go as life takes it’s course. But life has brought me to New Zealand and one of the things I miss the most is CHEESE!

This is not to say that New Zealand does not have good cheese. It does! Just mostly not in the two major super markets you find around Auckland. What a far cry from Switzerland where you can go into mostly any supermarket and find good quality cheese.

So yesterday, after signing up for my first “Make your own Cheese” class I decided that I wanted to give it a go before attending the class. I decided on Ricotta, since this is one of the only cheeses that you will not need to have Rennet or a starter for. But of course on a Sunday I was hard pressed to get the ingredients I needed if I wanted to attempt to make some fancy cheese. So off to the local hardware store I went and to my surprise they had what I was looking for: Cheesecloth. The rest of the ingredients I had in my cupboard, all I needed was pasteurized whole milk (of course raw milk would be better) and a little bit of white wine vinegar.

After heating up the milk in a stainless pan to about 90 degree Celsius and adding a little bit of vinegar I pulled the pan off the heat and stirred very slowly until the curds formed. Amazingly they did so within minutes after which I fished them out and put them into a sieve lined by the cheese cloth. The longer you drain the mixture the harder your cheese will become. After about 10 minutes I decided to stop draining it and below is what I had created:

My first Ricotta

The recipe I followed was very easy, courtesy of Jean Mansfield from Make Cheese. I was amazed how easy this was. Who knew that cheese could be made in about half an hour.

My Ricotta reminded me of Mozzarella Cheese which is of course a little bit harder to make. After draining it I added a little salt, but am now wondering whether the salt should be added right after taking the milk off the hot plate. This of course will be discovered with my next experience.

Give it a go! It’s fun, it’s easy and you end up with a great starter that you can proudly say you made yourself. Over the next couple of days I’ll go ahead and post the actual recipe.