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CHEESE MAKING
WHAT IS CHEESE AND HOW IS IT PRODUCED?
CHEESE

Cheese is a fresh or cured product obtained from the coagulation and separation of any of the following products: milk, cream, skim milk (2% or 0.5%), butter whey or a mixture of any of them.

CHEESE PRODUCTION PROCESS
RECEPTION AND PRE-TREATMENT

When the milk is received, it is sanitized in order to elimiante the solid impurities that come from the dairy. Once sanitized, the milk is homogenized if one desires to give the milk a determined level of fat content. For this, machines are used to skim the milk by way of centrifugal procedures which separate the lactic fat. If the milk is not homogenized, then we say the milk is whole.
Afterward, if the milk were NOT immediately employed in the production process, it would be cooled some 3 or 4ºC, which is the optimum temperature for preserving the milk.

THERMAL TREATMENTS FOR THE MILK

Before the production process is begun, either with freshly milked liquid or with refrigerated milk, the milk can be heated to some 70 – 80ºC during 15 – 40 seconds. This process is known as pasteurization and the objective is to eliminate pathogenic microbes from the milk. When this process is not employed, it is said that the cheese is made from fresh milk.

 ADVANTAGES
PASTEURIZED MILKThe pathogenic organisms have been removed to minimize the risk of being harmful for human consumption in cheeses cured for less than 60 days.
FRESH MILKHaving not undergone a thermal process, the “good” microorganisms have not been eliminated so that we obtain a more intense and flavorful cheese.

Cheese produced with fresh milk is exquisite and can be consumed with no problem as long as it has been cured for at least 60 days, or else if the curing process were less, but the milk were to come from a sanitary dairy. It is important to mention than long ago the milk was not pasteurized since that process had not yet been invented.

FILLING THE VAT AND ADDING THE FERMENTS

Once the milk is ready, having been thermally treated or not, it is poured into a vat, in order to heat it up again to 25-30ºC ()ºF. Cultures of lactic bacteria, ferments and molds (which will grow and give the cheese its flavor and aroma in the curing process) are all added.

COAGULATION

Next, rennet is added (extract obtained from the curdling of rumiants’ stomach –animal rennet– or from certain plants –plant rennet). This is the moment when milk becomes cheese because the casein (the most important of milk’s protein) is coagulated at some 30-32ºC ()ºF, pulling together the greatest part of the fat and other components. Another method of coagulation is that which is obtained from the acidification of the milk. If milk is left at room temperature, its acidity will progressively increase until it takes on the aspect of curdle or “sour milk”. This is the method used to produce the Afuega’l Pitu cheese.

MILK COMPOSITION
CHEESE COMPOSITION
CUTTING OF THE PASTE

When the coagulation has finished, the curdled paste is then cut with knives or “lira”. The paste is cut in order to obtain smaller or larger pieces, depending on the whey we wish to keep in the paste. Normally, a more humid cheese uses larger cut pieces which act like a “sponge”. In this phase of the production, the excess whey is removed (whey = the liquid part of milk that has not been used in the production of the cheese). Milk —> cheese + whey.

HEATING

Once the paste has been cut and the whey removed, it is heated to between 30 and 48ºC (ºF), while it is shaken so the pieces remain separate and do not stick together. The more the pieces are heated, the drier the cheese will be since the increase in temperature causes more whey to be removed. Depending on the temperature to which the paste has been heated, we have soft paste, semi-cooked paste or cooked paste.

PRESSING

After heating the paste, the molds (recipients which will give the cheese its shape and size) are filled. The molds can be pressed or not. This pressing causes more whey to seep out and allows for the cheeses to acquire more accentuated shapes. We refer to cheeses in this sense as pressed paste cheeses or non-pressed paste cheeses. Many times the holes we see in cheeses are produced in this phase of the process. If the paste is pressed with a high whey content, we manage to press the pieces tightly together, thus obtaining a cheese with no holes. On the other hand, if the pieces of paste are dry when poured in the mold, we will end up with a cheese with holes. Except in very few occasions, the absence of holes does NOT necessarily indicate a cheese of higher quality.

SALTING

Now the cheese has been pressed and we move on to the salting phase. This can be done by applying dry salt directly to the paste, or by immersion in salt water or brine.

CURING

Curing is the last phase of production and can last anywhere from a few hours to various months.
In the curing process numerous flavors and aromas develop. It takes place in special areas prepared for this process, where the temperature and humidity are proper for each kind of cheese. These curing cellars can be natural, such as the caves where Cabrales cheese or Picón-Tresvijo cheese is cured, or in special rooms prepared just for this process.
Throughout the curing process the cheese will slowly lose its humidity through evaporation. This causes a decrease in weight, and a porcentual increase in dry extract compared to the whole weight of the cheese. This means that if, for example, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cheese is made up the first day of 450 grams (1 pound) of dry material and 550 grams (1.2 pounds) of water, after some time in the curing process, this cheese will no longer weigh 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), but rather 900 grams (2 pounds) and the composition will be the same 450 grams (1 pound) of dry material and 450 grams (1 pound) of water. Depending on the time the cheese is left to cure in the cellars, we refer to the cheese as fresh, soft, aired, cured, aged or mature

PRODUCTION AND CHEESES
ANDALUSIA
Valley of the Pedroches
ASTURIAS
Morcín and Riosa counties
Taramundi county
Cabrales
Peñamellera Alta
BALEAR ISLANDS
Menorca
BASQUE COUNTRY
Basque country
CANTABRIA
Cantabria
Liébana region
CASTILLA Y LEON
Zamora
Castilla-León
Valdeón valley
CASTILLA-LA MANCHA
La Mancha
CATALUNYA
Catalan pyrenees
Pyrenees of Girona
EXTREMADURA
La Serena region
Alcántara reservoir
Casa regionr
Ibores region
GALICIA
Galicia
Ulloa river basin
Villalba county
MURCIA
Jumilla
NAVARRE
Ronca valley