How Our Cheese Is Made
Pine River Cheese produces fine quality cheese, using fresh milk from area dairy herds. Cheese is a protein food with outstanding nutritional value, not to mention being economical and an excellent source of calcium, too. It is an extremely versatile food which is appropriate for any meal of the day, or just as a snack. There is nothing quite like cheese to awaken one's taste buds before a meal.
Cheese making is an ancient craft that harkens back to the very beginnings of civilization. Cheese was a favourite of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They recognized its nutritional value and included it in the diets of Spartan wrestlers when training for the Olympic games, and of Roman legions on their marches.
Cheese is no better than the milk from which it has been made. Therefore cheese makers must select the milk carefully. It must be high quality and free of any off flavour, odour, sediment or extraneous matter. At Pine River Cheese all phases of the cheese making operation are under the strictest controlled supervision. An accurate record of the milk weight must be kept so the correct amounts of culture, chymosin and salt can be used. The milk must be properly agitated so quality regulating tests can be regularly conducted.
Raw milk is trucked daily to Pine River Cheese from local farms, and is stored in three large holding tanks at about five degrees Celsius, for no more than two days. The milk is graded twice, once by sight and smell by the truck driver at the farm before it is pumped to the truck, and again at the plant by the cheese maker for sight, smell and acidity. Acidity levels of more than 1.5% are unacceptable at Pine River Cheese.
From the storage tanks, the milk travels through the pasteurizer where it is heated to 72 degrees Celsius (161 F) for 16 seconds, then cooled to 32 degrees Celsius. Cheese made from pasteurized milk has a higher yield than cheese made from raw milk and has a milder more uniform flavour upon curing, although it doesn't achieve the full flavour of raw milk cheese. As well, pasteurized milk cheese does not require storage and may be sold immediately after production. Aged cheddars must be held for 60 days after making.
Following pasteurization, the milk is passed through a clarifier which filters the cheese milk to improve the flavour and quality of Pine River cheese. The cheese milk then enters the cheese vat where it is agitated and ripening process begins. Ripening is the development of acid in the milk as the result of the growth of streptococcuslactis, a lactic acid bacteria which is started with the aid of the milk culture. Although ripening may occur from natural acid forming bacteria that are present in raw milk, the process is usually accelerated by the introduction of the milk culture at the rate of 1/2 to 2% by volume. The purpose of the culture is to change milk sugar into lactic acid which is essential to cause the curd to shrink and expel the whey. The quality of the culture directly affects the quality of the finished cheese. Also during the ripening process colour (Annatto Extract) is added to the milk because the natural colour of cheese is dependent on the feed of the cow. Therefore, it is desirable for cheese to be a uniform quality and colour for the consumer market. The main staff in cheese making is forming the gel of which Caesin is the main factor. Caesin holds a large portion of milk constituents such as albamin, fat and minerals. This Caesin gel retains water in its compounds in much the same way a sponge holds water. The gel is formed with the addition of Chymosin to the cheese vat. Chymosin is a proteolytic enzyme and the addition of Chymosin is referred to as setting the vat. Chymosin is added at a rate of 85 millilitres per 454 kilograms of milk and the cheese milk is stirred for 3 to 5 minutes, then covered and left undisturbed while the coagulation process occurs, which is usually 25 to 30 minutes.
When the milk has sufficiently coagulated it is ready to be cut. The milk is cut to separate the solids from the liquid. These two elements are known as curds and whey. After the gel is cut, the curds and whey are gently stirred and cooked for 25 minutes after cutting. The most effective way of drawing moisture out of the curd is through cooking at 38.3 Celsius (101 F), until the whey is ready to be drained.
When to drain the whey is determined by testing the acidity of it. When the proper acidity is attained, the curds and whey are pumped to a draining table where the whey is pumped off. Whey disposal presents a challenge to cheese makers because of the environmental hazards. Containing protein and sugar, whey is a rich source of food for bacteria. If whey is emptied into a stream, bacteria grows, utilizing the oxygen in the water, and suffocates the fish. Whey may be used for human consumption in a variety of products, including processed cheese, candy, confection, ice cream, whey drinks, vinegar, and bakery products. Any whey used for such products must be handled under strict sanitary conditions such as are used to handle fluid milk.
After the bulk of the whey is removed, the curd is manually or mechanically stirred to break it apart to allow any remaining whey to drain freely. The curd is piled 13 to 15 centimetres deep at the sides of the drain table where it is allowed to mat. This is the beginning of the cheddaring process. The purpose of cheddaring is to control moisture content and allow the curd to form a desirable body. It is a portion of the cheese making process that requires much care and patience. The curd must be cut repeatedly, and piled, to allow maximum whey drainage. This must be done while preventing the surface from drying out, and while maintaining a uniform curd temperature to achieve the desired texture. To accomplish this, the curd is cut about 25 centimetres wide, then piled so that every block is overlapping the one next to it, and pointing towards the drain, to facilitate easy drainage. When the desired texture has been achieved, which is usually after two or so hours, the slabs are cut into strips to be put through the milling machine. Milling cuts the curd into small pieces to promote whey removal and prepares the curd for pressing. After milling, salt is added to the curd as it is stirred. Salt is added to shrink the curd, slow acid development, and to check undesirable forms of bacteria. It is after this stage that you can purchase cheese curd in the store.
The curd is ready to be pressed into blocks when the salt has been absorbed. The curd is smooth and the flow of whey has stopped. The curds are pushed off the drain table and into an auger system, which, in turn, takes the curds to the cheese molds. Curds are packed into molds and are pressed into 108 kg blocks at a maximum pressure of 2.8 kilopascals for about 12 hours. The press applies pressure slowly to allow the free escape of any remaining whey until maximum pressure is attained. After the cheese has been pressed it is placed in a vacuum chamber at 91 kilopascals for 30 minutes. The vacuum chamber not only removes any air that may be trapped after pressing but it also helps to cool the cheese which will help it to cure more evenly. When the large blocks are removed from the vacuum chamber the molds are removed and the 108 kg blocks are cut into smaller 19 kg blocks and stored in the warehouse at a constant 4 degrees Celsius. Our cheddars are naturally aged. The targeted ageing span is one year for old (before it is cut into consumer size blocks), two years for extra old, and three years and more for our premium cheeses.
One case out of every vat is placed in the grading room which is kept at a constant 15.5 degrees Celsius to enhance the curing process. After 21 days, the cheese from the grading room is tested for taste, texture, moisture, fat content, and bacteria levels. The 19 kg blocks are then taken to the packaging room where they are cut into consumer size portions and vacuum wrapped, to ensure freshness. After each piece of cheese has been weighed and labelled, it's ready for the store shelf.
In addition to cheddar, Pine River Cheese makes 13 other varieties, including Colby, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Brick, and many tasty flavoured cheeses (e.g. Onion & Parsley).
Pine River Cheese – Traditional Quality Since 1885!