It’s been a while since I bid a fond farewell to my home-made Cheddar, known as Tooting Gold or E-Colin for short. Anyone who has read this sorry tale before will recall that Colin, despite maturing apparently happily down in my cellar for six months was judged (quite literally, by a judge) to be distinctly below par. It was a disappointing result but hardly surprising, given my complete lack of knowledge about cheese-making when I set out to create him. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on me as I cobbled together moulds, picked off hairs and chased away mites to create my cheese monster. Poor Colin.
But, not one to be deterred, I decided to set off on a different cheese path. If Cheddar is one of our quintessential British cheeses then so too is Stilton (don’t laugh). And it also demands a range of different ingredients and techniques which appealed to me. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for a legion of reasons but this time I meant business. I threw away my previous batch of rennet tablets and the pots of culture I had made ; they had never seemed to yield a very good curd for me
bad workman blames tools etc.
I pondered for a while about whether to go back to basics and blue my Stilton the old-fashioned way. Judging by the literature, my choices to encourage mould appeared to be using well-worn boots or perhaps an old horse harness. Boots we could do but I was pretty sure that the local cultures from dog poo and fag butts weren’t going to produce the desired results.
Horses were out, my cat does not qualify as a working animal according to any definition and again, my son’s pet worms seemed like a bit of a gamble. So reluctantly I conceded to modern ways and ordered in a whole lot of new cultures, including the all-important Penicillium Roqueforti.
I consulted several other blogs whilst I was gearing myself up for the next steps, so big thanks go to The Greening of Gavin, Much To Do About Cheese and Handyface. All of these chaps are far better at home cheese-making than me and have actually produced edible specimens that haven’t killed anyone (or perhaps they’re keeping quiet on that particular point). Gavin very kindly provides a recipe and podcast on his website and so
blame him if it goes wrong it was this that I followed.
The first big decision was the milk. I have previously gone with raw milk for my cheeses but it didn’t seem to make much difference as to whether the cheese was a hopeless failure or not, so this time I thought keep it simple and bought – shock, horror – pasteurised supermarket whole milk. Given that Stilton has to be made with pasteurised milk, this will also help when I seek admittance to The Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association (although they may still have to bend the geographical rules for me slightly). So, we were off: 7.6 litres of it went into a large pan with 500ml single cream.
I then added the Penicillium Roqueforti, about ⅛ tsp, which was quite a strange moment, partly because it looked like something out of Breaking Bad:
And partly because, despite my love of blue cheese and understanding of how it’s made, it still feels slightly wrong to try and encourage food to grow mould. I then gently heated the whole lot up to 30˚C before adding the mesophilic culture (¼ tsp), putting a lid on the pan and leaving it for 30 minutes. I then added the rennet; I was giving liquid rennet a try this time, about ¼ tsp dissolved in 60ml of cooled boiled water, stirred in well. It was now time to leave it for 90 minutes to let the curds set.
It was a tense moment when I lifted the pan lid. This is usually the moment where it all starts to go wrong. I was anticipating something that looked like a meagre handful of cottage cheese floating in some barley water, which is often what I manage to achieve. But look!
It was a lovely firm set and a clean break! Whoopee! I ladled the curds into a colander (this one is lined with some special cheese-making stuff that Kristen from Gringa Dairy kindly gave me) and there was so much curd I wasn’t sure it was all going to fit in.
It was then lightly pressed on the draining board overnight.
The next morning I broke up the curd (loads of it!) into thumb-sized chunks (technically called ‘milling’) and mixed 2 tbsp of cheese salt well into it. I then pressed the curds into my improvised cheese mould, lined again with muslin. Stilton is not a pressed cheese as there need to be gaps amongst the curds for air to circulate and the mould to grow in. For two hours I flipped it every 15 minutes and then over the next four days it was turned four times a day. By this point, there was a distinct blue cheese smell in the air.
The next point was another potentially tricky moment, as I had to take the cheese out of the mould. It still felt very soft and creamy to me and I was convinced it was going to collapse. Would it survive out in the world? Well, just about:
As you can see, it has a very rough and craggy surface because it hasn’t been pressed. You can also see the odd whisper of blue mould starting to grow on it!
At this stage, Colin the Cheddar looked like this:
It’s fascinating to see how already the cheeses had chosen a different path in life. The next stage of Stilton-making is called (smirk, smirk) ‘rubbing up’, which means you have to smooth the outside to prevent the crags turning into full-blown cracks as the cheese ages. Again, I wasn’t convinced mine was going to survive this process but with the help of a teaspoon dipped in boiling water, I began to make progress so this:
I decided to pierce it next; this allows air in so that the blue mould culture can start to grow. I know that some people do this step later down the line but Gavin’s podcast said to do it now and I was worried in case my cheese dried out whilst ageing and collapsed at the thought of being pierced. It was another tense moment, as I pushed the sterilized thermometer stem into the cheese but all was mostly okay, until I got bold and went too near the edges. There was quite a bit of collapsing and cracking going on but I think I managed to cobble it all back together.
So now, the Stilton must descend into the dreaded cellar. It’s actually a perfect temperature for cheese down there at the moment. I don’t have anything approaching a fancy cheese cave and so he’s gone into a sealed Tupperware cake container.
There’s a piece of damp tissue in the bottom to try and raise the humidity levels but time will tell whether it keeps him moist enough. I have to turn him every couple of days at the moment and here’s what he looked like at the latest visit:
Now, I’m no expert but he looks pretty good to me! What do we reckon, cheese-making expert dudes? He’s still nice and moist but actually is cracking far less now when I turn him. I hope that this is all good news but as ever with these things, time will tell. Any tips gratefully received.
So, now he just needs a name. Trevor was the suggested moniker on a previous post. Does he look like a Trevor? These things are important, you know. As someone once said to me, ‘Every fermented foodstuff needs a name.’
Will Trevor prove to be edible? Will he survive the cheese cellar of doom? Will he poison us all? Watch this space…