From milk to cheese in 5 stages
When the milk first arrives, it undergoes quality controls before being filtered. Dairy milk is heated slowly and stirred constantly in a large cheese vat until the desired temperature has been reached. Rennet, an enzyme taken from the stomachs of young calves that can also be produced microbially, is added to the milk together with lactic acid bacteria (or possibly just acids). When making white mould cheese (e.g. Camembert) and blue mould cheese (e.g. Roquefort), mould cultures are introduced into the milk.
The stirring equipment is then switched off. After resting for 30 to 40 minutes, a jelly-like mass appears (protein in its set form), the milk has curdled.
The jelly-like mass is broken up using a “cheese harp”, a stirring instrument strung with thin wire. The pieces become smaller and smaller as they are stirred. The “curd” separates from the watery part, which is the “whey”. The smaller the pieces of curd, the harder the cheese will be at the end of the manufacturing process.
The whey can be processed further in two different ways. It is either centrifuged to obtain cream, in which case the whey cream is used to produce dairy butter, or the whey is replaced with vinegar or another acid and then used to make Ziger.
3. Heating, forming and saline bathing
The curd is heated to 57°C maximum, whilst being constantly stirred. With the help of a cheesecloth, it is lifted out of the whey and given its shape, the “Järb”. The cheese is pressed to force the whey out. The lactic acid bacteria that have been added to the cheese turn the lactose into lactic acid. The cheese, which is still soft, is put into a saline bath for a period lasting from 30 minutes to two days depending on the size of the cheese. During this time, it absorbs salt and loses moisture. The rind forms – the cheese becomes stable.
4. Fermenting and ripening
The fermentation process affects the formation of holes in the cheese dough and the aroma. The holes are produced as a result of carbon dioxide gas, which is released as milk sugar (lactose) is broken down by specific lactic acid bacteria. As this gas cannot escape, it forms bubbles. The bubbles make holes in the cheese dough.
As the cheese ripens, the protein is broken down into a more easily digestible form. At this stage, the cheese gets the taste that is typical of its particular variety. It can take from several days (e.g. Tomme) to several years (e.g. Sbrinz AOC) for the cheese to mature. During this time, the cheese wheel must be carefully looked after by turning and washing it regularly.
5. Quality control
The cheese is checked thoroughly before it goes on sale. This is to ensure that only cheese of excellent quality is sold. Hole formation, the quality of the cheese dough, taste and outward appearance (shape and conservation) are checked and assessed.
What About the Holes?
The holes in Swiss cheese are formed by carbon dioxide pockets that result from the bacteria used to make the cheese. Hole size is serious business in Swiss cheese making. Hole size must meet certain size requirements and there must be a certain number of holes in a preset area.Whether you eat Swiss cheese made the old fashioned way or using the modern methods, true Swiss cheese is delicious when served with fruit, crackers, wine, or a simple loaf of bread.