While traveling in Italy, this is one of the most common forms of cheese found on the Italian table. This cheese can be eaten fresh as a table cheese or as an ingredient in a favorite dish. The most noted presence is in the Pienza/Siena region of south central Tuscany but is also found, in various forms, throughout Italy.
- 2 Gallons of Milk (Not UltraPasteurized)
- 2/3 Packet C201 Thermophilic Culture (1/2 packet for raw milk) - Can substitute 1.25% (of milk volume) prepared Y1 Bulgarian yogurt culture
- 1/2 tsp Single Strength Liquid Rennet
- Salt Brine
- Calcium Chloride (for pasteurized milk)
- Good Thermometer
- Knife to Cut Curds
- Spoon or ladle to Stir Curds
- 1-2 Basket Cheese Molds
- Butter Muslin
- Draining Mat
- Large Covered Pot (with a raised draining plate as detailed in step 5A)
- Caciotta Info
- Q & A
Acidify & Heat Milk
Begin by heating the milk to 98°F (37°C). You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats. The higher temperature will be more in line with a happy temperature for the Thermophilic bacteria.
Once the milk is at 98F the culture can be added. The lower culture amount is in character with the slightly less acid final cheese.
To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in. Then allow the milk to sit quiet for 45-60min and maintain the temperature.
Coagulate with Rennet
Next add about 2.5ml (1/2 tsp) of single strength liquid rennet.
The milk now needs to sit quiet for 20 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd . The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temp drops a few degrees during this time.
You will notice that the curd begins to thicken at about 8 minutes but allow the full time for coagulation and check for a nice clean break before cutting. If you find that your curd thickens or forms earlier, then use slightly less rennet in the next batch.
While waiting for the coagulation the forms and draining cloth should be sanitized and laid out on the draining area, ready to receive the curd.
Cut Curd & Release Whey
Cut the curd as soon as it has firmed well.
Cut curds into walnut size pieces to maintain a higher moisture in the final cheese. It is essential to be very gentle in the cut and stir so as not to break the curd further. I normally cut the curd vertical in both directions first and then wait 5 minutes before the horizontal cutting. Also, the stirring should be very slow, just enough to keep the curds moving and separated for releasing the initial whey.
After cutting the curd should be stirred another 10 minutes. At this point check the curd for excess moisture. If needed the temperature can be optionally raised to 102°F for the next 15 minutes of stirring. If not needed simply maintain the 98°F temperature for the entire time.
Total stir time is 25 minutes.
The final moisture determination will be a rather subjective decision and will depend on milk quality and process. It may take a couple of trials to better determine the point at which whey should be drained. The final moisture will be determined by milk quality, cook temperature, and rate/time of stirring.
Remove Whey & Form Cheese
Once the curd has reached your final evaluation point in the previous step, it is time to prepare for the curd transfer. Note that the curd is still rather large and when broken shows a lot of moisture still inside as in the photo shown here.
Begin the molding by removing about 40% of the whey until the curd begins to show. Then give the curds a nice gentle hand stir to discourage matting in the vat.
Your mold lined with cloth should already have been sanitized and in place at this point.
Transfer the curd to the mold and pack it lightly. You will need to pack (but not too much) the mold well above the top surface and wait as the whey drains to add more to get all of the curd into the mold.
It is at this point that any additions you care to make are added in layers as the curd is transferred. Any herbs or fresh ingredients should be well dried or blanched to discourage contaminants from developing.
NOTE: If using raw milk, your yield may be higher so that you may need a slightly larger mold or more than one mold to accommodate all of the curd. If using fresh ewes milk for this, you will definitely need more molds due to the higher yield.
Final Acid Development
Once all of the curd is transferred into the drain cloth and mold, the cloth is neatly folded over the top. It should then be flipped in the basket every 15 minutes and on the 2nd turn it should be turned in the cloth and returned to the basket.
If the form and cheese are left at room temperature it will quickly begin to chill and need to be warmed to keep the bacteria cultures warm and working happily. If this is not done, the bacteria will slow or even stop and the fermentation of the curd is not completed resulting in problems for the final cheese.
To avoid the cooling curd problems I prepare my steamer or 'Stufatura.' I prepare this by providing a larger pot or insulated cooler with a draining plate supported several inches above the warm water level that will be added to keep the temperature in the 90-100°F range. When the forms with cheese are ready, I simply place them on the draining rack and add enough hot water to maintain the temperature. 120°F water tends to cool quickly to 100°F and maintain this temperature.
The pot is then covered and the cheese is held here for at least 1-1.5 hours while the cheese finishes its lactose conversion to lactic acid. I check this at 20-30 min intervals to assure the temperature is correct and also turn the cheese in its form at the same time.
In effect this will complete the lactose conversion and thus keep the cheese from any late acid development which will lead to a sour and crumbly cheese defect.
Final Acid Development (cont.)
I continue to turn the cheese in the basket form every 30 minutes while in the warm chamber. The longer it stays warm the less sweet the final cheese.
At about 1hr remove the cloth and at about 1.5 hrs move the cheese to a room temperature draining area to let them gradually cool.
The cheese can then be left at room temperature until evening when it should be moved to a cool environment of 55-60°F to prepare for the salt brine.
By this time the cheese should be well consolidated with a nice tight surface and the imprint of the basket molds.
Because of the high moisture and warming work done in the 'Stufatura', there is no need for any pressing or press weight.
The next morning you are ready to brine this cheese.
You will need a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese, find all of the details you need on brining here.
A simple brine formula is:
- 1 gallon of water
- 2.25 lbs of salt
- 1tbs. calcium chloride
- 1 tsp. white vinegar
- Bring the brine and cheese to 50-55°F before using.
The cheese now needs to be set in the brine for about 2 hours.
The cheese will float above the brine surface so sprinkle a small amount of salt on the top surface of the cheese. Flip the cheese and resalt the surface about half way through the brine period.
At the end of the brine bath, wipe the surface and move the cheese to the aging space at about 52-55°F and 85-90% moisture. The high moisture of the cheese and aging space will be very good for mold growth so the cheese needs to be turned and wiped daily. The wipe will be with a cloth dampened with a 6-8% strength brine to remove the mold, then air dried briefly before returning to the aging space.
After about a week to 10 days the cheese will soften as the high moisture encourages the enzymes to work on the protein structure.
At about 2 weeks to 2 months the cheese will be ready for eating.
A True Italian Farmstead Cheese
While Traveling in Italy, this is one of the most common forms of cheese that I can find on the Italian table. It is one to be eaten fresh as a table cheese or as an ingredient in their favorite dishes.
Caciotta is a classic cheeses traditionally made on the Italian farm by the family members, but today it may be found being made on a larger scale by cheese cooperatives as well.
The name is derived from the old Latin word for cheese, 'Caseus', from which our modern words of Cheese, Kase, and Queso are derived.
It's most noted presence is in the Pienza/Siena region of south central Tuscany but it can be found in various forms throughout Italy.
What is Caciotta
As was the Italian farm tradition, a farm would often be a combination of both ewes, goats and, as time progressed, a mix of cows was also added. Later, even buffalo was used to make this cheese in southern Italy.
For convenience sake, many of the farms would have had this mix of all milk going into the same vat and making this one specific farm cheese. Hence, the makeup of this cheese today may be a range of 100% cows milk, ewes milk, or any combo of the three milks often labeled 'tre latte'. Even all Buffalo milk versions were made.
Caciotta is considered to be one of the traditional farmhouse cheeses that are rural and artisan in nature, and many varieties have been made in the Italian regions of Umbria and Tuscany for many years.
The general term Caciotta includes a wide variety of soft cheeses produced in various Italian regions, especially of central Italy. The term usually refers to small-medium-sized cheeses (1.5-2.5 lbs.) of cylindrical shape with low height (2-4 inches) and diameter of 4-8 inches, made with cows milk (tipo dolce), ewes milk (tipo saporito/lazial) or both, and ripened from one to several weeks.
It was always best made in the spring when the wildflowers were blooming.
This would be called "Cacio Marzolino", or "March cheese", and id known for its sweet and fragrant character.
Caciotta cheeses have a semi-soft texture with a creamy firm consistency, providing a flavor that ranges from mild to tangy as it ages. The rind is yellowish, while the paste is soft, compact and a pale yellow color.
The taste is sweet and resembles the taste of the milk. It keeps a long time in a cool and ventilated place, but once cut, it should be kept in the refrigerator, wrapped in a brine dampened cloth or a sheet of foil, and consumed within a short time to prevent it from drying out.
Caciotta has many uses, for example, cut into cubes and added in green salads, but also in the preparation of cooked foods: hot filling for crepes while these are still in the pan or on the plate, or mixed with the eggs to prepare the omelettes.
In addition, although not foreseen in the traditional recipe, it can turn into a sauce with the addition of egg yolks, add this sauce to the local pasta (pici, a type of homemade spaghetti characteristic of the Senese) or your favorite pasta.
It has an intense aroma and a soft consistency, and its delicate flavour goes well with strongly flavored food such as cured ham, but also with sweet fig or cherry jam, honey, and above all with Tuscan bread. The sweet aroma of the Tuscan cheese is reminiscent of freshly milked milk and is perfect served with other typical Tuscan products like salami and wine.
Variations in Style
One thing that has always intrigued me about this cheese is the various ways in which it is presented. The base process is always quite similar, but it has a variety of additions to the paste and the surface treatment can be varied as well. I have tried most of these and they are all good.
- Cracked black peppercorns spaced throughout the cheese body
- Mild to fiery additions of red peppers mixed into the cheese
- Additions of small bits of black summer truffle (Tartufa)
- A light rub of good olive oil for its aromatic addition
- The rind can be washed several times with crushed tomatoes, a tradition that goes back to not wanting to waste the valuable olive oil on coating the cheese
- The cheese is sometimes aged in layers of grey ash inside large clay vessels for weeks or months
- It can be aged under hay, 'Caciotta Sotto il Fieno'. A rare cheese, it is aged this way to retain the fresh milk flavor and also add hints of the countryside from which it comes.
- It can be wrapped in leaves and aged
- Soaked in wine or the marc from wine making.
- It can even be allowed to develop a natural rind of geotrichum with longer aging.
A Very Unique Process Step
For this cheese, a very short stir is required and the curd is transferred soon before much acid has been developed or whey released.
Because of this, it is very important to extend the warm period, well after the cheese has been formed, to allow the final culture activity to complete its job because the Thermophilic bacteria like a much warmer temperature.
Since the cheese will begin to cool down shortly after molding, an additional step is needed. Traditionally they were transferred to an artisanal warm room to maintain the warm temperature for 1-2hours. This was called the 'Stufatura' which means steaming in Italian.
On a smaller scale I do this here by supporting a small draining plate in a larger pot or insulated cooler and adding hot water to maintain the temperature.
You should have this sanitized, set up, and ready to go while the milk is heating.
A Great Molded Cheese for Beginners
This is an ideal cheese for folks making their first molded cheese.
It is relatively quick to make and requires simple equipment (no press or weights involved). It also takes only days or weeks to age and not months.
Having this quick turn-around is a big plus in evaluating how you are doing with your cheese making.
I used Bulgarian yoghurt as my culture. Very impressed with this cheese. It’s an easy cheese to make and has a very short age time. I definitely recommend adding something to the cheese. I’ve made several (one with herbs and another with peppercorns) and the additions really add something to a rather generic (but great tasting!) cheese.
Made it first couple of time as recipe goes. After that started to make it with 3 gallons of milk (no need to split the package of Thermo starter, make sure to use 3/4 tsp of rennet) add Geo 15 and Geo 17 1/64 tsp each and 1/32 tsp of C80 for a nice fast white rind. It takes care of need to wipe the cheese and protects it from drying out to much. Adding toasted crushed black peppercorn and/or dried mint brings a little character to otherwise pretty mild cheese.
This recipe is a nice change of pace from the long-stir and weeks-to-age cheddar! I had never heard of this cheese before, but I was pleasantly surprised by the gentle flavor and smooth, firm texture of the finished product (using raw goat milk). It's perfect for a snacking cheese or on sandwiches but could also be dressed up for a fancy cheese plate. As always, the detailed instructions and photos included with the recipe make it easy to follow.
Came out perfect on my first attempt. My new favorite to make. I add Black pepper to some, and herbs to my others. Creamy and smooth and melts well on toasted sandwiches
Made two wheels from raw milk. Looks exactly like the first picture in the recipe. After 10 days cut the first wheel. Taste is mild and slightly bitter. Will update after two months how the second wheel turns out.