Parmesan Style Cheese Making Recipe (Raw Milk)
- 6 Gallons of Raw Milk
- 3.5 oz Prepared Bulgarian Yogurt
- 1 1/8 tsp Single Strength Liquid Rennet
- Good Thermometer
- Curd Knife
- Slotted Ladle
- Large Colander
- Large Tomme Cheese Mold
- Cheese Press or Weights
- Parmesan Style Raw Milk Cheese Info
- Q & A
Clean & Sanitize
Take extra care to insure everything is well clean and sanitized for this cheese, due to its long aging time.
I find the easiest and most thorough method is to begin the day with my milk pot and about 2-3 inches of water on the stove, boiling anything that is durable at those temperatures. Let this all boil for 10-15 minutes. I then take all of my tools and lay them on a sanitized surface ready for use. Make sure the molds, colander, and draining cloth are also sanitized and ready to go because following the whey removal, the curd must move quickly to the mold for pressing.
Also, because the curd cooking is done very quickly after cutting, another large pot of water should be kept on the stove just off the boil to add to the water bath in the curd cook/scald step found in the instructions below.
For this cheese I will use the freshest milk available. My source is fresh raw milk collected after the evening milking and then again the following morning. I leave 3 gallons of evening milk to set at room temperature of about 55-60F and then skim the cream from this the following morning. The low fat milk is then mixed with the 3 gallons of full fat milk collected in the morning.
The final amount of milk to the milk pot is about 5.5 gallons. The cream can be used for butter or simply added back to the whey for a richer ricotta.
Heat & Ripen Milk
Begin by heating the milk slowly to 91-93F. Using a milk pot in a water bath is the best way to do this but, if careful in heating, it can be done directly on the stove top. I use 2 thermometers to monitor bath and milk temps and keep a 10-20F differential between the two until I approach the target temp for the milk. The thermometers on Ricki's site do a great job.
When the milk is at temperature add the culture. I am using .5% of the Y1 yogurt that has been made up before hand . That is 1/2% percent of the milk volume as prepared yogurt or 3.5 oz. and this should be quite fresh and clean.
Normal store bought yogurts are not the same here in the US. Our Y1 yogurt is a 50:50 blend of thermophilus and bulgaricus cultures (both high temperature active) and while not the same as the more complex cultures that yesterdays whey provides in Italy, it will provide a great alternative, especially with the raw milk ripened overnight.
This should be stirred well with a spoon to break up the clumps, mixed into the milk thoroughly and then held at 93F for about 30 minutes.
Coagulate with Rennet
After the 30 minute ripening, give the milk its final stir before adding rennet. Allow it to go quiet and add the rennet, stirring in an up and down motion for 30 seconds.
At about 8-10 minutes you will notice the milk beginning to thicken but for this milk it needs to sit quiet for another 5-7 minutes until the curd becomes much firmer. This is a total coagulation time of 15 minutes from rennet addition to a final curd ready for cutting.
Cut & Cook Curds
Cut the curds to about 3/8 to 1/4 inch. I find that a coarse 1" cross cut with a knife breaks up the curd mass nicely and then using a long handled whisk with fine wires produces good results in reducing the curds to size nicely. Begin slowly with the whisk in a top to bottom manner and then speed up as the curd becomes smaller. Take about 10 minutes for this. Finding a long handled whisk with thin wires will make the small curd cutting go much easier.
The curds should be cut and stirred for another 10 minutes. Then the water bath should be heated, as shown in the chart below, to achieve the final curd temp of 132-133F by adding enough of the boiling water to the sink or outer hot water pot.
- 93-100F | 5 min
- 100-110F | 5 min
- 110-120F | 5 min
- 120-132F | 5 min
- Add cold water at 135F
A total of 20 minutes from 93F to 132F
This heating does go against the basics of cheese making that most of us have been taught (raise temp only a couple of degrees per minute over a long time to keep from surface hardening) but the rules ARE to be broken. The obvious 'science' here is that the small curd size, rapid speed of stirring in the vat and high heat do a great job at drying the curds out evenly.
The curds will quickly cook down to a smaller rice or barley grain size. They will also easily consolidate into a nice curd mass. Once the vat reaches the final temperature, the water jacket needs to be cooled to 135F and stirring should continue. Depending on the milk used, the curd should be ready to consolidate in 5-10 minutes. This is where the cheese maker begins looking at the state of the formed curds. The final curd needs to be dry, but not so dry that they do not hold together when pressed. As I mentioned previously, this is quite subjective and may take a few tries to get it right. This really is where the hands on workshops really help the newer cheese makers.
Consolidate Curd in Whey
This next step is in lieu of the Italian cheese makers allowing the huge curd mass to settle into the narrow bottom of the vats. We are missing the weight of that large curd mass, so will not quite accomplish the tight consolidation of the larger cheese-but this will work just fine. We will simply need to add a bit more weight in the final molding step.
Immediately after achieving the proper curd, it is time to transfer the curds to a cloth lined colander. Collect the whey to pour back into the pot and reheat to 135F.
Form the cloth and curds into a ball and submerge the cloth with curds in warm whey @135F for 60 minutes. It is best to allow this cloth of curds to "free-hang" by tying the cloth around a bar or long spoon across the vat. Make sure the entire curd mass remains submersed in the whey. This will help in forming a natural round curd mass.
At 10-15 minute intervals, untie and roll the curd mass back and forth in the cloth to consolidate it into a smooth surfaced mass.
At this point the culture will not be active due to the high temp, but this step is needed for the "Grana" structure of the cheese. It is this "soft" consolidation of the small curds that gives the cheese its characteristic grain or 'Grana' structure.
Finally, retrieve the consolidated curd from the warm whey and transfer the consolidated curd mass in the cloth to the prepared mold. At this point the curd should have formed a nice smooth surfaced mass. Press firmly with hand pressure into the mold, but do not break the curd mass.
The mold should already be sanitized and placed into its draining area. Now transfer the consolidated curd mass in the cloth to the prepared mold.
At this point the curd should have formed a nice smooth surfaced mass. Press firmly with hand pressure into the mold but do not break the curd mass.
Begin pressing with the follower in place. Initial pressure will be just enough to keep a thin trickle of whey running from the curd mass (10-15 lbs) for 15-30 minutes. The curd should be removed from the press, turned, and re-dressed (smooth out wrinkles) in the cloth at 10-15 minute intervals for the first hour.
As whey runoff slows, increase weight to 25 lbs for another 30-60 minutes and then to 50 lbs for another 8-12 hours.
My calculations show that the larger cheese and weight is about 6 times greater per sq. inch than smaller cheese. Therefore, we need 6 times the weight per square inch or 25 pounds of weight on the smaller cheese.
In addition, I mentioned the lack of consolidation due to the smaller curd mass in the vat so I simply doubled the 25 lbs to 50 pounds and this seems to work just fine and gives me a nice consolidated cheese with a smooth rind for aging.
Anyhow, its a bit of science/math and a bit of "driving blind" calculation that seems to work for me here. So, if my mathematical wanderings leave you totally confused, just go by my numbers above and you should be fine. I just thought I would throw in some "speed bumps" for this cheese making adventure
At this point the culture will not be active due to the high temp, so keep the cheese warm (80-85F) since the culture is still working and acid is being produced.
As the curd mass cools from 112 to 80F, it is at this cooling temperature that the culture bacteria will produce the final acid development. Press for 8-12 hours then no weight and hold in the mold with no cloth (temp should be held at 65-75F).
The cheese can be removed from the mold the following morning, but keep it from drying out. I find a small plastic box with cover works well for this. The cheese will now be held for 2 days as the culture finishes working before the final salting in brine.
Final yield is about 5 lbs from the 5.5 gallons of milk. The lower yield is due to the high scald temperatures and degree of cooking which results in less moisture. This is also why the cheese is capable of longer aging and more flavor.
You will need a saturated brine prepared for salting this cheese. A simple brine formula is:
- 1 gallon of water
- 2.25 lbs of salt
- 1 Tbs calcium chloride
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- Bring the brine and cheese to 50-55°F before using.
The cheese should placed in the brine solution for about 6.5 hours per pound of cheese.
Since the top surface will be above the brine and not receive any salt sprinkle, give it a good teaspoon of salt over the surface of the cheese at the beginning of the brining and again at the midway point in brining.
The cheese is now ready to dry off for a day or two and then can be aged at 80-85% moisture and 52-58F.
Mold should be brushed or rubbed down with a medium stiff brush or coarse cloth as it develops.
After about 1-2 weeks the rind should harden somewhat and the mold will not grow as readily. A light coat of oil will also discourage mold growth and make the mold easier to remove.
This cheese will be somewhat earlier in ripening and should show good character at about 12-14 months.
Do not forget the ricotta since this is a fabulous cheese for yielding great tasting "recooked" cheese. It works especially well if you add the skimmed butterfat back to the whey before heating. This batch yielded over 2.5 lbs of great ricotta in addition to the 5 pounds of Parma.
The Real Deal
Parmesan cheese is still produced in the way it was produced eight centuries ago. It is produced in the same places, using the very same practices, the same methods in order to keep and obtain the same characteristics, the same aspect, the same fragrance.
In 1200, Parmesan cheese already acquired its typical aspects: its characteristics were known for many years before and it is obvious this cheese has origins more ancient than those times.
Legend has it that this is the cheese that the Roman Legions marched on.
In addition to the cows' diet, there are different and unique micro flora and yeasts in the milk. The American practice of heating the milk for pasteurization kills these microorganisms. However, since Italians use raw milk to make Parmesan, these microorganisms add unique flavor components to the cheese that can give you extreme highs and lows of flavor. Pasteurized milk gives you a more consistent product, and it saves money for the manufacturer, but the flavor is hardly comparable.
It's not just the milk that's different in the United States. American cheese makers often use non-animal rennet to curdle the milk. And the starter cultures differ, with Italians using the whey left from the cheese-making of the day before, while Americans generally purchase starters from enzyme manufacturers. Finally, each cheese-making company, and each plant of each company, will have slightly different microorganisms in its environment, which alters the flavor of the cheese being produced.
Considerations for Making a Small Batch
For the small batch cheese maker, having access to raw or very fresh milk, there will be several considerations in making this cheese:
Adjusting the milk fat | This can be done by collecting fresh milk in the evening and then again in the morning. The cream is then skimmed from the evening milk and the low fat milk is blended with the full fat morning milk.
Sourcing an appropriate culture | In Italy, they still use a culture that is prepared from yesterdays whey. It would be very difficult to find an appropriate whey culture in the US and commercially this is usually rejected by the inspectors. I use a prepared Yogurt culture (Y1) here because of its 50:50 blend of Thermophilic and Bulgaricus cultures. Along with the raw milk that has been held at room temperature overnight, this gives me my "local" complexity.
The vats | The traditional copper vats would be hard to come by in the US and inspectors for small farms are not happy about the use of copper, so this is probably not an option here.
Cooking the curds quickly | In Italy, the heating is done with steam and can be done quite quickly. I work here with a Bain Marie style pot system. Traditionally it was not a problem for me to raise the temperature in the outer water pot but with such high heat demands, I find that I need to add an amount of boiling water to the outer pot or sink to get the curds cooked quickly. I simply keep a good volume of boiling water on the side for additions.
Dealing with the smaller mass of curds | The shape of a cylindrical pot or rectangular vat create a challenge in consolidating the curds under their own weight in the hot whey. The solution will be to extract the curds to cloth and then suspend this in the hot whey for consolidation.
Also, more weight in pressing will be needed to consolidate the curd mass well.
It is this consolidation in the vat of the small dry curds that gives Parmigiano-Reggiano its final texture and the right to the name "Grana".