Have you ever looked at all the chunk cheese at the supermarket and wondered if you could make your own cheesy creation? In fact, many people enjoy cultivating their own cheese; people have made cheese at home for hundreds of years. Although it is not as fast as simply picking up a block of cheese at the market, creating your own cheese will allow you to control the ingredients and develop a taste all on your own.
During the cheese making process, an active bacterial culture is added to the dairy product, such as milk. The milk contains lactose, or sugar. By adding the culture, a chemical process will begin with the lactose so that it turns into lactic acid. This acidity process will eventually turn the milk from a liquid into the cheese product. There is one key problem though: there is no way to visibly know what the acidity amount is during the process.
Why is the acidity so important during cheese making? An extremely low acidity will render a liquid cheese devoid of any shape. In contrast, excess levels of acid will cause the cheese to be brittle and crumbly. What does the acidity do in particular within the cheese? Well, the acidity balances the calcium amounts in the cheese; the calcium acts as a glue to the internal dairy curds that develop in the cheese. Excessive acidity will reduce the calcium content until the “glue” cannot adhere the curds together. The end result is a brittle chunk of cheese. Moisture as well leaves the cheese since the curds cannot hold the water molecules firmly within the substrate.
The best way to stop acidity mistakes within cheese is to test for the acidity or pH level. pH is a measurement of the alkalinity and acidity of a material; the values range from a high acidity of 1 to a neutral alkaline substance measured at 14. For basic cheese, the pH level should range between 5.1 and 5.9.
The simplest test method is using a pH waterproof meter or tester. These electronic devices have external probes that you can submerge in the cooking dairy product to gain a pH value. In fact, many cheese makers check the pH level periodically throughout the cooking process to ensure that the culture is working correctly. For example, you have added the culture to the milk and are waiting for the acidity to change to the correct range. However, the cheese mixture is still too alkaline at 7.2 and has stopped changing. In this case, there is not enough culture to alter the mixture any further. Adding a small amount of culture will force the mixture to resume its pH changes. Only add small amounts so that the mixture is not overrun with excessive culture. Without the pH indication on the meter or tester, you would not know if the culture was working or not.
Another test method is using pH papers. These specialized papers are dipped in the mixture to produce an acidity value for the cook. However, these papers tend to be just estimates for the mixture’s pH level and are quite expensive. If you will be making cheese only once or twice a year, pH papers may be a good choice, but the most accurate testing process should include the meter or tester.
Cheese making is an art that requires constant attention to detail. For those who will make cheese on a constant basis, a sturdy meter or tester is a smart addition to the kitchen. The initial investment will save many headaches from occurring while trying to create the perfect cheese.