I do take the temperature of the milk when the starter goes in and from that, I’ll work out (in a slightly guess-work style it has to be said) how much rennet I want to add to get the set time of an hour and a half. Sometimes this works out and sometimes I get it wrong and it goes slower than that but, on the whole, it does seem to work out that if the milk is around 27C then 1ml rennet to 5l milk seems to be the right quantity. If the milk is warmer, say around 30C, then 1ml rennet to 7l milk seems to get a set time of an hour and a half. If hotter, still like 33C which was the temperature on the occasion I first got the hour and a half set by adding too little rennet by mistake, 1ml rennet to 10l milk. So I adjust how much rennet to use roughly based around that scale.
I think that this suits me better because I’m not the sort of person who can cook to a recipe every day. I like to get the gist of a technique and then cook it my way. Certainly looking ahead to when I’m doing my own thing, this is something I’d be interested in continuing. At the beginning of the season, of course, I couldn’t apply this attitude to cooking, to cheesemaking. I needed to stick to the recipe religiously because I didn’t have the experience and also because I’m making cheese for someone else. It wasn’t my sales on the line if I messed it up. I suppose with a bit of experience and practice I’ve got more confidence now to react more to the circumstances of the milk temperature on the day rather than make it do what I want and heat it to a specific temperature every day.
It seems to be a more forgiving recipe that we’re using now with the longer set. There’s more moisture but it’s not free moisture. The curd is more fragile and needs more gentle cloth pulling but still seems to drain appropriately anyway. Even moister cheeses still don’t have the levels of free moisture. The first cheeses made with this sort of set, are maturing rather nicely. I like the texture of the one cheese I’ve kept back in the stores (and that I’ve marked for me to buy for myself when it’s ready).
The other thing is that we’re leaving the starter for about an hour to mix and get working in the liquid milk before adding the rennet. The idea behind this is that the bacteria can get going better because it should be easier for them to get distributed and to get dividing in a liquid rather than in the set curd. Or so we hypothesise anyway. Another thing that should help this also is the fact that at temperatures like 27C, the milk reaches its first fragile set much more slowly. In fact it can still be liquid an hour after the rennet has been added but still reaches the firm set (or second set as it can be known) in about an hour and a half or a little longer.
My gut feeling is that this long set and longer ripening time will make a good texture and flavour when the cheeses are mature and ready to sell. Time will tell I suppose, but if the mistake cheeses of the 28th June are anything to go by, I can allow myself to be cautiously optimistic.