|E5904 Mill Road, P.O.
Box 185, Plain, Wisconsin 53577
Call 1-800-200-6020 or 608-546-5284
Overview of the Cheesemaking Process
To make cheese, you start with milk, than add rennet. Rennet is an enzyme which makes the milk coagulate into curds. This leaves the watery whey as a by-product to be drained off. The curds are cut and pressed into blocks, removing more moisture. Finally, there is a bacteriological process known as "ripening"or "aging" at a particular temperature and humidity. Then the cheese is ready for sale.
Cheesemaking at Cedar Grove Cheese begins between 11 p.m and midnight. It ends when we finish wrapping and cleaning, about 9 p.m. the next day. In the interval, six or seven vats of cheese will have been produced.
When the milk is first drawn from storage tanks, it is filtered and
pasteurized by heating to 161.5 degrees for 15 seconds to kill any common
pathogenic bacteria (bad germs). It is then pumped into the vats at 90 degrees.
We have three vats – one vat holds 22,000 pounds of milk, another 16,000 and the
smallest, 15,000 pounds.
Once, the rennet was prepared from the fourth stomach of calves. Today it is produced by microbial enzymes that have been selected to produce high amounts of the enzyme chymosin. This enzyme clots the milk. It is so powerful that it is mixed with milk in a 1:5,000 ratio.
After the rennet is added to the vat, the milk begins to coagulate to the
consistency of pudding. That takes about a half-hour. Then wire knives are
pulled through the vat from one end to the other, back and forth, and across,
until the coagulated milk has been cut into tiny cubes. These cubes are the
Once the curds reach the desired moisture and acid levels, salt is added to the vat. The salt slows the starter, otherwise the acid would continue to build until the cheese crumbled.
Then the tiny curds are matted along the length of the vat, cut into 18 inch loaves and placed into a cheddaring machine. This machine mills the loafs into small chunks called cheese curds. Some cheddars are "washed curd" cheddar, ours is "milled curd" cheddar. Milled curd cheddar has a dense, smooth texture.
The curds are scooped up with buckets and placed in metal forms called "hoops". The hoops consist of three parts with a cloth liner. The center part of the hoop is supported by pins; when they are removed, the hoop collapses around the curds. When filled, the hoops are turned sideways and pressure is applied, compressing the curds into 42 pound blocks.
After pressing, the identity of the individual curds are gone, and the block
has the familiar look of cheese. In a vacuum chamber, the blocks are sealed
into plastic bags. This makes it possible to keep the cheese for years without
mold forming. The block is put into cardboard boxes with wooden liners to
protect the cheese and keep it square. Then it is taken to the storage room and
left to cure at about 40 degrees.
About half the cheese made at Cedar Grove is sold in bulk to customers and repackers in Atlanta, California, Florida, Chicago and other areas of the country. The remainder is packaged for sale throughout the country. Varieties of cheese made at Cedar Grove include cheddar, colby, monterey jack, muenster, farmers and butterkase. The varieties differ in fat, moisture, acidity and texture.
Cheddar cheese is the driest and densest of the cheeses. It is also the only
cheese made at Cedar Grove which has all the starter left in. As a result, it
sharpens with age. Mild cheddar is aged up to a couple of months; medium, from
three to six months; sharp, from six months to a year, and extra-sharp from one to six years.
Some cheese is white; some yellow. Cheese is naturally white, but can be colored yellow by adding the juice from the annatto plant, which grows in South America. This natural color has no flavor or odor. Some regions of the country, New England, and most health food stores prefer the white cheeses. There is no difference in fat content.
What happens to the whey? After it is drained from the vat, it goes through the "separator" machine, which spins off the cream left in the liquid. That cream is then sold to a creamery to be made into butter.
The rest of the whey is stored briefly, then trucked in giant tankers (50,000 pounds at a time) to a plant where it is dried into whey powder containing protein and sugars. The powder is used for baked goods, cereals, candy, and baby food. Certified organic whey powder is bagged and returned to the factory, where we sell it to health-conscious customers in any amount.
In the end, all that remains of the milk is water. The waste water at Cedar Grove Cheese is biologically processed through our Living Machine and returned to the watershed, cleaner than the natural water. The water helps grow the grass and corn that the cows eat, and the cycle begins again.
Cedar Grove Cheese, Inc., January 2009