Dry, crumbly, pasty cheese.
It’s the curse of any cheese that you hoped would turn out smooth and soft.
There are cheeses that we expect to have a slightly drier or crumblier texture, but when it isn’t planned, it’s a real disappointment, and the worst part is that you usually don’t know your cheese has gone that way until after you’ve waited weeks, or months, and then cut it open to find less than desirable results.
Most of the time it’s still edible, but it’s just not how you really want it.
There is a saying that good cheese is made in the vat, and therefore, a bad cheese (or a not so perfect cheese I should say) is created in the vat too. It’s not during the aging that your hard work turns to a dry, crumbly mess. Aging simply enhances or exaggerates the results. The foundation is set from the moment you have a vat full of milk.
So what’s causing that dry, crumbly texture?
What do you need to do differently so that it doesn’t keep happening?
As is often the case with cheese making, there are a number of things that can contribute to an (unwanted) crumbly cheese, from using the wrong amounts of ingredients, to how you treat the curds.
One of the most common reasons for a dry, crumbly texture in cheese though is over acidification.
This means that through one or more steps the acid in your cheese has been allowed to over develop, reducing the amount of protein in the cheese, causing it to become more brittle.
Excess acidity also causes the curds to shrink, losing more moisture than they otherwise would, creating a drier cheese.
There are a couple of remedies for over acidification:
- Try reducing the amount of culture you use. Too much culture will create a lower pH (higher acid level) and contribute to your problem.
- Reduce the ripening time from when you add your cultures, to when you add your rennet. The longer you allow the culture to ripen the milk, the more acid is created. Once you add rennet though, you slow down the acid production due to the formation of the curd.
- Wash the curd after it has been cut and cooked, to stall the acidification process.
Also make sure you are using fresh milk for your cheese making. Older milk can often have a higher acidity to begin with, and will be further acidified with your cultures and ripening. The quality of your milk can also affect your results, so where possible, use the best quality milk you can.
Handling Your Curd
Another reason you might end up with a dry, crumbly cheese is due to how you have handled the curd.
Rough handling can shatter the curds and cause fat loss, creating a less ‘elastic’ cheese texture.
Likewise, curd cut too small for the type of cheese you are making will result in a similar loss and give you a paste that is drier.
The remedy, of course, is to cut your curd to the recommended size, and when stirring or handling, to do it carefully with lots of curd love ; ) Remember, all those pale, mushy little friends are going to hopefully make you a delicious block of cheese.
Temperature plays it’s part in your final result too, and both over cooking, and under cooking can send you wrong. Particularly, curd cooked at temperatures lower than recommended can cause lactose to be retained, which then converts to lactic acid during the remainder of the cheese making process.
Be vigilant about cooking times and temperatures. A few degrees higher or lower can make a big difference, as can extending the cooking times.
Because there is more than one possible reason for your cheeses becoming dry and crumbly, with more than one remedy at times, it can be difficult to know what you need to change first to get the best outcome.
I always recommend only changing one thing at a time when you are adjusting your cheese making process. Think about what the most likely cause of your problem is and then change that one step first. See how it affects the results before changing any other steps and to help you work out what worked and what didn’t, use a cheese making log to record your work. When you get it right, you are going to want to know what you did so you can do your best to replicate it.
Do you have any questions or comments about crumbly cheese? Join the discussion over at the Curd Nerd Forum. We would love to hear from you!