As we all know, one of the most important steps in cheese making is getting a good curd set up.
Without a good set up, most cheeses won’t ever become what they should be, and some won’t become anything much at all. Apart from pig or chook feed, or compost waste that is.
Using the suggested coagulation times in a cheese recipe is reasonably reliable for getting a set, but not overly precise in terms of getting the best set to achieve the ideal cheese profile.
Sure, you might end up with a Gouda after all your hard work, but does it have the texture and moisture that you know it should have? Do you have a cheese that could give the all those store bought wedges a run for their money.
And to make things more interesting, the many variables in just the combining of milk and Rennet, such as Rennet strength, amounts and viability, seasonal and commercial milk variations and heating temperatures, let alone room temperature and acidity levels, can send things somewhat awry.
As you continue with your cheese making journey you’ll likely come to a point where you will want to understand more advanced methods that will allow you to perfect your ‘starter cheese profiles’. Or maybe you just want to avoid any more vats of gloopy unset curd from having to be disposed of.
Either way, the curd set up step in cheese making can become a lot more reliable and you can gain more control over achieving a preferred firmness of curd with what is known as the Flocculation Method. But first I will explain what flocculation is.
What Is Flocculation?
I heard about the flocculation method and began using it for my home cheese making then I thought to myself what is flocculation?
Flocculation is when fine particles are caused to clump together. This is called a “floc”. The floc may float to the top of the liquid which is called creaming or sink to the bottom of the liquid which is called sedimentation.
What Is The Flocculation Method?
The Flocculation Method is a way to test the point of coagulation, when the solids begin to separate from the whey.
Using this method to define the point when coagulation occurs, and then using a standard multiplier depending on the cheese type (listed below), you can predict the optimum curd set point for the type of cheese you are making.
These optimum set points dictate how much whey is bound in the curd, therefore contributing to the moisture content and texture of your cheese.
A soft cheese typically has a higher flocculation time, and a larger curd cut, keeping more moisture in the cheese.
A hard cheese on the other hand has a lower flocculation time, and a smaller curd cut, releasing more whey for a firmer, drier cheese.
It might sound complex, but the aim of Curd-Nerd is to try and de-mystify the sometimes technical aspect of cheese making and keep things reasonably simple, so here are the steps of what is actually a pretty simple method when you break it down.
Flocculation Method – Step By Step
Add your Rennet to the milk, and mix thoroughly.
Leave your Rennet to work for 5-6 minutes then take a sterilised bowl (I use a small glass bowl) and place it onto the surface of the milk. The bowl will float on the top of the milk.
Spin the bowl gently and notice that it freely rotates in the milk. The spinning of the bowl is why this method is also sometimes referred to as….wait for it…..’the spinning bowl method’.
Continue to spin the bowl regularly, every minute or so. You will notice the bowl will slowly start to resist spinning in the milk as freely as it did when you started
Eventually the bowl will become almost totally resistant to spinning without force, and you will also notice that a dent has moulded in the solid curd mass forming underneath the bowl.
This is the coagulation point and it ideally occurs at about the 12-15 minute mark.
This video shows the first stage of the Flocculation Method. Notice that they push the bowl rather than spinning it. Either technique gives the same information.
Now depending on the cheese you are making, you need to take the number of minutes it took until coagulation and multiply it by one of the factors below for your ideal curd strength:
Now you can work out your total Rennet Set time –
Coagulation time x multiplier = total time from Rennet addition to cut
So if you have a coagulation time of 14 minutes and a multiplier of 3.5 for Cheddar you would have a total of 49-50 minutes Rennet set time.
When using the Flocculation method it is a good idea to keep a log of the set times you achieve with different cheeses. This will give you an indication of what to expect and then if you find it changes, you can start to assess (and better understand) if product, seasonal or environmental factors are having an impact on your cheese making process.
Flocculation Method Discrepancies
Common discrepancies that occur with the Flocculation method are either too short a coagulation time (less than 10 minutes) or a coagulation time that is too long (anything upwards of 20 minutes). These discrepancies can occur due to any of the variants mentioned above but can often also be easily remedied by adjusting the amount of Rennet, up or down, to achieve the preferred coagulation point of between 12-15 minutes.
So hopefully, if I’ve explained this clearly enough, you can see that the Flocculation Method is not overly complicated but it does take a little extra attention, thought and patience.
It’s well worth it though to have more control over how your Rennet performs with your milk and to feel more confident about getting a better curd set, and a more superior end product.
Give the Flocculation Method a try with your next make and let the community know how you go. If you have any issues, we can work them out together. Join the discussion over at the Curd Nerd Forum. We would love to hear from you!