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Cutting the Curd
Check equipment to make
sure it maximizes its use
Volume 127, No. 30, Friday, January
Looking back on my 2002 cheese-
making year one thing that stood out above all else was the state of
the curd knives.
There comes a point in the running of a cheesemaking operation when attention
to detail becomes an integral part of achieving quality, an attitude
that comes of not wanting anything to prevent the production of a great
piece of cheese and the maximum amount of it.
Of course you can make great cheese and not have created the perfect
piece of curd but when I look at the great cheeses created from imperfect
curd there is more to the process than meets the eye.
In our modern factory model the perfect curd is one that maximizes component
retention but many traditional methods of manufacture used tools that
did not create the perfect curd but in fact they did.
If your boss caught you cutting a vat with a blunt instrument, smashing
pieces of curd your days may be numbered, the only time you might get
away with such conduct was if he didn't know the difference or you were
reproducing the activity of some more traditional approach.
So why do I find cheese makers new to the industry so ready to use equipment
that is not suited to the outcome (knives missing wires or blades, or
knives too wide for the vat size and over-cutting occurs)?
In the production of cheese where the curd must be reduced in size to
promote moisture expulsion it is generally regarded that the particles
should be created by cutting the curd cleanly. But I observe two common
faults, over cutting and the creation of fines, under cutting and crushing
of curd by agitator blades or careless hand stirring.
In the traditional procedures which create very fine curds such as some
Swiss type, some Italian types, there is a process of curd recovery that
enables the recovery of almost all of the curd particles. In such cheeses
which were made in kettles the curds are allowed to drop to the bottom
of that kettle prior to final collection. A cloth is drawn under the
curds with great care and the whey allowed to drain past trapping the
finely cut curd.
In the above situation the curd mass along with the cloth are like a
filter media, capturing the curd particles and the whole process comes
together to yield the final outcome. But when we do not observe in such
detail all aspects of the traditional process in a modern situation much
can be lost.
When a broken knife is used to cut curd, a knife that may have wires
or blades missing it should be obvious to even the untrained eye that
uniformity will not be achieved.
When excessive fines are created due to over cutting or breaking of uncut
curd particles it is almost certain that many of those fines are lost
to the whey, a loss of profit and quality. The loss of solids is the
result of curd handling practices which may involve the use of screens,
fine particles are not captured. But the problem is not limited to cheese
makers in small plants; in automated plants the uniformity of curd size
Uniform curd particles progress during the cheesemaking process similarly,
not so with non-uniform particles. In at least one plant where curd-cutting
practices produced uneven particle size the curds proved to be prone
to damage in transfer pumps and by stirrers on draining belts.
The solution was a modification of the curd cutting procedure that produced
more uniform particles.
Curd cutting is also made more difficult when milk solids are increased
and cheese makers must pay careful attention to detail, as solids increase
the cutting characteristics change.
When dealing with a situation that is no longer “natural” or “normal”
the corrective action may require a process change that may not be considered
“normal”. The first thought of many cheese makers is to reduce rennet
when forming curds from high solids milk, not a good solution when the
cheese is expected to develop good and normal flavor.
Using less rennet may save a few dollars but if the cheese takes longer
to age it may not be worth the trade-off.
Those knowledgeable who strive for quality will not question the need
to have a curd knife repaired and will demand of their employees that
they treat this humble piece of equipment with great care. The cost of
avoiding damage is nil, the cost of repairs is substantial.
The discipline that can be applied to cutting a vat has been developed
over centuries and is practiced with great care by those who understand
Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has
many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New Zealand
and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions. Neville
will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will take any
questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him at CheezSorce@sbcglobal.net. jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn.