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The Shape of Cheese

The Shape Can Influence Quality

Volume 127, No. 8, Friday, August 30,  2002

Before I talk any more about cheese composition and its use as a tool, I want to respond to a question about shape, a classic layman’s questions: How do you know what cheeses are what shape? 
This was interesting to me as shape is important, particularly with non-dry salted cheese and surface ripened cheese.
Shape has played an enormous role in cheese production from the earliest of times and it is interesting how it has been used to influence quality. 
For the lack of a better starting place I will start with Cheddar.
Cheddar has a grand history of being made as a wheel but to see a piece of Cheddar in the store today who would know that? 
The traditional Cheddars produced in Great Britain were round, in varying diameters and of varying heights. 
Because Cheddar is dry salted it requires a considerable amount of pressure to press it together and then hold if for many hours until it shows some desire to stay together. Furthermore to ensure that it would stay together the cheese cloth used to line the cheese hoop or mold was left on the cheese. 
Being round enabled a very strong mold to be made that would last. Round cylinders would maintain their shape, any other shape would want to distort and break apart, as modern cheese makers know. 
The move to rindless Cheddar saw a parallel move to rectangular cheese molds; the term hoops is a carryover from the traditional shape. 
Rectangular molds made from stainless steel proved to be easily damaged; the pressure of pressing would cause them to deform, their seams were prone to splitting and they damaged easily if treated roughly (design engineers who know cheese plants typically design the item, then double it). It is easy to restore something to a cylindrical shape but not a rectangle.
Traditional rinded Cheddars will always be cylindrical, rindless Cheddars can be either, but most are rectangular. Why? Because you can store more in a given space and you get less waste when producing rectangular shapes for retail. 
For cheese such as Brie or Camembert the shape is very important, particularly if the production method is traditional. 
Thickness is very important as it directly effects the rate of salt uptake whether dry or brine salting but there is an even more important reason. 
Ripening, when the surface mold is working from the surface on all the surfaces you see a greater tendency for the cheese to break down near the edges. If the cheese was square or rectangular the surface flora would have three planes from which to break down the corner of the cheese body than the two on a cylindrical cheese. 
Many smear-ripened cheeses are made in a rectangular form and it is the corners which are most vulnerable to over-ripening, usually not a problem. It is when things get off balance the problems show up on the corners.
The mighty Swiss cheeses were made with adjustable band type hoops so that they could be adjusted during pressing to ensure the correct thickness was achieved. 
The thickness was the key to even salt uptake more so than the diameter. I have had experience making cheese with eyes; when we moved to making them in rectangular shapes for the convenience of our cutting operations we noted that there were less eyes located in the corner regions. 
Dutch cheese have traditionally been wheels or semi-spherical for much the same reason. If you have sharp corners they are areas that tend to become over-salted, the radiused corners of Dutch cheese are a good solution. 
Round is strong if you need it to be as in the case of Cheddar, less sharp edges are good if you are making soft ripened cheese such as Camembert. 
Edges have to be managed; if you have them, careful attention to room conditions (humidity) will be important, as they are the most vulnerable to excessive breakdown.
While square may not be the best shape it is not uncommon and most commonly found among the soft cheese, which are easily formed without high pressure. Round is good, it has an organic feel about it and was easy to fabricate and be strong at the same time. Hand formed cheese such as Bocconcini and other hand formed pasta filata types naturally come out with rounded surfaces. 
But as is always the case with cheese there is always an exception; big cheeses usually age better but not always, small cheeses normally age more quickly but not always. What size is your cheese?

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.netjumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org


Other Neville McNaughton Columns
Adding the Extra Column
Pasta Filata Cheese
Very Hard Cheese
Hard Cheese with Eyes
Gouda, Edam And Other Washed Curd Cheese

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