First thing you need to make cheese is milk! The big metal contraption in the top picture is their vat pasteurizer. The milk comes in through the pipes and is pasteurized there and then poured into a basin that is a little less than 400 gallons... it's a lot of milk!
Once the milk is in, we added the starter bacteria. This has the consistency of a yogurt and helps acidify the milk. The brown specks you see on the top are the Penicillium that help create the bloomy rind that we all know and love. We then left the starter culture to work on the milk for about 40 minutes. After that we added the rennet (for Mt Tam they use microbial, non-GMO rennet).
The rennet starts working almost immediately, but we let it set for another 40 minutes. The milk coagulates and becomes almost like a jello. I was able to cut it myself to see if it was ready... see below...
Eric, the head cheesemaker told me that this curd was almost perfect because the part of the curd that I'm lifting up is smooth with just a little bit a whey expulsion. If the curd sets for too long, it will start to break unevenly. Once the curd has set for the appropriate amount of time, it is time to cut!
It doesn't take too long for the curd to get to the size that we want. We then drain out one third of the whey and replace that liquid with water (a Dutch technique). After a little more mixing the curd is ready to be put into the forms.
It's a little hard to see in this picture, but there is a hose that is coming out of the cheese vat that the cheesemakers use to put the curd into the forms. This curd comes out super fast! I had the chance to do this with our batch of cheese and it was pretty intimidating. I'm still waiting on the pictures that they took of me and I'm pretty sure there are a couple pictures of me being super nervous about spilling the curd everywhere... haha.
The cheese is then flipped a couple of times before the end of the day and left out in order to drain off the excess whey. When the cheesemakers return the next morning, the wheels are put into a brine solution for around 3 hours.
I got to help remove the previous day's batch of Mt. Tam's from the brine and then put them onto a rack so they can be aged in the aging room, which looks like this!
The cheese is flipped twice a week and is left in the aging room for about two weeks before it is off to be wrapped (and all cheese is hand-wrapped at Cowgirl Creamery! I was able to jump in and help with some wrapping as well...). After two weeks, the cheese looks like this...
Pretty cool huh? I had such a great time... and was super duper sweaty by the time my day was done.
Thank you so much to Cathy Strange for helping organize this, Peg Smith for allowing me to come by and help make cheese and to Eric Patterson for being so patient with me and walking me through the steps of making this wonderful cheese. I can't wait to go back to help with another batch! I've been told that next month you should be able to buy the cheese that Danielle (the other WFM NorCal CCP who made Mt Tam the day before I did) and I made. Just look for the Mt Tam that is labeled as being CCP made! Hopefully it tastes just as good as the other Mt Tams...
Thanks for reading my blog! I hope you enjoyed this unique post. I'm hoping to have many more posts like this in the future as I have more opportunities to make cheese... Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!!