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The Story of Camembert

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say this again, cheese making is not an exact science.  This frustrates me a little; I have a scientific mind that enjoys concrete answers.  At school I chose to do Chemistry, Biology and Maths for my high school subjects because I liked subjects with answers. I probably should have chosen English or Psychology as I already knew what I wanted to do at University and those subjects would have been useful, but I hated the fact that subjects liked psychology often involved fluffy debate and there wasn’t a definite answer you just had to justify your point.

I’m finding home cheese making to be equally fluffy and also a little temperamental.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but following recipes to the letter and repeating the same process should, in my book, produce the exact same results every time.  This is not the case with cheese and I guess that’s why it is called an art not a science. I also think you could throw in the word ‘magic’ here too. Every time I make some cheese I feel like I’m turning a liquid I despise into a solid with so many varying textures and flavours that it really is a little bit like magic!

I’ve made Camembert twice now, and I think I will have to make it many more times before I have a recipe for a mould ripened cheese, similar to that of the world famous Camembert, that I’m happy to post here. Until then, I thought I’d share the highs and lows of the magic that is Camembert making.

Soft mould ripened cheeses are a whole different animal to the other cheeses I have made so for.  Camembert involves cultures similar to those used in the feta or creamy Lancashire, but you also add mould spores (sounds yuk, but it’s good mould).  There is no pressing with Camembert though, the curd knits together under it’s own weight.  Once you achieve the clean break with the curd, it is cut into large chunks.  The larger the cut, the more whey is retained in the curd and the creamier the end result.  I have read some recipes, like the one used on the HandyFace blog, that doesn’t even cut the curd, you just scoop straight into the mould, but I haven’t tried that process yet.  From the picture above, I had no idea how I was going to end up with Camembert but I persevered.

Cheese making is a pretty lengthy process.  It is beneficial being able to multi-task. You need to set aside a whole day, not that it takes a whole day, you can do other stuff at the same time, as long as you set a timer and keep checking in to stir or scoop or turn.  The curds need turning every hour for about 5 hours, during this time it will sink from the top of the mould to the required height of the cheese.

Once the mould is removed you are left with something that vaguely resembles a Camembert, but there is still more magic that needs to happen.  At this point the cheese is air dried and salted and put to bed in it’s ripening box.  Set at the correct temperature and humidity the mould starts to grow.

I was a bit concerned how I would react to the growth of the mould, especially as I spent so long last year trying to avoid the growth of mould on my meats!  But sure enough, after a few days the little flecks of white mould started to develop and after a week to ten days they were fully coated just like a real Camembert!

This cheese requires even more patience though, as now you have to leave it to ripen so the inside of the cheese develops the characteristic gooey texture.  Now, you won’t be surprised when I tell you I didn’t have the patience to leave it for the required length of ripening time.  I cracked into one of the rounds after a week and a half, just to have a little look.  Oh the smell, I was like a kid in a sweet shop, it was exactly how it should smell and taste but the texture was not quite as gooey as I would like it to be. If you look carefully at the above photo you can see the outer, gooey edge and the inner firmer layer. The Camembert is ready when the cheese is equally gooey to the centre.

I had high hopes for this Camembert, I had used the amazing, creamy, unhomogenised milk from Over the Moon which provided excellent curd yield, that great yellow colour and I’m sure it also added to the flavour. I left the other cheese to age for the correct amount of time, but between cutting of the first cheese and the unveiling of the next, disaster struck. The humidity on the cheese cave made the ink of my Nic Cooks stickers leak into the cheese, dyeing it pink.  I think I also left it a bit too long, as the resulting cheese was very gooey, and dare I say a little too strong in flavour for me – an avid stinky cheese lover.  Oh the heart ache, I was so near yet so far.

The second batch of Camembert is under way, but I don’t have such high hopes for this batch, I’m just not feeling the love.  I couldn’t get to the markets, so I used supermarket milk (minus 1 point); the ripening process seems slower – the mould coverage is not as thick, and the cheese is not as dry (minus another point) and the final nail in the coffin, I tried to transport some across the globe to show off my new found skills to the family and sadly it died a death on route.  Oh well, it just means I have to give it another go… and another… and another…


Comment from Miss Piggy
Time June 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm

I’m still in awe that you make your own cheese…it’s all I can do to get to the supermarket and buy some.

Comment from Tina@foodboozeshoes
Time June 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

The first batch looks great… What a fab rind! I’m positive you’ll get there sooner rather than later, Nic!

Comment from Gaby
Time June 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Great job! Especially considering how temperamental is the weather in Sydney. Have you tried raw milk in your cheeses?

Comment from nic
Time June 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Thanks for the comments! No Gaby, I haven’t tried raw milk as its illegal to sell in NSW I’m happy with the Over The Moon milk when I can get to the markets. Failing that I’ll just have to get my own cow!

Comment from chocolatesuze
Time June 19, 2012 at 3:09 pm

im absolutely fascinated with your cheese posts! i know you’ll have a fantastic cheese in no time!

Comment from Silvia
Time June 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I love reading about your cheese making adventures.
For now I’ve tried my hands only on white brine cheese (Bulgarian cheese, similar to feta) but I can make it only during the winter months for aging temperatures reasons but I’m tempted to try something new this winter and your posts are really helpfull.

Comment from muppy
Time June 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm

love this post Nic, great reading about your camembert journey in progress. I know what you mean about science v art, i like a clear answer too.
How wierd that the cheese had so many issues leaving it for that longer ripening time, must have been devastating considering how perfect the under ‘done’ one looks.
I usually always go to castle hill farmers market so if you want me to buy some milk for you and drop it off on the way home – no worries, anytime! i’ve been buying it as our everyday milk, love it :)

Comment from nic
Time June 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Thanks for stopping by Sylvia, I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts.

And Muppy, thanks for the milk offer, I might have to take you up on that!

Comment from Rachel
Time June 20, 2012 at 6:46 am

Gorgeous looking cheese!

But if psychology was a fluffy subject at your school, they were doing it wrong. 😉

Comment from Nic@diningwithastud
Time June 20, 2012 at 7:23 am

Im loving these cheese posts. What a great feat to make your own camembert. Its perfect 😀

Comment from A Canadian Foodie
Time June 25, 2012 at 5:09 am

Let me help you feel the love – WOWSWERS! You are WAY ahead of me, here… and that is great. Some would have died for the stinky one at the end – and the early one looks wonderful, too. How are you to know the exact time frame that is best? I guess I am about to learn. And, what do you use for your “temperature controlled box”? I have to build something, or set something here up. I didn’t do Charcutapalooa as I didn’t learn about it in time – and my husband makes so much of it anyway. However, I love the Ruhlman book. Good for you!
I am very moved by your will. Fear has kept me from this adventure for far too long – and fear of what? Failure? Hahaha! Too funny!
Love your site. Great stuff here!

Comment from nic
Time June 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Thanks for stopping by Valerie. I still have a lot to learn but I’m enjoying the experiments. I currently heat all my milk directly in a pan, not ideal, but it’s working ok for me. I’m also going to try a plastic container in a polystyrene box. I’ll post some pictures when I do it. Roll on Cheesapalooza!

Comment from Lydia Guerrini
Time July 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Dear Cheezapalooze Sister in Cheese Crime. I have sourced raw milk here in Perth from a real cow. Very excited to start +1 point, as I know I might drop a few along the way. I can’t wait to learn more about cheese. I hope to gain about 16 kilos this year as a testiment to one of the best food products in the world! I admire your patience…seriously. I would have beaten the camembert into a pulp, after yelling at the mould “GROW! GROW YOU BAST*RDS! GROW!”. Is that helpful?? :)

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