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…