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Milk Heating / Curd Cooking Requirements

Controlling milk temperature per recipe instructions can be a real problem for the occasional cheese maker. Not so much for the initial warming to the desired ripening temperature (which can easily be done in a sink of hot water). Maintaining temperature at the target over the ripening period can be a little more difficult, especially if the ambient temperature is low. Most challenging, however, is the step of slowly increasing curd and whey temperature over a set time when cooking or "scalding" the curds, as it's easy to get distracted and "miss your marks" or worse, over-cook and ruin your batch.

Time / Temperature Requirements

To cook curds consistently you need control two variables, time and temperature, simultaneously. To help visualize consider the temperature requirements for a typical cheddar. A chart of the time / temperature called for is shown below. The recipe calls for warming the millk to 88 deg. F (Interval 1), adding the cultures and maintaining 88 F during ripening for an hour (2). After rennet has been added and curds formed and cut (3), the directions are: "over low heat, slowly bring the curds to 102 deg. F over 40 min while stirring" (4), then to hold that temperature while stirring for 1 hour or so until the curds are ready to drain (5).

Think of this chart as a "typical" time / temperature chart in that most cooked-curd cheeses follow this pattern. For cooking curds, the most critical period is the red (4) interval because this is the most difficult to control.

The good news is that for most of the cheeses, you will make the rate of temperature increase during this interval fairly consistent. In the case of the above cheddar, the rate of temperature increase is .4 degrees per minute. Another (read easier) way of stating this is that the recipe calls for an increased rate of 2.5 min. per degree.

While other recipes will call for slightly different rates, the majority will be close to this 2.5 number. The implication here is that once you have a system that is "tuned" for this range, the same system should be able to handle most of the other types of cheeses.


Q: What does "cooking the curds" mean?

A: The terms cooking or "scalding" when used in conjunction with cheese making means heating the curds after cutting, usually while stirring. Typical temperature increases are not great (usually in the range of 10 or 20 deg. F), and most recipes call for a time interval over which the cooking occurs.

Q: What is the difference between and cooking and washing?

A: Cooking requires direct heating of the curds and whey, while washing is the combination of removing whey and replacing with water. Usually the water is a higher temperature than the curds, but sometimes cooler water is used. Washing creates a moister, more pliable paste like Gouda and Fontina. A few cheeses like Edam and Jack cheese are made using both methods.

Q: What types of cheeses require cooking?

A: While there are exceptions, most stretched curd (mozzarella, provolone) and semi-soft, firm and hard cheeses call for cooking. Bloomy-rind cheeses (bries, camembert) and the blues are typically not cooked.