Last week, my buddy and I had the opportunity to be "Cheese Makers for a Day" at Beecher's Cheese in The Pike Place Market. We>"/>
Last week, my buddy and I had the opportunity to be "Cheese Makers for a Day" at Beecher's Cheese in The Pike Place Market. We arrived just shy of 7:30am Saturday morning. Dressed in rubber boots, apron and hair net, we yearned to know more about the mystery behind the squeak of a cheese curd.
We were greeted by instructor and three year "Big Cheese" veteran; Blaine. Before entering the production facility, the theme to Lavern & Shirley cycled through my brain- but this was no Shotz Beer brewery! Cheese making has a certain hip factor to it. If I was going to be gawked at like a zoo animal for the market passersby, it was better that I was making cheese than fudge or kettle corn.
Upon our arrival, Blaine had just taken delivery of several thousand gallons of milk. A large hose was fed through a small opening in the building and connected to the truck. Milk was then pumped in through a hose into a large storage tank that heated the milk to a higher temperature; completing the pasteurization process. The pasteurized milk was then pumped into a large trough that could double as the city's largest stainless steel jacuzzi. Live cultures and rennet were added to the milk as the cooking temperature was raised. Stainless steel rakes, pulled by hand, were used to stir everything together. After about thirty minutes of the liquid setting, we pulled two cutting devices evenly through the trough, leaving a constancy of yogurt or tofu suspended in water. The "cutting the cheese" comments weren't as funny to the other staff, as they were to the two greenhorns; who seemed to be easily entertained throughout the day. Another thirty minutes passed and we were back to stirring and breaking up what looked to be a watery cottage cheese consistency. The mixture was transferred by hose to another nearby trough where the water was drained and the curding process began. By hand, we divided the cheese into two sections. As the water continued to drain, the curds began to shrink and stick together. We cut the cheese mass into smaller, workable sections so each segment could be flipped and stacked allowing more water to be released from the cheese. Much of the day was spent watching a clock and knowing when to stir, cut or turn. A large machine was wheeled into the room, as our slabs of cheese were fed into what I can only describe as a "cheese chipper" that cut the cheese into smaller pieces. Salt was added (29 pounds of it) and mixed throughout. This was now a finished cheese curd. We were each given a bag and told to take as much as we wanted (and a week later, I'm still eating cheese curds). Blaine explained to us to leave the curds out of the fridge for a few days and they would stay rubbery and squeaky. Refrigerating them will case the curds to bind together.
The final step was filling each mold with curds - called Hooping. Each of the molds were stacked six or seven high and 60 pounds of pressure squeezed the remaining water out of the cheese. The cheese is pressed 24 hour period before the rounds are removed, vacuum sealed and put in cold storage for one year. The result - Beecher's Flagship White Cheddar.