Bloomy cheese is the reason to start cheesemaking. It encompasses the best parts of cheesemaking: You get to watch impossible clouds of fluffy curds condense into adorable wheels of cheese with fabulous patterns, and gaze upon the fuzzy mold as it blooms—mold you put there, yourself, on purpose. And after many weeks of nurturing, lactic acid takes over and transforms the solid cheese into the gooey, runny river of your lactose-fueled dreams. It’s like magic, except it’s science.
This is our first real foray into the serious stuff, and there are some new steps and equipment involved (like a cheese cave). Don’t be intimidated; it’s not more complicated, it’s just more steps. Place your trust in my wheys and it’ll all work out. Or it won’t, because that’s just cheesemaking. (But it totally will.)
Camembert (adapted from a recipe by Gavin Webber)
Ingredients:1 gallon milk, not ultra-pasteurized (pasteurized, VAT pasteurized, or raw is OK)⅛ teaspoon rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup distilled water⅛ teaspoon calcium chloride, dissolved in ¼ cup distilled water
⅛ teaspoon Flora Danica culture
1/16 teaspoon Penicillium candidum culture
1/32 teaspoon Geotrichum candidum culture
1 tablespoon non-iodized salt
Equipment (Check out our buying guide for equipment recommendations):6-quart or larger stockpot3-quart saucepanMeasuring spoonsThermometer6 small basket cheese moldsA Tupperware container, long and flat, at least 8 inches by 12 inches, and at least 3 inches tall. Bamboo or plastic mat, cut to the size of the Tupperware.Cutting boardCheese cave, which you can DIY
Set up your space
As with all things cheese, cleanliness is next to curdliness. Make sure the pot, the counter, all the utensils you’ll need and use—from the measuring spoons to the thermometer—the faucet and sink are all freshly clean and sanitized with either white wine vinegar or a sanitizing solution. Keep your spray bottle of vinegar and clean towels nearby.
Once you start, you don’t want to wash dishes or anything else in the kitchen, as it can contaminate your cheese from the droplets. If you have ferments going, you’ll want to cover them or relocate them so they don’t contaminate your cheese. We’re looking for a sterile environment.
Heat the milk
We’re only taking the milk to 86℉, so you can choose whether you want to use a double boiler or not. If you do, you can spend less time stirring, because it’s less likely to burn, but it’s a low enough temperature, and going to take such a short amount time to reach, that you’ll likely stay by the pot and stir while waiting anyway. Attach your thermometer to the pot, and turn the heat on to medium-low.
In either case, make sure to shake up your milk before pouring it into the pot; you want to capture every bit of fat and cream. We’re basically making a gooey brie/camembert situation, and what makes it good is the cream.
Stir the milk as you bring it up to temperature, and once it hits 86℉, remove the pot from the heat. Get a good stir going, so you have a milk vortex, then add the calcium chloride, stir for another full minute, then let the milk come to a still.
Introduce some culture
Photo: Amanda Blum
Now you’re going to sprinkle in all those cultures, and I realize how absurd those measurements are, but that’s why you got the tiny measuring spoons. When in doubt, don’t worry about overdoing it a little bit with culture. Better to use too much than too little with these, so if you can’t exactly measure 1/32 of a teaspoon, use your judgement. It’s a tiny pinch.
Regardless, you’re going to sprinkle the Flora Danica, Geotrichtum, and Penicillum on top of the milk, then cover it and let the cultures rehydrate for five minutes. (Do absolutely nothing, and the cultures soak up milk.)
Now stir for a full minute using a figure-eight motion, with some real purpose. You want to ensure that those cultures get mixed into the milk.
Set and cut the curd
Photo: Amanda Blum
It’s time for rennet. Get a good swirl going in the pot so the milk is moving, then pour in your rennet. Stir vigorously in a figure-eight motion for one full minute, but no more. Bring the milk to a still, then put the cover on.
Take a disco nap for 90 minutes while the curd sets. At ninety minutes, check for a clean break. Your knife should cut through the curd cleanly, with the curd keeping its (new) edge and shape after you pull your knife away. If you have a clean break, proceed. If you do not, put the lid back on and wait another ten minutes and re-test.
The glorious thing about this recipe is that you just barely cut the curds. You’re going to cut them into one inch columns, in one direction straight up and down in inch-wide sections, then rotate the pot 90 degrees and make another set of inch-wide cuts, running perpendicular to your first set.
Now let the curds heal by walking away awkwardly for five minutes.
Mold and drain the curds
Photo: Amanda Blum
This is the exciting part, because you finally get to use some damn molds. Take out your basket molds and, assuming they are exquisitely clean, place them on a bamboo mat on a cutting board next to your sink. Take a piece of folded paper or the corner of a towel or a butter knife and wedge it under the side of the cutting board farthest away from the sink. This will tilt the cutting board just enough so the whey drains into the sink, but we want the cheese molds to be more or less level, so lift the side ever so slightly and let gravity do the rest.
Photo: Amanda Blum
Bring your pot over to the molds, and use your slotted spoon to gently ladle the curds into each of the molds. You’ll notice they immediately begin to weep whey, and that is precisely what they should do. Keep ladling to the tippy top of the mold. Its OK if there’s curd leftover, the curds in the molds are going to deflate as the whey escapes, making room for more curds.
Photo: Amanda Blum
Wait 30 minutes, then ladle more curds into the molds. You’ll keep doing this until all the curds are in the molds. How much curd you have really depends on how much cream was in the milk, how old the milk was, etc. You may need all six molds, or you may not. Use what you have, as you need it.
Flip the cheese
I’m honestly so excited for you right now. This is the most engaging part of cheesemaking—flipping the cheese. It’s the most hands-on you’ll get. The curds, in their mold, have been draining whey, and as they have, those loosey-goosey curds have been firming up. After two hours, they’re barely holding together, but over time, they’ll get stronger.
Flipping cheese from the molds
Flipping the cheese does a few things. It lets more whey drain off, makes the cheese even on all sides, and shapes the cheese. Those basket molds are slightly angled, so when you flip the cheese, it imprints a pattern onto them, and creates the curved, baby-bell shape of the cheese. It’s magical; trust the cheese.
Before you start flipping, wash your hands meticulously, and spray them with vinegar. Softly turn the mold out onto your hand, but remember, the mass of curds will be very delicate at first. Gingerly turn the cheese over in your hands, and deposit it back into the mold, upside down from how it was before. The side with the pattern should be on top now. Every two hours, flip that cheese. Do it three times (over six hours). Now leave it to hang out overnight.
When you awake, it’s time to start flipping again. Flip it every six hours for the next 24 hours. During this time, it will be weeping very little whey, so if you need to relocate it to reclaim your kitchen, it’s fine. Place a very clean towel under the cutting board and relocate it to a spot with a temp between 60℉ and 75℉.
After 24 hours, dust the cheeses on all sides with your salt and leave it out for another two hours. Then it’s time for the cheese to go into the curing box—the Tupperware you set up before. Don’t let the cheeses touch each other, or the sides of the Tupperware. They need air around them to form the white fuzz that makes them bloomy. Then it goes into the cheese fridge.
Over the next two weeks, you’ll need to turn these guys daily, with impeccably clean hands. After a few days, you’ll see the white mold begin to grow, which is exactly right. It’ll be spotty at first, but will eventually cover them completely.
Photo: Amanda Blum
Once they’re completely covered in mold, and its been at least two weeks, you can move the Tupperware to your regular fridge for another two or three weeks. Two weeks in, lightly press the middle of a cheese to see how firm it is. On your first go, you’ll likely have a hard time figuring out when it’s “done.” Look for give, a sign that the lactic acid has done its job, and the cheese has gone gooey.
These cheeses have a sweet spot, and you can miss it if you’re not careful. They don’t last forever, so it’s better to risk one being less than gooey than it is to let them all go too long and miss that sweet spot entirely. Even before they get gooey, they’re still pretty good.
Once you hit goo, it’s time. Wrap these beauties in some wax paper and give them to every effin’ person you know (assuming you only know four people because of course, you’ll want a few). Grab the best baguette in town and lounge in luxurious self-satisfaction. You’ve conquered the lactic gods, and you should enjoy your reward.