Jump to Frequently Asked Questions: More Questions About Cheese?

The world of cheese and the interests of our customers are constantly changing and evolving. If you have a question about cheese or cheesemaking that isn’t covered here, please send an email to hello@blackscorner.co.uk.

Pasteurised vs. Raw Milk Cheese

Raw milk has not been heat treated or pasteurised, thus it retains its natural bacteriological and enzymatic characteristics. Raw milk is not the same thing as unpasteurised milk – while all raw milk is unpasteurised, not all unpasteurised milk is raw. Pasteurised milk has been heated to a particular temperature, for a specific time, in order to kill off certain bacteria. While pasteurisation ensures the destruction of many of the pathogens that may or may not be present, it also strips the milk of beneficial and innocuous natural flora.

All of Britain’s territorial cheeses – Cheddar, Cheshire, Stilton, Lancashire, the Gloucesters, Wensleydale, Caerphilly, Red Leicester, and others now no longer made – were once raw milk cheeses.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the microbes in carefully-produced raw milk play an important part in helping to ensure their safety as well as improving the sensorial properties of cheese. Our suppliers often use milk from their own farms, thereby ensuring that they have total control over the quality of their raw materials. Check the description lists to see whether a cheese is pasteurised or not.

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What We Look for in our Cheese

Cheesemakers who produce cheese with the greatest of care demand the very best milk. We are passionate about selling cheese that is a reflection of careful farming and milk production in a unique and interesting place. Good milk for cheese is packed with inherent interest. That is why we care so much about the use of raw milk, or the milk from small and unique farms.

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All About the Milk

The Source of the Milk

The height of what a cheese can achieve is dictated by the quality of the milk. When cheese is made by farmers, they have the opportunity to start their cheesemaking decisions in the pastures and their breeding programmes, and they see the consequences directly in the vat. No milk purchasing contract, however specialised, can compete with this fine-grained control.

Impacts on Milk Flavour

Factors of influence on milk flavour include both individual factors, such as the type of animal, the breed, their age, health and stage of lactation as well as environmental factors, such as the animals’ location and climate, the farming system, what the animals were fed, how they were housed, the milking method and whether chemicals and medicines were used in milking. These factors can influence the composition of the milk and the distribution of the constituents, its microbial diversity, flavour compounds and colour.

Why Some Cheesemakers Don’t Use Raw Milk

Not all unprocessed milk is good milk. Good quality raw milk is difficult to produce and very difficult to produce consistently. Using a highly variable raw material can make it very difficult for the cheesemaker to manage the cheese outcomes. Unless a cheesemaker can achieve some level of consistency, it is very difficult to be financially viable. Provided it has been properly pasteurised, there are fewer worries about inherent pathogenic bacteria or viruses in pasteurised milk. Pasteurised milk is frequently seen as the norm in terms of food safety and production regulations. Therefore it is easier for the cheesemaker to work within the regulatory framework they find themselves in, rather than taking risks or challenging the status quo. Lastly, not every aspiring cheesemaker can also become a farmer, or find a good source of raw milk local to them.

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Rennet and Cheese Coagulants

Rennet, a mixture of enzymes extracted from the stomachs of young ruminant mammals (calves, kids, or lambs), is used to make most cheeses. It transforms liquid milk into solid curd, which is the first step in cheesemaking. The most abundant enzyme in rennet is called chymosin.

Vegetarian substitutes have been developed as an alternative to animal rennet. We refer to laboratory-derived enzymes using the precise term, ‘vegetarian coagulant’. A notable alternative to synthetic coagulants is the use of plant extracts which are also capable of setting milk. Figs, papaya, thistles and cardoons contain similar enzymes, although not identical to those in animal rennet. Interestingly, the different enzymes lead to different flavours and textures in the cheese. Many Spanish and Portuguese cheesemakers use plant-based coagulants.

Animal rennet typically comes from the same species of animal as the milk being used for cheese. Calf-rennet is used to produce cow’s milk cheese and so forth. A few of the cheeses we sell use lard as a rind processing agent in the cloth binding. These cheeses have a note that says “clothbound with lard” in the description.

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Blue Cheese

Cheese can be intentionally blue; cheeses such as Stilton have added blue mould spores within the body of the cheese. These moulds help to break the cheese down, and in the process they give it a stronger flavour and distinctive appearance. Sometimes other cheeses unintentionally develop blue mould. Air can penetrate the cheese through the rind, allowing naturally-occurring mould spores to grow. There is no danger in eating blue which has developed in this way, just as there is no danger in eating blue cheese. We encourage our customers to taste the cheese and see what appeals to them on a case-by-case basis.

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Pregnancy and Cheese

We do not offer medical advice on cheese and pregnancy: we can, however, share with our customers what we know about cheese.

Women can still eat cheese during pregnancy, but should avoid soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses, which may contain Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium causing Listeriosis. Listeria does not occur naturally in milk or cheese; instead, its presence indicates contamination of either the raw material (milk) or environment (cheesemaking equipment or ripening areas). We take all due care to ensure our cheeses meet uncompromising safety standards so as to minimise this risk. For a list of cheeses we would recommend please see our cheese and pregnancy page.

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Cheese Maturation

When our cheese descriptions discuss maturing, we are referring to all of the work involved in the ageing and maturing process, so that we ensure that we sell each cheese when it is at its best. It is during this period of time that flavor and texture development take place. Each cheese has a set of unique requirements for temperature, humidity, and treatments (such as washing, brushing, or turning) that, combined, will ensure its proper development.

Ageing and maturing of cheese is not a precise science. The animal, the feed, the quality of the milk, minute elements of the cheesemaking process and the season all have an influence on the cheese. The skill of the cheese maturer is to be able to adapt their techniques and methods to the cheeses they have before them. This knowledge comes with time and experience.

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Is Older Cheese Better?

Not necessarily. Cheesemakers typically follow a make method with a particular age profile in mind. For example, traditional-sized Stilton is typically intended to be eaten at sixteen weeks, whilst Brie-style cheese like Baron Bigod is typically eaten at six weeks. Excessive age can result in a decrease in general eating quality due to:

  • Production of ammonia (particularly in soft cheeses).
  • Development of leathery, thick, or dried-out rinds
  • Dry, waxy, or crumbly textures associated with excessive desiccation
  • Bitterness
  • Accentuation of salty flavours
  • Unwanted external mould growth
  • Internal mould growth, mite damage, and bluing in non-blue cheese
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Storing Your Cheese

Farm house cheese is handmade and thus varies with each day’s production and changes as it matures. As such it is necessary to apply a common sense approach to cheese care and respond to the cheese you have in front of you, as opposed to following rigid guidelines.

If you wrap your cheese in cling film or foil, it can cause the cheese to sweat which will negatively affect the flavour. Cut pieces of cheese should be kept in the refrigerator to slow the growth of mould on their cut surfaces. However, it is important to be aware that refrigerated cheese is more likely to dry out, particularly if it is not wrapped.

The best option is to keep the cheese wrapped in waxed paper within a box in the fridge. The container will help to prevent the cheese from drying out and prevent the cheese from absorbing flavours.

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Serving Cheese

It is very important not to serve your cheese when it’s too cold as cold cheese can taste bland and inert. As a general rule of thumb you should bring it out of the fridge a few hours before you plan to serve it. You should keep your cheese wrapped whilst it is coming up to room temperature, to avoid any risk of it drying out. If it is especially warm you should reduce the amount of time the cheese is out of the fridge accordingly.

How Long Will My Cheese Last?

There is an array of factors which affect how long cheese will last, and so it is difficult to give a prescriptive answer without knowing which cheese you have, the size of the piece, and what storage method you are using.

We do not label cheeses in our shops with best before dates as, for the most part, we expect these cheeses to be eaten within the next week or two. If you need your cheese to last, buy larger pieces as these last for longer. Buy it as close to when you want to serve it as possible (although if you are having your cheese delivered, also remember to allow for a few days leeway in case of delivery disruption).

If you have a specific shelf life concern, you are always welcome to contact us and we will advise as best we can.

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Can I Eat the Rind?

When assessing if you can eat cheese rind, there are two things to consider. Firstly is it an edible rind? Some cheeses have rinds that are not edible, so you definitely shouldn’t attempt to eat these! Both wax and a food-grade plastic coating, “plasticote”, are often used to seal the outside of cheeses. Of the cheeses we sell, plasticote is used on Berkswell and Coolea. For clothbound cheese, the fabric needs to be stripped off (your cheesemonger will generally do this before cutting your cheese).

The second consideration is its taste. As a general rule: dusty coloured brown and grey moulds do not have a strong flavour, they tend to be mushroomy or earthy. Blue or white moulds often taste good (assuming you like the taste of blue mould of course). Anything that’s an odd colour could taste bitter, so go carefully. Provided you like the taste- eat as much as you like!

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