Manufacturing Gouda cheese
Gouda is a semi-hard Dutch cheese. A Hamilton-based artisan cheese factory makes traditional Gouda using milk directly from the adjoining farm. Discover how each step in the manufacturing process contributes to the final characteristics of the cheese.
Meyer Gouda Cheese is a family business operating on a dairy farm in Hamilton. Miel Meyer is the General Manager and the Cheesemaker. In 2007, he took over from his father who established the factory in the 1980s.
Meyer uses a large open vat processing up to 5000 litres of milk per batch. This makes half a tonne of cheese and usually takes a whole day to make. Many of the processes are still done by hand in the traditional way.
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The manufacturing process at Meyer Gouda Cheese
- Pasteurising the milk: This kills pathogenic bacteria. The milk is heated to 72 °C, followed by rapid cooling. Pasteurisation is a legal requirement for cheese made in New Zealand and helps ensure a safe product.
- Forming the curd:
- Bacterial culture is added to the milk in the vat at 29 °C to acidify the milk. The bacterial culture introduces ‘good’ bacteria, which play an important role throughout the manufacturing process. The temperature creates ideal conditions for the bacteria to grow, and the acidic environment helps prevent foreign bacterial contamination.
- Rennet is added to the milk when it reaches a certain pH. This causes casein protein in the milk to coagulate and separate from the liquid whey.
- Cutting the curd: When the coagulum is firm – it shows a clean break when tested – cutting blades stir through the coagulum to cut it into small pieces. Cutting the curd allows more whey to escape and lowers the moisture content of the final cheese. Gouda is a semi-hard cheese so the curds are cut relatively small compared to softer cheeses to release more moisture.
- Releasing the whey: When the curds are small enough, which they test by feeling the curd size in their hands, the cutting attachments are changed for stirring attachments. A large portion of the whey is released from the vat, then hot water is added and the temperature is raised while stirring continuously. Diluting the whey and raising the temperature helps release more whey from the curd.
- Moulding: When the curds are firm enough – Meyer’s old and vintage Goudas require a firmer curd than their milder cheeses – they are compressed to squeeze out more whey and help them bind together. The compressed curd is marked out, cut into blocks, placed into moulds and pressed.
- Brining: When the moulded cheese has reached the required pH, which is indicated by the cheese becoming more yellow, it is immersed in a brine solution. The salt is absorbed into the cheese. This slows down bacterial growth, contributes to the cheese flavour, helps form a natural rind and inhibits contamination by foreign bacteria.
- Coating: After removing the cheeses from the brine and allowing them to dry overnight, they’re coated with ‘cheese coat’ – a food-grade substance imported from Holland. The function of the coating is to protect the cheese from contamination, while still allowing moisture to evaporate. It also enhances the appearance of the cheese.
- Maturing: The coated cheeses are placed on shelves in a maturing room. The room is maintained at a constant temperature of 16 °C and 80% humidity. This allows the cheeses to ripen – to develop their characteristic flavour and texture. During this time, the cheeses lose moisture and are turned daily to help develop a consistent texture.
- Packaging: When the cheese has reached the required maturity, it is vacuum packed and placed in cool storage at 4 °C. This slows down the ripening process so the cheese retains its characteristic flavour and also prevents contamination.
Controlling cheese quality and consistency
Miel manages cheese quality and consistency mostly through instinctive understanding and monitoring of visual and textural characteristics of the milk and developing curds. He has built up this knowledge over years of making cheese. Miel still seeks advice from his father and benefits from his years of experience.
Key factors that contribute to the quality of the Gouda cheese include:
- the quality of the milk
- the firmness of the coagulum before cutting
- the size and moisture content of the curds before moulding
- the pH of the cheese before brining
- turning the cheese during moulding and ripening
- the temperature and duration of ripening.
Testing at key points in the process is essential for quality and making decisions about when to proceed to the next step. Many of these are recorded so consistency between batches can be monitored.
Managing safety hazards
Safety is controlled during processing by implementing a HACCP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points) plan. This identifies the potential hazards during manufacture and procedures to minimise them. This process is audited by NZFSA (New Zealand Food Safety Authority).
Key aspects of producing a safe product involve:
- safety of the raw ingredients
- sterile equipment
- personal hygiene of the people handling the cheese.
Milk quality and consistency
The milk Meyer uses for their cheese comes directly through an overhead line from the milking shed of the adjacent farm. This means the milk is very fresh and they know about the feed and the health of the herd. This contributes directly to the quality and consistency of their cheese.
- 11 April 2012