In All Those we are constantly seeking out projects with soul, which are born from the tenacity and even madness of people who believe that things can be done right, even though it sometimes means swimming against the tide. We love discovering these projects, sharing time with those people and telling all those stories through our humble speaker.
One project that fascinated us from the first moment we learned of it, was a small shop that specializes in farmhouse cheeses in Madrid. Quesería Cultivo has only been open for less than a year but their honest and direct sales model offers a new and better channel to cheese makers. It allows them to have more visibility and a viable business in a hard and often not so rewarding craftsmanship.
In this little shop at Conde Duque Street, Rubén, Álvaro and their team are committed to showcasing farmhouse cheeses from small artisanal producers who are focused on raw milk and respect both the product and the processes. But above all, they support the people behind all of these projects, such as Yolanda and Carlos from El Bucarito, Juan from Calaveruela or Felix and Dori from Quesos Iniesta Manzanaro. We visited the three cheese farmhouses to get to know them personally, hear their stories, their projects and processes in the cheese making craft.
THE ANIMALS AND THE MILK
“For me, having my own animals is crucial. In the field we don’t make milk, we make cheese. It is what makes sense and makes it feasible to have the kind of structure we have,” tells Juan from Calaveruela. “It is very important for us to capture the landscape, flora and natural resources into the cheese. This has a value that I try to bring it to the cheese somehow. I achieve it by taking really good care of the milk, transforming it as fast as I can and not pasteurizing it. Working with raw milk means respecting the raw material.”
Milk is the essential raw material for the production of cheese and it greatly changes depending of the time of the year and the livestock feed. These peaks and valleys in production require cheese makers to make very complex predictions and in some cases they even run out of cheese. “The yield really varies depending upon the season. It is very important to control the quality of the milk, as sometimes it has more fat or less fat,” Yolanda comments. “We are now transforming 1,100 liters a day, but when it’s August, milk will have a lower performance,” adds Félix. This last one is the only of the three cheese makers without his own animals, and even though he buys all his milk from three stockbreeders in his area, he run out of cheese by the beginning of the year. “The quality ends with the quantity. I don’t like running out of cheese, but above all I am committed to these three farmers I work with and from whom I buy their entire production. I would never commit to another one and not be able to fulfill my promise.”
FERMENTATION AND COAGULATION
The process of cheese making starts when the cheese maker receives fresh milk in the factory. He decants all the milk in a big tub where it is heated to about 30ºC and where some ferments and rennet are added. The rennet can be from animals or vegetable, depending on the cheese that is being developed. “In Calaveruela we simplify the recipe as much as we can. I prefer to adapt the recipe, times and temperatures to each kind of milk instead of trying to create a standard recipe and then having the need to add things. We adapt to the climate conditions, time of the year and animal feed.”
Once the coagulation time has passed, and after checking that the gel or curd have the right texture and consistency, it is the time for cutting the curd. “After about 45 minutes from the moment we add the rennet, milk should have a gelatinous texture. We make a small cut to make sure the whey is ready. If it is a clean cut and the whey presents a clean yellow color is a good sign. If is of a whitish color it means the whey is mixed with milk and it has not curdled yet. In that case more time would be needed. It is important making a very clean cut in order not to lose milk,” tell us Yolanda. The size of the cut will vary depending on the type of cheese and the maturation it needs. In the three processes that we saw, the cheese makers were looking for a cut with the size of a grain of rice, which is the ideal one for cheeses with long maturing times. Next, it is all placed at a large tub where the whey it is separated from the curd. This whey can be used for making cottage cheese, a simple process according to Félix. “You only need to heat the whey and wait”. You can even close the circle giving the whey to feed the animals. “Our pigs love the whey,” explains El Bucarito.
SHAPING AND PRESSING
After separating the whey from the curd, it is the time to shape the cheese. For that, the cheese maker manually fills some plastic molds. Before they used straw molds but the current legislation forbids it. Later, after the molds are pressed for several hours, the cheeses are salted, dried and then the maturation stage begins. “There are three ways of salting the cheese: dip it in a brine (water and salt) tub, rubbing it with salt or directly throwing salt into the tank. In general, we dip them in brine, but we rub or sprinkle salt on top of some of them,” comments Yolanda. “Putting the cheese in brine is very useful, but personally I prefer to salt it rubbing it by hand,” Juan added.
DRYING AND MATURATION
Cheese that’s already shaped and salted will spend a few days in the drying chamber and then into the maturing room, which is temperature and humidity controlled. In the maturing chamber, each cheese will acquire the character of the farmhouse and the cheese maker. After some days/weeks, cheeses will develop the rind. The challenge during the subsequent weeks or months will consist on controlling the conditions of the chamber, turn the cheeses every other day and clean and rinse the rind depending on the kind of cheese that the cheese maker seeks. “It is better having three or four small chambers than having two big ones. It allows you to have a deeper control of the maturing of the cheese. A cheese that has been maturing for a month, doesn’t need the same humidity as one that has been in the maturing chamber for three months,” states Félix.
Then it’s time to wait. In the end, as Juan says, “making a good cheese is 50% having a good raw material and 50% respecting that raw material, taking good care of it and striving to make the cheese as good as you can. Respecting the times, not accelerating them, allows it to naturally process. It is better to not rush something that needs its own time process.”