Recently we’ve been making a fair bit of brie cheese. We’ve been using the Cleopatra’s raw cow’s milk (including the cream on top!). 4L makes 3 good size brie cheese wheels. We simply heat the milk up to 32°C in a big sterilised pot, add in a mesophilic starter (the culture – a couple of grains), the penicillum candidum (this is the white mould that grows on the outside – a couple of grains) and the rennet (1/4 teaspoon mixed in just less than 1 tablespoon water), stirring in an 8 shape for around 2 minutes. Then we leave it, off the heat, for around 45 minutes. (note: please check the amounts you should use on the specific rennet, starter and penicillum you buy).
When we have returned to the pot the milk has set so we cut it with a knife in to cubes which are then ladled in to our cheese moulds (basically food grade plastic tubes with holes in them). We put the moulds on top of upside down plates, in a tray so that the whey can drip out of the holes and away from the cheese. They are left to sit, with lids on to keep insects out, for around 2 days (or until the whey has stopped dripping down). The mould is filled to the very top, but as you can see in this photograph, once the whey has drained, it is much smaller in size.
Now we remove the plastic moulds, sprinkle some salt on top of the cheese, put them on a wire rack (for airflow), put the whole rack in some clean plastic bags and put them in the fridge. The plastic bags are to trap some moisture, creating a microclimate in the fridge because our fridge is a frost free fridge. Without them, the mould wouldn’t grow.
After a couple of weeks we see white mould starting to grow on our cheese…
Then we take the plastic bag away and leave the cheese to grow the rest of the mould, covering the entire surface area and then it takes a further 4 weeks or so before it’s ready for eating. But this really depends on the humidity in the fridge and the longer we leave it, the more piquant it becomes! Here are some photos of some more advanced brie wheels we have made…
As written earlier, rennet is necessary to make brie, but what is rennet? Rennet is added to coagulate the milk proteins into curds.
Traditional rennet is from animals and is the most commonly used kind in making cheese. The source of animal rennet is membrane that lines the stomach, or in the case of ruminants, the fourth stomach. Traditional animal rennet is taken from calves, lambs or goats killed before they are weaned.
Ok, so hopefully you realise now that rennet is obtained by killing baby animals and therefore traditional cheese is not vegetarian.
However, there are other ways to coagulate milk and you can buy other types of rennet. Plant based rennet is sometimes sourced for specific enzymes. They can be from plants, fungi and microbes. Some examples are: extract of fig juice, nettles, thistles, mallow, ground ivy, phytic acid from unfermented soybeans (or GM soy). GMO-Microbial rennet is what industrial cheesemaking mostly uses because it is less expensive than animal rennet – don’t worry, Europeans, your cheese is probably still traditional and uses animal rennet. Laboratories have also made microbial rennet by producing the same genes found in a calf’s stomach to modify some bacteria, fungi or yeasts to make them produce chymosin. The latter are not considered by vegetarians to be meat-free even though they are not made from animals but they are sometimes commercially labelled ‘vegetarian’ rennet. One last note, those with soy-based allergies should beware as GM soy rennet or phytic acid, derived from unfermented soybeans may be used.
In summary – if you are vegetarian, against GMO or allergic to soy, be careful which rennet you use! In all cases, brie is really good to eat by itself, with some chutney or just on some fresh, warm bread. 🙂