The ‘Tomme’ cheese that we showed off recently on social media is much trickier than our classic chèvre because it involves juggling humidity and temperature for weeks until a living rind develops and gives the cheese its satisfyingly flavour (with cheese, as with humans, ageing increases complexity and makes for interesting and memorable encounters …).
It turns out that our first Tomme was a classic case of beginner’s luck!
The second one we opened was drier and chalkier. What had gone wrong? And how to replicate that first success?
These are questions that every beginner cheesemaker asks once they’ve got the hang of easy cheeses like chèvre. And there are no easy answers because there are so many variables in cheesemaking – which is what makes it such an absorbing craft.
The reason for the dryness of the second Tomme might have been because the hour spent stirring the cut curd wasn’t gentle enough, and so the acidity didn’t change in the intended way. To be sure of this diagnosis, Jen now needs to get a pH meter and track the acidity – not just of the whey during cheesemaking but also of the milk itself: older goats give more acidic milk, winter milk is more acidic, etc.
So how did our grandmothers make cheese without a PhD in chemistry?
Well, of course they had the benefit of generations of close observation of how milk and curds behaved in different seasons, when handled in different ways etc. Much of that distilled wisdom was handed down the generations as ‘folk lore’ – as quirkily memorable little stories that had embedded in them pearls of wisdom that were recognisable only to those who needed the practical know-how.
Jen now finds herself wishing she had someone to explain not only what went wrong with that second Tomme, but also how to tweak the recipe to avoid the same thing next time (noting that with aged cheeses it takes at least 12 weeks before any errors are apparent!).
Instead she is starting to get her head around the science of cheesemaking – in search of that sensational first Tomme flavour that turned out to be ‘just beginner’s luck’.