Saturday, February 13, 2010

My experience with Camembert

The first thing about aged cheeses is that you have to have a way to age them. I got a small refrigerator, I was lucky to find one that has no freezer, I don't know how hard that might be to do now. Then I put an external thermostat on it to control the temperature. (Cheesemaking supply places have these.) The temp in a cheese cave needs to be higher than any refrigerator will stay. But it needs to be relatively constant. I think a freezer might be a better choice for this, because it doesn't have two temperatures to maintain.

Another thing to think about is that if (when) mold from mold ripened cheeses gets loose in your cave, you will have a time getting rid of it. If you can ever get rid of it. I have a story about that for later. You might want to put off mold ripened cheese for this reason.

I have not made what I would consider a successful camembert. I love the commercial camembert I have eaten, and brie as well. Camembert is quite a bit easier to make, at least with the recipes I had at the time, (Home Cheesemaking, by Ricki Carroll) So I made camembert. I made it from pasteurized milk and also from raw milk.

I followed the recipe as carefully as I possibly could. Because I live in the desert, aging cheeses at the humidity levels required is very difficult. The humidity here is sometimes in single digits, and usually around 20%, you can get the humidity inside a little refrigerator up to about 45% with a pan of water. It needs to be over 90% for the mold growth you need for these cheeses. So they have to go inside a container inside the "cave", and then you just hope for the best.

The camembert turned out looking like camembert, and it got "oozy" in the center, too runny at least once. I think that was from not getting enough whey out of it. It was more crinkly in the rind than commercial camembert, and had a much stronger flavor. It was a little too strong for me. My mother liked it a lot, I think her taste buds are going and it takes stronger flavors for her to really be able to taste things. It's possible we should have cut it sooner.

I looked for a picture to link to, I haven't got one, and I couldn't find one, although I know I have seen them on the web.

I read the book "American Farmstead Cheese", by Paul Kindstedt, about the processes involved in making cheeses. It has no recipes. It is an amazing book for understanding what happens to turn milk into cheese. I can't claim to have understood it, but even so it was very helpful. It is very technical in parts. It also has some discussion about commercial cheesemaking. I'm going to read it again, after I get through "The Ruminant Animal", which I got recently but have not opened yet. That looks really tough to me also.

Anyway, the Kindstedt book has discussion about raw milk cheese and bacteria, and provides some data. All raw milk cheeses that can be legally sold in the US must be aged at least 60 days. The bacterial levels after 60 days are much lower, for a variety of reasons. Camembert is ready sooner than that, and can't be aged that long. So I got a little leery of it. But I'll try again one of these days. We ate it and mother kept it for so long I had to take it away from her and throw it out, and no one got sick.

Kinstedt presents a lot of data about food borne illness from cheese, and it is very rare. Plus in almost all cases it was from cheese made from pasteurized milk in enormous quantities and was traced to contamination after pasteurizing. But next after that is the soft mold ripened cheeses like camembert and brie. Overall it seems to always come back to milk handling.

So I kind of recommend skipping to cheese like cheddar once you want to go beyond chevre, mozzarella, and ricotta. I will definitely try the soft mold ripened cheeses again, just not quite yet.

Next is cheddar.

Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. I'm excited to try Cheddar. I love me a super sharp cheddar cheese! Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful cheese information! I really want to make it, but I'm too chicken to try. You are inspiring me! :)

  2. I hope so! For much of the year I have too much milk, learning to make cheese is a worthwhile way to use it. It isn't easy, but it's a lot of fun and progress happens.

  3. Jan have you done Brie?

    Thanks for sharing all this information on cheese, I love it.