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It’s time…Gruyère time that is…

September 29, 2010

It was with great trepidation that I broke the seal of wax on this wheel of cheese.  Nine months is a long time for a home cheesemaker to age a wheel.  I am usually pretty impatient when it comes to aging the cheeses that I make. I am still experimenting with recipes and I want to see if I am making progress.  Factor in the size of my press and kitchen area, and my wheels are not only small, they are usually singular.  That’s a lot of pressure on one small 2lb wheel.

I want to make every wheel count  so I make sure that my hard cheeses are all made from either raw milk, or milk direct from a dairy farmer that I buy from one of the local green markets here in NYC.  As we saw in my cream cheese fail post “Know Your Milk!“, it is of the utmost importance.  (I ended up trying the recipe again using a local, pasteurized half and half from the Hudson Valley.  Turned out great!  Future post to come…)

This is a wheel of raw milk Gruyère.  After waxing, I put this in my aging fridge as per usual at the requisite 55°.  I ran into a problem just at the start of the summer after it had been in there for about 5 months.  My fridge temperature started to climb to where I was averaging between 65°-67°.  This is way too high for aging and I was afraid that the cheese might” ripen” too quickly, meaning that the cheese would be ready to eat (or even spoil) even before the flavor had a chance to fully develop.  Another problem to consider is the added propionibacterium.  This is the good bacteria added along with thermophilic culture and rennet that gives Gruyere and other Alpine-style cheeses that distinctive flavor.   Propionibacterium consumes the lactic acid present in the curd and excretes (among other things) carbon dioxide.  Once the cheese reaches a certain temperature (close to room temp), the generated carbon dioxide forms bubbles…which causes the holes or “eyes” in Swiss cheese…   Not what I am looking for.  I want the flavor, not the eyes.

To combat this, I decided to put in on the bottom shelf in my regular fridge which stays at a constant 45°.  The cooler temperature will cause the cheese to develop more slowly, but I opted for this as opposed to potential eye formation or spoilage.  Fast forward 9 months due to the wheel being lost in the back of our fridge…  You can read my quick recap of that here.

I am very happy with the texture. As you can see from the picture, it is pretty moist and smooth with just a couple of mechanical openings in the center.  I remember having a really good curd knit during my press and it definitely paid off.  The nose is distinctively nutty!  I don’t think I would have achieved this without using good milk so that is a bonus! Very exciting…  After sampling a piece, there is a nice balance between nutty and sweet with a longer finish than I would have thought.  The finish is rather fruity to be honest.  My wife tastes peach.  I don’t know that I can be quite that specific, but there is definitely some sort of fruity overtone going on.  I like the tangy bite on the front, and the salty balance is just right.  It is good…really good. However, the flavor is not as complex as I would have hoped.  There is a density to good Gruyère that is a taste unto itself and difficult to describe.  I don’t think I will be able to achieve  that with my current setup.  I need to have a space with regulated temp and humidity in order to develop a natural rind.  Having to change the aging temperature halfway through the process didn’t help either.

If I aged it longer, would it have developed more complexity?  This is actually an interesting question.  Most cheeses in this style age anywhere from 12 to 18 months.  Tim Smith indicates a good 8 months for this smaller, homemade version.  The difference is that traditional wheels are substantially larger than mine, weighing in excess of 80 lbs. Larger wheels obviously equates to more time needed to age, mature, develop, etc…  I made a 2lb wheel.  Would 18 months be beneficial for such a small wheel?  Is it necessary?  I am not so sure…  Thoughts?

In any event, I am very happy with my results.  I will definitely make other wheels using this same recipe and format, but I don’t know that I will think about increasing size until I have access to a more stable aging environment.  Until that time comes though, I think this is a good start.

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