Ask Dr. Cheese: Washing Curd

Washing curd to produce a sweeter cheese isn’t a technique limited to Gouda production. “The Dutch are famous for it, but almost every country in Europe has water-cooked cheese,” says Neville McNaughton of CheezSorce, a cheese consultancy. McNaughton addresses some of the “do’s and don’ts” of washing curd in this interview with San Francisco Chronicle cheese columnist Janet Fletcher.

Why wash curd?

There are two ways to get cheese with a sweet body. The Swiss cook the moisture out with heat and a small cut. They limit sugar by limiting moisture content. The Dutch add water to pull lactose out of the curd. So the bacteria have no more food (lactose) and will cease making acid.

But why did cheesemakers do this historically?

It’s just conjecture on my part, but possibly because people generally do not like acidic cheeses with short, mealy bodies. Washed-curd cheeses across the board have smooth, creamy bodies when young. By keeping them sweeter, with higher pH, they could get eyes in the Gouda that you couldn’t get in more acidic cheese.

What are the keys to success with washed-curd cheese?

Good milk with low mesophilic spore counts. Not too much silage because higher pH cheeses are very sensitive to clostridia and late blowing. It happens at about six weeks.

What should the temperature be for the wash water?

Historically it was hot water, about 140°F, but that’s hard to manage. Most industrial plants add warm water, above 90°F, and they cook through the jacket for more control. Precision in cheesemaking is about doing things consistently. The temperature profile to which you expose your cultures needs to be the same every time. But small cheesmakers may have a boiler that doesn’t work the same every day. They try to put water in with the hose and some days it’s quick and some days it’s slow-a half-vat versus a full vat, for example. Sometimes they cook in 20 minutes, sometimes in 40 minutes. They build in variability, where a good technician builds out variability.

When people add hot water too quickly in one corner of the vat, they could kill the bugs. They create a completely different curd particle there, which becomes part of the curd mass. A more modern approach is to have a sprinkler so the water “rains” nicely into the vat.

After you put in the water, you need to proceed with the right rate of cooking: 40 percent of the temperature rise in the first half of cook time, 60 percent in the second half. Always the same. Your starter cultures respond to that.

Can you over-wash?

The ratio of “whey off” to “water on” is what determines your finished pH. Holstein curd needs more of a wash than Jersey curd because it has a higher solids-to-lactose ratio. If you over-wash, you get cheese with too high a pH that’s more vulnerable to bad fermentations.


Do you have questions for Dr. Cheese? Email [email protected] and we’ll try to answer them in a future issue of CheeseBytes!