Tools of the Trade: The Curd Knife
In this blog series, intern Vanessa delves into the untrod subject of 19th and 20th century cheesemaking equipment. Join in her exploration of these historic tools, from early subsistence-farm cheesemaking to modern cheese production. Read on for a chance to win an issue of culture! Congratulations to last week's winner: Scott.
Cheddar was (and still is) one of the most popular types of cheese in early cheesemaking. In the nineteenth century, it was especially common for the dairywoman to make cheddar for her family on the subsistence farm.
To do so, she would heat milk on the stove to a temperature of 82 to 86°F. Rennet, curdled milk containing the enzyme rennin, would be added to the milk. The dairywoman would stir the mixture until it thickened and formed a solid cheese curd. She would then poke the curd with a finger, lift it to the surface, and determine whether it broke cleanly from the whey. If this occurred, and the separated whey was translucent without "milkiness", the curd was ready to be cut.
The curd knife was an important piece of equipment in early cheesemaking. Cutting the curd allowed the whey to drain more easily and quickly. This separation of the curds and whey allowed the curd to shrink and condense. Ideally, the curd would be sliced into 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch cubes, which were promptly agitated until they formed an outer membrane. This "skin" prevented the cubes from adhering to one another. The dairywoman would then complete the cheesemaking process, which included heating the curd, cheddaring, grinding, salting, pressing, and eventually aging.
Photo courtesy of the Bega Pioneers Museum
WIN AN ISSUE OF CULTURE MAGAZINE
For a chance to win a copy of culture's special issue: 101 Best Cheeses of the Year, leave a comment below (please use an email address we can contact you at if you win!) by 11:59 p.m. EST on Tuesday, October 29, 2013, telling us about your favorite cheddar. One winner will be chosen at random from all commenters. At the end of the blog series, we will choose one commenter to win a gift a year's subscription to culture.