Friday, October 28, 2011

Next Port Salut Crisis

OK, I seem to be cursed...or blessed, depending on whether you view the recurring issues as a problem or a chance to learn.  I am determined to learn something from this.  The Port Salut redux developed the tiniest black specks four days after the b. linens wash.  There were four specks and they were almost microscopic.  My heart sank:  oh, no, not again with the black mold.  I trimmed them out using a clean knife, cleaning it between cutting each speck out.  Then, I once again turned to Debra Amrein-Boyes, author of the cheese recipe book for help.  She has been so patient and kind.  I explained what was going on.  She gave me more hints and encouraged me not to give up.  Below is my retelling of her comments/hints and my responses.
  • How long did I press the cheese and what did it weigh?  She was trying to determine if I had not pressed enough whey out and if the cheese held too much moisture.  I had actually pressed it for a bit longer than recommended because I had done it overnight.  I had also readjusted the pressure on the press every hour for the first few hours, then every two or three hours after that.  As the cheese expresses whey under pressure, it shrinks a bit in size, so to keep the right pressure on it for the duration, I reset the pressure regularly.  So I think I can rule this out, even though I don't have a scale that will weigh 3 lbs.
  • How long had I kept it in the initial brine bath, and was the solution at least 20% salt?  Again, this step was slightly longer than what the recipe called for, and I had indeed ensured the brine was just over 20% salt.  Additionally, she asked if I used iodized salt.  The iodine inhibits mold growth.  Nope...I used Kosher salt.  The salt bath also prepares the surface by altering the pH and surface chemistry making it more suitable for the b. linens.  By now, I was feeling good about my attention to detail.
  • Did I let the surface dry properly after the brining and the first wash, as well as kept the surface dry in the ageing container?  Yes, I did.  In fact, I kept the lid more ajar on the container to lower the humidity.  When I turned the cheese each day, the bottom appeared more moist/glossy, but not damp.  That's because there is little air circulation between the cheese and the container due to the rack and mat, allowing the humidity to rise locally.  So, when I turned the cheese, I let the surface dry a bit before putting it back in the refrigerator.  All good.   I was on a role!
  • Was my b. linens beyond it's expiration date and no longer active?  No.  It was fresh, and the b. linens in the bulk of the cheese had already started to turn the cheese a pastel golden yellow.  The mold was just fine.
  • The only other issue could be surface pH.  She suggested that I continue to trim any black specks that show up, and wait for the b. linens to take off.  Once that happens, the b. linens will crowd out the other species and overwhelm it.  She also suggested I use a little Geo 15 in the next b. linens wash.  Geo 15 is strain 15 of the geotrichum candidum mold.  It's a yeast-like mold and will grow fast and alter the pH of the surface, making it favorable to b. linens.  Further reading on this mold indicates that it is often used for this express purpose in cheesemaking.
I looked at the Port Salut today.  No black spots, but there were three "suspicious" spots that I cut out, not wanting to take any chances.  Because the first b. linens wash is one week after making the cheese, that gives any spurious mold spores a seven-day head-start on the b. linens.  Debra said I should not get discouraged and just keep an eye on it.  Once the b. linens takes hold, it will be fine.  So, I ordered some Geo 15, and it should be here by tomorrow, in time for the next b. linens wash on Sunday.

Keep your fingers crossed!!

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