How it's made in Soira?
There is no doubt – making cheese is easy – only two ingredients are needed – milk and salt. Microorganisms do the rest. But making friends with microorganisms and getting them to do the job exactly as planned… it’s not that easy anymore. In the SOIRA dairy, cheese is made from the organic milk of Latvian milk producers. The quality of the milk is critically important, as the milk is not pasteurized, preserving everything valuable in terms of both nutritional value and taste.
We start early in the morning when the milk is brought. Milk is slowly heated to +32*C, which is the favorite temperature of microorganisms.
Then Ilona adds a culture of lactic acid bacteria to the milk to create the best conditions for the enzyme to work. When an enzyme is also added (in SOIRA, only that produced by microorganisms is used) and a certain amount of time has been waited, the milk in the large cheese tub becomes similar to the Italian dessert panna cotta – fragile jelly-like. And then – at the right moment, it is cut into cubes to start releasing the whey. After that, the nascent cheese is slowly heated to +38*C and stirred evenly. At this point, the experience of the cheesemaker is essential, because the most important thing in the cheesemaking process is the exact temperature and time. After about 4-5 hours, the new cheese is ready for molding.
Forms, moulds, shelves
Cheese molds are actually large bowls with holes for the whey to drain. The new cheese is placed in molds, allowed to press and separate the whey for at least 12 hours, during which each cheese is turned over at least 4 times. This is the time when the shape of the cheese is formed, the cheese grains become more tightly packed and the whey separates. The last time the cheese is turned, it is given a number that represents the production batch.
Different varieties have different shaped molds – round, square, cylindrical, big, small, basket-shaped…
Formation of the Cheese
The next day, the cheese is taken out of the molds. It is still very fragile. We take the cheese to the next room to salt. Cheese can be salted in salt baths or by hand rubbing. After a day, the cheese is removed from the salt bath and left to dry. The salt has done its job – extracted the remaining whey from the young cheese, added flavor and strengthened the outer layer. This is the moment when the rind of the cheese begins to form.
Cheese needs time and space to ripen. We put the cheeses on wooden shelves, slightly apart so that air can access them. They are regularly flipped to ensure that the ripening proceeds evenly and the top does not get too dry. Due to the long ripening time, there are many cheeses on the cheese shelves. This, of course, requires a significant investment of time and money, but it is the main reason how artisanal cheese producers create a unique product and differentiate themselves from industrial cheeses.
Taste, aroma, texture, quality
About halfway through ripening time, each batch is tested. (Inga’s favorite part in the cellar) With a special probe, she pierces the wheel, pulling out a piece about 10 cm long. It is evaluated by its colour, aroma, and a small piece can also be tasted. Then the drilled piece is put back into the roll and the hole is tightly sealed. By what you see, smell and taste, you can judge whether the ripening of the cheese is going as planned.