A cheesemaker turns milk into cheese. He may use the milk of cows, goats, sheep or other animals that produce milk to feed their young. His job is often considered to lean more toward artistry, such as that of a pastry chef, since the cheesemaking process is so dependent upon specialized techniques and curing methods. A cheesemaker must also have an extremely sensitive palate and be able to feel the cheese to determine when the right consistency for its class has been achieved.
The three major types of cheese are soft, semisoft and hard. Each kind is produced from different ingredients and through the application of many cooking and blending methods. The majority of the cheese produced today is done by machine, although smaller facilities throughout the world still produce cheese by hand.
If cheese is made in machines, cheesemakers are carefully supervised throughout the process. After the equipment pasteurizes and cooks the milk, the cheesemaking process becomes more complicated. Precise temperatures need to be maintained to ensure the cheese turns out in the desired color, taste and texture.
If the cheese is to be tinted, the cheesemakers will add special coloring ingredients or dyes. Key ingredients such as rennet and other cultures needed for coagulation are added to the mixture. Cheese experts use these components to turn the liquids into curds and whey. The watery substance is called whey and is often discarded. The solid proteins that form little masses are called curds.
The curds are what make up the cheese itself. Depending on what type of cheese is being made, a cheesemaker will add different ingredients for flavoring. He may also add mold also to some cheese mixtures to enhance the flavor and help preservation.
As the blending of the ingredients proceeds, the cheesemakers and their assistants check the mixture for color, acidity, mellowness and firmness. Cheese experts use specialized instruments, as well as their hands and palates, to ensure quality. Once the blending is complete, the cheese is stored in the warehouse, often in huge rounds or wedges.
The cheesemaking process continues in the warehouse. Experts periodically check each cheese variety to ascertain when it has been adequately cured and has reached the desired level of ripeness. Some cheese varieties are submerged in brine or rolled in salt or culture solutions to promote the curing process. Similar to winemakers, the cheesemaker periodically plugs a wheel of cheese to analyze its progress in the areas of feel, taste and smell.
There are no formal classes or training available to become a cheesemaker; most cheesemakers receive all their training on the job. As the industry becomes more automated, prospective cheesemakers are encouraged to gain experience and certification in operating machinery. Working in a food processing plant often is a desirable background.