If you’ve taken a class at the Art of Cheese, you’ve heard Kate say that most cheeses are made from four basic ingredients: milk, starter culture, rennet, and salt. It’s easy to understand the first three ingredients, but why do we add salt?
Salt has many different roles in cheesemaking:
- it is a preservative (think of the salty brine for feta)
- it dries the cheese (think of a salty, hard cheese like a Parmesan or Romano)
- it enhances the flavor of the cheese, just as it does other foods we enjoy
Salt also affects the growth of the starter culture and surface molds. Some organisms (yeasts, molds, and bacteria) cannot grow in a salty environment. That’s why we use salt rubs or salt washes to control the growth of these organisms on the surface of our cheese. Others, such as those that grow on washed rind cheeses, thrive in a high salt environment. These cheeses are typically washed with a salt solution to encourage the friendly bacteria needed to ripen this family of cheeses.
There are several ways to add salt when making cheese. The most common are:
- dry salting the surface after the cheese is formed
- brining the whole cheese after it is formed
- mixing salt with the drained curd before forming
The last method is commonly used for large cheeses, because it would take too long for the salt to penetrate to the center of the cheese.
One of the great things about being home cheese makers is being able to salt a cheese to our personal tastes. Depending on how much salt you like, you can increase or decrease the amount of salt called for in your recipe, or adjust how long it stays in the brine.
Submitted by Becca Heins