Last week, Jenni was describing to me the cheese she had just made. She was pleased with how the production went, and said to me, “the floc just felt right”. I don’t think she said this to necessarily make my day, she was just sharing her experience. Needless to say, it made my day.
Flocculation is chemistry jargon for the beginning stages of curd formation in cheese making. The flocculation time is used to determine how long the curds will set before cutting them. Our cheeses will flocculate (or “floc”) in 10-20 minutes. Each cheese has a different floc multiplier – the number we multiply the flocculation time that will give the total set time. A small floc multiplier will yield a harder cheese since the curd has less time to form and more whey will be expelled during cutting and pressing. A larger floc multipler will give a softer cheese – we use a multiplier of 6 for the Berkshire Bloom, 3 for the Maggies Round, and 2.5 for the Gouda.
The moment of flocculation is subtle. It takes practice and a keen eye to catch that first moment that flocculation occurs. For a long time I was unsure about it, and knew that only with experience would I come to have confidence in knowing when it was just right.
Jenni, like all the interns working with us this year, is a careful observer and incredibly in tune with the subtleties of the cheese. She is meticulous and thorough, and aware of any abnormalities in the cheese (it takes a real cheese lover for this – luckily, we are all supreme cheese lovers here). Jenni often comments on how the cheese is doing that day – what the moisture, temperature, smells, etc. are telling her. When she said that the “floc just felt right”, it meant that she was beyond the stage of needing to think about it too much, because she could feel it. She could just sense it. She had an intuition about it, and she was confident about that. I feel funny saying this – but it made me feel like a proud teacher. It made me feel that even though the days can be long and progress can be slow (especially with cheese), that she had learned something incredibly valuable here. She had learned to know the cheese – this is what being a cheese maker is.
Anyone can read a recipe. Most people can read instructions and make something great. It takes a true cheese maker – someone with experience and passion – to be able to say the floc just felt right.