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Let's talk about the weapon that us cheesemongers wield to make your cheese experience better. The one item we all have as affineurs which helps to confirm that our maturing moves have paid off. I am talking about the humble cheese iron, or borer or cheese trier, as it’s sometimes referred.
I’ve had mine for about four years now and it could perhaps become a family heirloom in twenty or thirty years, should a family member want it!. Visually, the iron is a ‘T’ shape and at the top of the ‘T’ is your handle made from wood or iron. The pointy bit is a semicircle, with some having a tapered blade.
So, that’s what a cheese iron is, but where did it come from and how do you use it? Well, as they say, necessity is the mother of all invention and the idea originates from wastage. Before ironing, there were some tales of cheesemakers comedically jumping or standing on the cheese to test the resistance - hardly hygienic and also a pretty one-dimensional test! The other alternative would be to cut the cheese open but if the cheese wasn’t ready, you might have potentially wasted 30kg of cheese which would be sold for less or not sold at all. The cheese iron, which has remained largely unchanged since its introduction, provided those buying cheese with an assurance of the quality, whilst also allowing the cheesemakers the opportunity to preserve their product effectively.
The key principle behind a cheese iron is simple, you plough the iron into the cheese and twist it (a bit like an apple corer). Once pulled, the device will give a bore of cheese which displays a perfect cross-section of the cheese from rind to core. From there, we can examine. We firstly get a feel of the cheese and its resistance during the boreing stage of the process - "the harder the bore, the harder the cheese” is a simple, yet effective way of analysing the cheese. Once pulled, we inspect the core visually, looking for defects and taking a view of the back of the iron. The more smearing present on the back of the iron means more moisture in the cheese.
Next up, we smell, checking for clues on what that cheese might be or will become. If we can't work out visually and aromatically what that cheese be, then ultimately, if required we will taste it, by taking a small piece from the tip of the iron. A great way to test the robustness of the cheese is to rub it between your fingers warming the cheese to release any aromatic notes.
After all the testing is done, we place the iron back into the hole, and, while using a finger to hold the rind in the cavity of the iron, pull the iron out whilst leaving the cheese in its original place. Smearing residual cheese to seal any gaps can help to reduce the risk of possibly tainting the cheese and causing blueing.
By using an item as simple as a cheese iron, we can understand more about that batch of cheese and ultimately, what we can do with it, whether that’s maturing it for longer, pulling from the maturing rooms (as it’s a perfect profile for a customer), changing our maturing techniques or even working out if our methods haven’t been successful and what we can change.
This is an imperative process here at Rennet & Rind. Artisan cheese fluctuates. There are so many variables to consider; weather, time of make, the temperature of milk, how the cows are feeling that day and which way the wind is blowing. The list is endless. Firstly, these unknown variables are what makes artisan cheese exciting. Every batch is different and you can be tasting a cheese which has precisely the same ‘make’ process, but because they’re made days apart they can end up completely different in flavour. It works both ways however, and the flavour could be for better or for worse. It’s my job to makes sure it's for the better, so that every time you try a cheese from us, it is always at its peak perfection. It’s also what separates mass-produced cheese from the artisans. These variables always provide a lasting experience, one which hopefully you will remember.
I hope you would have found this article insightful into the actions that we take to make sure our cheese is perfect. I thought it would be interesting information to share, and if you liked this insight let me know and I’ll make sure I do more of them.