The Coagulation Situation

The process of making cheese is quite simple. Take some milk, separate the solid portion from the liquid portion, compress then age the solids, and ta-da! You have cheese.

But now comes the tricky part. Just how do we separate out those milk solids? The answer – use a coagulation agent.

A coagulation agent is any substance that, when added to milk, causes the calcium to unite with the casein (milk protein) to create calcium caseinate, an insoluble solid, better known as curd. The curd is then separated from the liquid portion of the milk, better known as whey. The curd is then compressed and aged to create the wonderful food we know as cheese.

But what kinds of substances exist that coagulates milk in this manner. There are several.

Bacteria – will chew up the milk sugar (lactose), convert it to lactic acid, and expel it back into the milk. This lowers the pH of the milk (makes it more acidic) and creates the right conditions for the calcium to unite with the casein.

Acid –Instead of waiting for the bacteria to create acid, you could instead add some of your own. Acids used to coagulate milk include citric, acetic, and tartaric.

Rennet – the most common coagulation substance used to make cheese. Rennet is a combination of enzymes – pepsin, lipase, and chymosin, the latter being the key component. Rennet comes from the stomachs of ruminant animals – usually slaughtered cows.

Other substances – several different substances have milk-coagulating abilities. These include vegetable rennets (derived from the Rhizomucor miehei mold), thistle (first used by the Romans), and chymosin (the main component of rennet created by laboratory fermentation)

Various combinations of the above – for some cheeses, you have to first add the bacteria and give it time to lower the pH of the milk. This will prepare the milk for coagulation and multiply the coagulation effects of rennet or other coagulation substances. However you do it, if you want the affectation of coagulation, you will need to use one or more of the above if you want to make cheese.


Don’t Run Before You Can Walk

“You’ve got to start from scratch, work your way on up
Every old hound dog once was a pup”

            – from the song “One Step At a Time”, written by Hugh Ashley and sung by Brenda Lee

So you’ve decided that this is the year you’re going to plant a garden. Congratulations! Gardening is a wonderful pastime that yields incredible rewards to those who undertake it. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and, of course, fresh, flavorful, mouth-watering fruits and vegetables.

“I’m excited,” you say. “I’m going to tear up my entire backyard and turn it into a fresh fruit and vegetable-lovers paradise!” Slow down, tiger. You’re trying to do too much too soon. And don’t you dare utter that stupid phrase “go big or go home.” First of all, you’re already home. Second, odds are excellent that if you try to do too much too soon, you’re going to end up losing a lot of money with nothing but a backyard full of dirt and weeds to show for it. Go big or go home? More like go big and go broke. Or go big and go down to defeat.

No. If you are completely new to gardening, you want to start slowly and aim for small victories. Start with a tomato plant in a container. A small 25 square foot backyard in-ground garden or raised bed where you plant some lettuce, some beans, and maybe a tomato plant or two. Something that’s easy to care for.

Your initial efforts may not be very successful. That’s quite all right. Did you successfully ride a bicycle on your first attempt? I imagine not. You probably fell off your first few times and gave yourself plenty of cuts and scrapes. But did you give up? Once again, I imagine not. You picked yourself up, got back on the bike and tried again. And again. And again. And then, one day, you got on the bike, and rode it like a motocross champion.

It’s the same way with gardening. Your initial efforts may not yield very much – perhaps a few beans and a tomato. But if you got something – anything at all, you can revel in this small success, and gain the confidence to try again. Perhaps the second time, you harvest more. And after several more attempts you wind up harvesting great bucketfuls of fruits and vegetables. And this success gives you a feeling of confidence that, yes, you can do this. And now you are ready to build on this success. So you double the size of your garden or add another raised bed. And now you’re smokin’! You’re hauling in great bushels of tomatoes, squash, beans, and anything else you’ve planted. You’re now a successful gardener who is the envy of all his or her neighbors!

This, my friends, is the way to become a successful gardener! Not go big or go home. Start small and grow big! Or, to once again quote Hugh Ashley and Brenda Lee…

“One sure way to get all you need
Is to start out slow and pick up speed
One step at a time, boy-oy
Just one step at a time.”