Salt is an essential ingredient in cheese making. Not only does it add flavour to the cheese, it helps to dry the curds during draining by controlling whey expulsion and causing the curds to shrink. However, the primary reason for salting cheese is to retard or halt the bacteria cultures continuing to convert lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid.
It will help to kill harmful bacteria and other fungi growth when used as a brine for salting after pressing or as a simple wash during maturation.
Salting is also essential in the development of a natural rind.
Once the cheese is ready to be pressed or has been pressed, salting cheese can be achieved in one of three ways:
- Dry Salting – rubbing salt over the entire surface of the cheese (used for mould ripened cheeses like Camembert),
- Milling – adding approx 2% salt by weight to the curds just before adding to the mould/basket and pressing (Cheddar-style cheeses),
- Saturated salt brine solution – A mixture of salt and water are mixed together and the cheese is left submerged for a given length of time (most other semi-hard and hard cheeses).
Common brine solutions that are commonly used in cheese making based on the percentage of salt saturation as shown in the table below:
|The table only goes to 26% as at 26.395% brine is fully saturated (at 15.6°C) and additional salt will not dissolve in the water. The table below is at standard conditions of 15.6°C/60°F. When using salt for cheese you should only use non-iodized salt.|
|% NaCl Salt||kg NaCl Salt / litre Water||pound NaCl Salt / US gallon Water|
For most of my brined salted cheese, I use an 18% solution which is commonly known as a fully saturated brine. Although the salt content of the brine can be higher, I find this amount of salt to be perfect for Salting cheese. It provides adequate salt absorption during the brining process.
Here is a video tutorial I made that shows how to make and test an 18% brine solution for cheese making.
Additionally, have a listen to this podcast episode where I talk about brine.
Testing Your Brine
Note the use of the raw egg to ensure that you have reached the correct saturation. If it floats and about a 2cm circle is above the surface, then the brine is at about 18% saturation. Make sure you add a Tablespoon of white vinegar and a teaspoon of calcium chloride to balance the pH to approx 5.3. This ensures that your cheese will not become slimy during brining due to calcium ion exchange between the brine and the cheese. You may have to use pH testing paper to measure the pH of your brine.
You can reuse your brine solution many times. Make sure you top it up with at least 2 Tablespoons of salt after you remove your cheese to replace salt absorbed by the cheese wheel. Store it at 13°C/55°F to reduce any mould growth.
What Type of Salt Should I Use?
Basically cheese salt is normally a non-iodized salt. It is the non-iodized part is the critical factor when it comes to cheese making.
Iodized salt though won’t help your cheese at all, as the iodine in the salt inhibits the cultures and bacterias you WANT in your cheese. Fine sea salt or flakey kosher salt will be fine, but remember that not all salts weight the same as shown in this salt video.
I tend to use fine grain non-iodized salt (dairy salt) without an anti-caking agent for all my cheeses. It works perfectly fine for the home cheese maker.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of salting cheese and how important it is to get it just right. Too little and unwanted bacteria or moulds may infect your cheese and too much makes it inedible. Who would have thought that this simple compound was so essential to cheese making!