Cheese starter culture is a growth of specific bacteria in sterile milk. It assures that the right proportion of lactic acid-producing bacteria will be growing in the milk you use to make cheese. These bacteria change the milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid, which is the basis of the long-keeping quality of cheese.
It is important to develop the proper amount of acidity in the milk. The acidity which the cheese starter culture bacteria produce helps the rennet to coagulate the milk, aids in expelling the whey from the curds, and checks the growth of pathogens in the finished cheese. The starter culture bacteria are also responsible for much of the flavor development in an aging cheese.
Milk that is increasing in acidity due to starter activity is referred to as ripening. Milk that has reached the proper degree of acidity is referred to as ripened.
The two basic categories of cheese starter culture used in cheesemaking are mesophilic and thermophilic cultures. A mesophilic (moderate temperature-loving) culture is used in cheese where the curds are not warmed to over 102° F. during cooking. This would include cheeses such as Cheddar and Gouda.
A thermophilic (heat-loving) culture is used in cheeses in which the curd is cooked at temperatures up to 132° F. The bacteria thrive at high temperatures. Swiss cheese and the Italian cheeses need such a culture.
There is a large variety of starter cultures for producing an enormous selection of cheese, but all are either mesophilic or thermophilic cultures.
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