The production process for making typical cheeses has evolved over the years in favour of increasing the quality of the product, both in terms of health and nutritional value. While important and valuable in terms of experience, the old homemade method, frequently based on empiric techniques and still used for some types of cheese at small local dairies, is characterised by the uncertainty of the results, especially as concerns sanitary issues, as well as the incapacity of guaranteeing the consistency of the specific characteristics of the product over time, including those of an organoleptic nature . The application of modern technology and, therefore, the automation of several phases of the production cycle, has made it possible to overcome these difficulties, ensuring sanitary standards as envisioned by the law and demanded by the market, while still following the traditional techniques and the application of recipes developed from the experience of the cheese maker. In recent years, the great challenge faced by companies most projected towards the future has been that of synthesising the two production methods and namely: production using modern technology but without compromising the typical characteristics of a product which is the fruit of traditional experience.
Currently, the modern automated dairies for the production of typical cheeses opt for highly technological, computer-controlled plants that make it possible to monitor every phase of the production cycle and to intervene immediately to correct any anomalies.
The system of controls is based on HACCP (Hazard analysis and Critical Control Point), used to identify the points of risk in the production process, making it possible to adopt suitable preventive measures.
In fact, this method aims to prevent the occurrence of problems which have an impact on the final results of the processing procedure, which may compromise the conformity of the product.
The processing cycle for Piave cheese starts with the cleaning and pasteurization of the raw milk, the next step is to load the milk and milk enzymes into the boiler, next comes the coagulation phase with the addition of rennet, derived from calf stomachs, that acts on the casein – the main milk protein– causing it to coagulate.
It is important to bear in mind that, for each type of semi-cooked and cooked cheese there are corresponding technical specifications regarding the degree to which the curd is cooked (time and temperature) and, most importantly, the preparation of the base recipe (milk, enzymes, rennet and salt), this is where the “dairyman’s art” makes the difference.
Coagulation is followed by the portioning of the curd into circular containers where it is collected and left to drain to eliminate part of the excess whey.
At this point a conveyor chain hooks the container and takes it to the pressing zone where, using hydraulic pumps, the cheese is placed under pressure for about 40 minutes, losing additional humidity and reaching the right degree of compression. At the end of the pressing phase, the wheel is removed from the shaping container and placed in a cheese mould ring; the name of the cheese is engraved on the inside edge of the cheese mould. This is the marking phase, which leaves the identification mark imprinted on the outer rind of the wheel of cheese.
At this point the cheese, banded with the mould and placed on special supports, is stored in the cheese towers, where it remains for 12 hours for a first, partial ripening.
When it is removed from the tower, the cheese is yellow in colour, with a thin permeable rind that keeps it compact and allows it to be immerged into brine (water and salt solution) for the last phase of the cycle, namely salting, which lasts for a minimum of 48 hours.
When the production cycle has been completed, the cheese is ready to be sent to the aging chamber, where it is placed on wooden shelves and periodically brushed, turned and kept at optimal temperature and humidity conditions for the time needed for aging. Each of the phases in the production cycle is of fundamental importance in determining the peculiar characteristics of Piave cheese, although there are other determining factors at the outset: the quality of the milk, determined by the breed of the animal, the breeding method, and the area of provenance in addition to the composition of the recipe, which is – as we have already said – the result of the local cheese making tradition.