Being breeds with very low milk production, it is necessary to milk almost twenty sheep to obtain the five to six litres of milk necessary to make a kilo of cheese, meaning that this milk is in really short supply and with a high demand from the dairies.
The process before the cheese making proper, begins with milking the sheep twice a day (morning and afternoon), a process that is completely automatic to guarantee hygiene and milk devoid of any impurities.
Milk is stored in tanks and maintained at 4º C in the farms until it is transported in isothermal tankers. Thus guaranteeing that the quality of the raw material for making “Torta del Casar” arrives in the dairies in perfect hygienic and sanitary conditions and maintaining all its original characteristics.
Curdling is the process to separate the whey in the milk and it is carried out when the milk is transferred to the curdling vessel and then passed through a sieve to remove any possible impurity. The temperature of the milk is raised to 28 – 32ºC and the rennet is added, which is a liquid obtained from macerating filaments of the “cynara cardunculus” thistle flower in water.
5 The curdling plant
Popularly called “hierba cuajo”, the “Cynara Cardunculus” thistle is a Mediterranean plant that grows spontaneously in some areas, although it has been cultivated since ancient times. Its stalk can reach almost two metres in height, crowned by flowers of a bluish colour, the filaments of which are used for the curdling process.
After approximately one hour letting the “herba cuajo” do its work curdling the milk, this must be broken into rice-grain size pieces using a device with fine metal wires called “Liras” (Lyres).
Once the cutting has been carried out and most of the whey eliminated, moulding is the phase in which the curd cut into small grains is removed from the working vessel and manually placed into the moulds, to obtain the almost definite shape of the cheese.
8 Pressing and salting
When the moulds are full, they are pressed to eliminate any whey still in the curd. A the end of this process the cheese acquires its definitive shape and it removed from the mould to undergo the last step, which is salting, done either by sprinkling the salt directly onto the cheese or immersing it in a saline solution.
9 The result
After all this work, the ripening process begins. This takes place in chambers at a low temperature and with high relative humidity for at least two months, during which time the cheeses will be turned over every day for the ripening process to develop properly.
During this period the “Torta del Casar” will acquire its characteristic collapsed shape and will sometimes even have to be wrapped in bandages to stop the creamy contents spilling out of the still soft rind.