As the consumption of cheese by Kenyans increases, farmers who have milk surpluses can seize the opportunity to capture the market with high quality, handmade cheese.
There is only a handful of artisan cheesemakers in Kenya but the market potential invites more farmstead producers—those who only work with milk from their own animals.
According to Jos Creemers of the Baraka Farm, in Eldoret, 10 litres of milk yields 0.9-1 kg of cheese.
In the market, fresh milk sells at Sh35 per litre (KSh350) while 1Kg wheel of cheese, from 10litres of milk sells at Sh800.
Value addition to milk doubles the price, although other materials used in the process cost 40 per cent of the price of the product.
Among the ingredients needed for professional cheese making are potassium nitrate, starter culture, rennet, wax and colour.
Potassium nitrate is added to improve the keeping quality, while the starter culture is used for the introduction of bacteria, whose main purpose is acid production.
During the ripening process, the bacteria play other essential roles by producing volatile flavor compounds (like diacetyl, aldehydes), by releasing enzymes involved in cheese ripening.
Besides, they produce natural antibiotic substances that suppress growth of pathogens and other spoilage microorganism.
Rennet is a natural complex of enzymes that coagulates (solidifies) the milk, separating it into the solid curd and liquid whey.
Cheese-making happens in seven main stages; Acidification, Coagulation, Cutting, Salting, Shapin and Ripening.
1. Acidification: Starter culture is added to milk to change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This process changes the acidity level of the milk and begins the process of turning milk from a liquid into a solid.
2. Coagulation: Rennet is added to further encourage the milk to solidify.
3. Cutting: Curds are cut using a knife or a tool that resembles a rake. Cutting the curds further encourages them to expel liquid, or whey. Generally, the smaller the curds are cut, the harder the resulting cheese will be. Soft cheeses like Camembert or Brie are hardly cut at all. Harder cheeses like Cheddar and Gruyere are cut into a very fine texture. For these harder cheeses the curds are further manipulated by cheddaring and/or cooking. Cooking the curd changes its texture, making it tender rather than crumbly.
4. Salting: Salt adds flavor and also acts as a preservative so the cheese does not spoil during long months or years of ageing. It also helps a natural rind to form on the cheese. There are several ways to use salt. Salt can be added directly into the curd as the cheese is being made. The outside of the wheel of cheese can be rubbed with salt or with a damp cloth that has been soaked in brine. The cheese can also be bathed directly in vat of brine.
5. Shaping: The cheese is put into a basket or a mold to form it into a specific shape. During this process, the cheese is also pressed with weights or a machine to expel any remaining liquid.
6. Ripening: Referred to as affinage, this process ages cheese until it reaches optimal ripeness. During this process, the temperature and humidity of the cave or room where the cheese ages is closely monitored. An experienced affineur knows how to properly treat each cheese so it develops the proper flavor and texture. For some cheeses, ambient molds in the air give the cheese a distinct flavor. For others, mold is introduced by spraying it on the cheese (brie) or injecting it into the cheese (blue cheese). Some cheeses must be turned, some must be brushed with oil, and some must be washed with brine or alcohol.