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Discussion Threads: Questions from the Field

Question:

Matting is a common problem in cottage cheese making. What causes it and how do we get rid of it?

Answer:

Matting occurs when the individual curd pieces stick together during the first part of the cooking process, especially if no cooking acid is used. Cooking too fast (applying too much heat or steam) at the beginning of the cooking process in conjunction with insufficient agitation (especially in the vat corners) can cause golf ball sized pieces to be formed. Cooking in a jacketed vat from the bottom up can exacerbate this problem. You can help fix the problem by doing some or all of the things listed below:

  • Make sure all of the wires on your cheese knives are in good repair. Missing wires contribute to matting because the curd pieces start out real large, and then stick together more easily and create even larger masses.
  • Make sure the ends of the cheese vat coagulum are getting cut. Sometimes when the cheese cooks put the cheese knives in the vats they don’t back them up to the very end of the vat leaving some uncut coagulum (the last 1-2 inches in the vat along the back edge). The cheese makers need to be real careful in making sure the knives get all the way to very ends of the vat (both front and back) so that no uncut coagulum survives. Uncut coagulum usually means bigger mat-like pieces in the vat after cook.
  • If cooking in a jacketed vat, please SLOW DOWN the cook! Remember in this kind of vat, you cook from the bottom up (this increases the chance of matting), rather than from the top down as you do when cooking with the whey re-circulation method. More care needs to be taken in the jacketed vat to prevent matting, such as hand stirring the corners occasionally with the hand paddle.
  • To prevent matting, you need to stir the cheese a little earlier (but not too vigorously or you will create fines) to get rid of the matting. Matting happens when the heat is first applied to the vat from the set temperature up until a temperature of 115F is reached. So you can try to start stirring maybe 5 minutes sooner than normal to prevent it, but with nice and slow agitation (just a gentle roll – low to medium stir, low travel). Using some of the meso-thermo blend cultures to make cottage cheese, you already start at set temp of 96 -100F (about 5F higher than traditional all meso set temperature), so you only have 15F up to 115F to prevent matting. If you cook too fast too soon, the mats get in there and you can't get them out (like you see in the picture).
  • Finally, you can add a small amount (20 oz.) of food grade lactic or phosphoric acid to the whey after heal, to make the outside of the curd pieces slippery. Acid is slippery and will help the curd pieces from sticking together regardless of what it does to the whey cook pH. However, adding cooking acid usually means cooking your cottage cheese curd a few degrees higher in order to reach the desired curd firmness.