Monterey Jack Cheese Failure

DIY Cheese Failure: When Cutting the Cheese Leads to Letdown

My fermented foods do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes they are a little funky but still edible. Other times they are beyond salvage. In the process of making my first semi-hard cheese, I experienced the latter.

While disappointing and wasteful, fermented mistakes are a good thing. They offer an opportunity to reflect on how fine the line is between fermented and rotten; between the good kind of smelly and gross stinking garbage. This line is blurry. Many fermented foods are acquired tastes or are culturally distinct from one region to the next. Sometimes the smell is horrible but the taste is enlightening. What one person finds disgusting may be another’s delicacy.

And then there was my cheese. There was no questioning the outcome. That cheese was bad.

DIY Monterey Jack Cheese

There was no need for guesswork. I didn’t need a second opinion. It wasn’t even close to being confused for a funky smelling cheese that would taste amazing. Technically, it wasn’t inedible, just entirely unenjoyable.

Which is okay. It was my first semi-hard cheese and my first attempt at using a cheese press. Mistakes happen. It was only three gallons of milk and the wait time was only 5 to 6 weeks as opposed to months.

There was no questioning the outcome. That cheese was bad.

The initial cheese making process went smoothly. I think it was the few weeks of aging that turned this cheese wrong. My walkout basement has been extra cold this Wisconsin winter so I believe the temperature was too low for proper aging. It wasn’t too cold for mold to form, but it was too cold for the lactic acid bacteria. The finished product tasted like a young feta, not the expected Monterey Jack, mixed with mold.

Yes, mistakes do happen but they are disappointing after any length of patience is required. For shorter ferments, I’m not so picky. Sometimes I forget to strain kefir on time, then the curds and whey separate and no amount of mixing with rid of the resulting graininess. This is not a big concern because it takes less than 24 hours to ferment and a messed-up kefir is still usable for a smoothie or baking.

And then there are the one or two week ferments. Kimchi and garlic-dill green beans often fall under this category. I think it would be very difficult to mess up either of these but I imagine if I did, the disappointment would still not be so great considering that the turnaround on these vegetables is still relatively short. Kimchi takes a bit more preparation, so if anything, that would be a little discouraging.

...mistakes do happen but they are disappointing after any length of patience is required.

But then there are the fermented foods that require patience of one month or longer. Something like a large batch of slow fermented sauerkraut can be so rewarding to finally remove the lid to find delicious and crunchy sour cabbage. But if something went wrong, and the sauerkraut was mushy or pink, then that buildup of anticipation would be a total letdown.

I can only imagine that the disappointment is exponentially worse for cheese or miso aged for years. I hope to one day build my cheese making skills to this point. I use to imagine starting a wheel of cheddar cheese when my son was born, only to wait until he turned 15 or 18 to crack it open. I’m a few months behind so maybe I’ll finally have this worked out by his two year birthday.

DIY Monterey Jack Cheese

All fermented foods take patience. With patience comes excitement and anticipation. I’m always looking forward to what the next day, week or month will bring in my fermented food collection. Sometimes, this excitement turns a little sour (not the lactic acid kind) but this is a part of life. I’d rather try and then experience a few fermented failures, than never get the chance to explore the wonderful textures and flavors of DIY food fermentation.

What was your worst fermentation fumble or failure?