Organic goat’s cheese, a taste bomb in your mouth

In a cheese stall or in a cheese shop you often don’t know where to look first, there are so many different types of cheese. Soft, hard, spicy, young, old, with herbs or without. There is plenty to choose from. But why is there such a wide range of flavours in cheese? We put our light on at Pepijn De Snijder of organic cheese factory Karditsel.

Did you know that more organic cheese is made from goat’s milk than cow’s milk in Flanders? Cheese factory Karditsel is one of the eight cheese makers in Flanders that process organic goat’s milk into cheese. Karditsel came into being in 2015 when seasoned cheese makers Giedo De Snijder and Magda Bauweleers wanted to give their years of experience with goat’s cheese a new lease of life. Their speciality? Raw milk, handmade, soft goat’s cheese made from organic goat’s milk. They deliberately remain small-scale in order to be able to guarantee traditional, sustainable quality. After studying biomedical sciences and a PhD in molecular biology, their son Pepijn (36) joined the company with great enthusiasm.

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What matters with cheese is the type of milk used, the added lactic acid bacteria, cheese cultures and rennet, and the method of cheese production. In industrial processes, this is done very uniformly, and so you also get fairly uniform flavours. However, cheeses produced on a small scale often have a very characteristic, individual palette of flavours.

The goats are raised and milked next door – (c) VLAM, P. De Laet
What is unique about Karditsel is that the goats literally live next to the cheese dairy. They are cared for and milked there by Koen Vanroye of the Goerenhof. The organic raw milk first goes into a cooling tank and is then pumped directly to the cheese factory. It does not get any fresher than this! And a good thing too: “If milk is pumped too much, the fatty acids break down, which can lead to a bitter taste,” explains Pepijn. So those fatty acids have a first important influence on the taste of the cheese.

Raw milk also preserves many useful ingredients, such as certain micro-organisms and enzymes and vitamins. Father Giedo De Snijder swears: “Raw milk contains a natural microbial balance and diversity. This guarantees the taste and character of the cheese. In that flavour you can also taste the soil from which the milk comes. Just like good wine, good cheese is an expression of its raw materials”.

How do you create taste in cheese?
Raw milk can only be stored for 48 hours, so in the cheese dairy we work 7 out of 7. To start with, the milk is warmed up to the right curdling temperature: “Here we bring the milk to the desired temperature, 22°C or 34°C, depending on the type of cheese we want to make. So the milk is not pasteurised,” explains Pepijn. “We then add lactic acid bacteria (starter) and cheese cultures. Acidification is a mixture of lactic acid bacteria that help to acidify the milk. The cheese cultures consist of micro-organisms, namely white mould, yeast ‘geotrichum’ or red bacteria. They help determine the taste and appearance of the cheese and help to form a rind. For example: for our white mould cheese we add a white mould culture, because there is no such mould in the milk itself. For a cheese with a wrinkled rind we add a yeast. And in this way, every cheese gets its own individuality”.

At Karditsel, the cheese is scooped by hand – (c) VLAM, P. De Laet
The next step is to add rennet (enzymes) – this causes the milk proteins to clump together. “We use animal rennet for almost all cheeses. This is a mixture of enzymes that come from the stomachs of sober calves. For our ‘Corneel’ cheese, we use vegetable rennet, which comes from the cardoon plant,” explains Pepijn.

Once the milk has been curdled into curd, real cheese making can begin. The curd is scooped into the cheese moulds. At Karditsel, this is done very consciously, by hand: “The natural pressing gives you a different, finer texture. The cheese is not pressed by machine but retains more airiness. That also influences the taste,” Pepijn explains. In the moulds the cheese leaks out until it is well firm. Hard cheeses are then dipped in a salt bath (brine bath), but in Karditsel’s case, all cheeses are individually salted by hand with sea salt. The salt is drawn into the cheese and of course gives it a lot of extra flavour.

The salting of the cheese is also done by hand at Karditsel – (c) VLAM, P. De Laet
Finally, the cheeses are taken to ripening chambers where they can ripen in their own biotope — with adjusted temperature, humidity and air circulation to develop the desired microorganisms.

Aurélie and Basil
Each cheese has its own palette of flavours – (c) Carditsel
All of Karditsel’s cheeses are creations of their own. They have about 12 different cheeses, from brie to ‘goat rolls’, with or without rind. Striking: all cheeses bear an elegant French name. What story is behind it? Pepijn: “My parents created these cheeses themselves and see their cheeses as part of a family. Each cheese has its own character, and for each character they were looking for a suitable name. For example, our little fresh cheese, virgin white, is called Virginie, and Florette is a fresh cheese with a mix of colourful, edible petals on the rind. And Mathilde, that’s a tribute to the grandmother of our goat farmer who still lives here in the yard!
Will new cheeses be added? Pepijn: “Last autumn we did indeed launch a new cheese. We are, of course, dependent on the goats to supply us, and at the moment, unfortunately, there is too little milk and too few ripening rooms to experiment with”.

The taste of the place
In the future, Karditsel wants to enrich raw milk even more. Pepijn explains it this way: “The richer the milk is, the greater the potential for making good cheese with it. So we want all stages – from hay to animal care – to be tackled in such a way that as much microbial life as possible (bacteria, yeasts, moulds) is present in the raw milk. So from the correct, organic processing of the soil where the hay for the goats is grown (because goats prefer dry grass to fresh grass) to optimal care for the animals. Previously, every farm had its own yeasts and moulds, so you couldn’t buy cultures in the shops. So each farm had its own ‘terroir’, its own unique ‘taste of the place’. That’s where we want to go more.