Today when I looked in on my two raw cashew cheeses, things did not look good. It was quite clear that some mold had gotten in there and, while not having a party yet, was clearly scoping the place out. As I was washing the mesophilic batch down the drain, I realized that the mold was a completely superficial phenomenon. In the past when I’ve attempted raw cashew cheese the bacterial colonies deployed tended to produce a very large amount of gas (carbon dioxide, I’d imagine), creating a very porous structure that could have been easily penetrated by contaminants. No so much gas in this batch. Of course, because I was flushing things down the drain, the uncontaminated portion was clearly no longer so, having just been ‘rinsed’ with mold spores.
However, this made me think that the thermophilic culture might still be viable. Keep in mind that these were in one pint yogurt containers, thus only one surface exposed to the elements. Thus I very carefully removed the upper half inch of the culture, revealing a healthy looking cashew mass underneath. Swirling it with a spoon showed that the mass had thickened. Huh. A promising sign that the cultured bacteria were still alive and working on it, since it certainly had no opportunity to dry out and previous (failed) experiments with raw cashew cheese certainly did not indicate that cashew mass will thicken on its own.
The taste was… eh… nothing to write home about. But some of the nut flavor has definitely dissipated. This too in very exciting since that indicates the possibility that if the bacteria can alter the flavor in some unexpected ways.
How to accomplish aging the cheese without having it be overrun with more mold? This is where I’m going off script. Having acquired a high thread count cheese cloth, I decided to wrap the little cheese ball in a double layer. This allows it to breath but certainly makes it impossible for it to escape. Put the wrapped ball in a pint plastic container (fresh one) and then covered the ball with kosher salt. The cheese cloth is thick enough that this coarse-ground salt is not going to make it into the cheese. However, I’m hoping that the salt will absorb any excess moisture, helping to harden the cheese, or at least help create a rind of sorts that will keep mold from growing on the surface again.
Given that this is a purely thermophilic culture, I am hoping that room temperature will be cool enough to have this process proceed in an orderly fashion.