Work the Curd
Science and art come together in earnest when the separated curd is ready to cut, be drained of whey, and formed into the initial cheese shapes. Cheese makers refer to this stage as “working the curd.”
Cutting the Curd
Cheese makers use long-handled knives and rectangular, stainless steel screens with evenly spaced vertical or horizontal wires to cut the curd. Generally speaking, the more the curd is cut, the more whey drains off, and the drier the cheese will become. In other words, the more surface area created on the curds, the more whey will drain. Also, uniformly sized and shaped curds will respond evenly to salts, herbs, seasonings, and aging techniques. Nonuniform curds may be moist in one part and dry in another, and will be subject to variations in aging and fermentation. In other words, curd cutting is one of the primary cheese-making processes that will determine the cheese's final moisture and texture.
Curd-cutting screens are also called harps. The harps are pulled through large vats of curds, much like the blade of a mixing machine, to provide clean, even cuts. Some harps are small, like the blade of a paddle, and others are several yards square. It all depends on the size of the milk vat.
Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, and Chevrot are very moist, cheeses, and are aged less then sixty days. If these curds are cut at all, they are cut just a few times by a long-handled blade drawn vertically, then horizontally, through the curd. After this, the curd is ladled into molds.
Semisoft to semihard cheese curds are cut and drained, then sometimes cut again, all to achieve the desired texture and moisture.
Cheddar cheese is made by Cheddaring.
Bathing and Cooking the Curd
After the curd is cut, some curds are bathed in water or whey, or cooked. Curds bathed in water produce very clean, light flavors. The curds for some Cheddars, certain styles of Monterey jack, and some mountain cheeses, are rinsed in some of the drained whey, which imparts a creamy, sweet flavor to the cheese.
Pasta filata cheeses (such as mozzarella) are named after the process of dipping the curd into hot baths of water, whey, or both, much like pasta is cooked. The process makes the curd elastic, after which it is stretched and pulled, like taffy. As one example of this process, mentioned previously, mozzarella di bufala is made in Italy with water-buffalo milk. The curd must be able to stretch to one meter (or thirty-nine inches) before being taken from hot baths. Then it is stretched again, spun into balls, and immersed in brine.
Very finely grained cheeses, such as Gouda, Gruyere, and Emmental, are the result of the curds being heated to shrink the curd size and consolidate the texture.