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close this bookTraditional Cheesemaking (SKAT, 1989, 74 p.)
close this folderPart III: Beyond cheesemaking
View the documentChapter 1: Other foods from milk
View the documentChapter 2: The rural cheese factory

Chapter 2: The rural cheese factory


The location of pasture grounds (so that the milk is not transported too far), climate (temperature and humidity), access to water and drainage are the most essential factors which must be considered when deciding where to build a cheese factory.

In tropical regions cheese factories are usually located at an altitude of 2,000 to 4,000 m, where temperatures are ideal for cheese ripening and buttermaking. Rapid temperature changes must be avoided and draughts must be excluded from the factory as much as possible.

As a cheese factory requires large quantities of cool, fresh, bacteriafree water (10 litres for every litre of milk processed 3,000 litres daily for 300 litres of milk), it should be built, ideally, near a spring or fresh mountain stream and the water piped directly into the plant.

The site should be built above, not below, a town and at least 100 m from byres, stables and pig-styes, to avoid contamination from sewers, refuse and animal dirt, and should be elevated to allow fast, easy drainage. People tending animals should not enter the cheese factory.



Concrete floors are preferable as they can be washed and drained daily and are strong enough to withstand blows from steel churns and tanks. They should be inclined for fast efficient drainage and must be smooth and unbroken: holes and cracks are difficult to clean and also trap dirt and micro-organisms.


Waste water must be carried well away from the plant in closed pipes which are covered at each end with wire screen to exclude rodents and with U bends or other traps to prevent odours entering the factory.


Cement walls should be painted with lime to kill microbes and repainted every three months. A sandy plaster applied to a height of one metre allows the walls to be hosed down. If available, tiles make an excellent surface in the cheese room and plastic or rubberized paints are useful, if available.


Tile roofing is a good insulator, keeping out excessive heat or cold. If galvanized roofing is used, insulated ceilings must be installed as well, to prevent fluctuations of temperature. A small roofed lintel over the main door helps to prevent an accumulation of muck on the entrance floor. Beware: condensation on the underside of galvanized roofing falling into a vat could be dangerous.

Doors and windows

The main door should be wide enough to allow tanks and other large equipment to be brought in, and should open outwards to save valuable space. Windows should be installed at both ends of the plant for good ventilation and should be large enough to allow sufficient air and light to enter to control bacterial growth. Screens on doors and windows keep out insects.


The layout of the plant should allow for easy access to equipment, maximum convenience and good work-flow. Local engineers and metalworkers can often design and make equipment to a very high standard at a far lower price than imported goods, and should be used as much as possible. Four rooms the cheese room, maturing room, storeroom and office and an outside reception area are the factory's minimum requirement and each need different environmental conditions. They should all be on the same level (except in the case of a gravity circuit, see Figure 19), partly to simplify drainage and water disposal, but also because stairs are a great inconvenience (Figure 20).

Figure 19. Gravity circuit of a 2,000-litre cheese factory

Figure 20. Plan of a 600-litre-capacity cheese factory (1:75 scale)


As only cheesemakers and assistants should be allowed inside the plant, and to prevent dust and mud from entering, the reception area should be outside the plant, near the cheese room. A concrete platform with a tank and water-tap in the reception area permits easy washing of transport tanks and churns; make sure that water can run off, and not remain as puddles.

Cheese processig room

This should be quite a warm room containing the equipment for analysis, pasteurization, cheesemaking and pressing. The tanks should be near the pressing table.

Curing or ripening room

The curing and ripening process is as important as the cheesemaking process. Each type of cheese needs its own specific environment and this book has described Andino, Tilsit, Danbo and Gruyere which require a temperature of between 12 and 15 C and a humidity of 85 to 90 per cent. Very often (even in the most suitable geographical areas), these conditions do not occur naturally throughout the year and in designing cheese factories, it is essential to plan the ripening rooms in the best possible location.

Ripening rooms can be semi earth-sheltered, or installed in old adobe houses with very thick insulating walls. A false ceiling built under the roof insulates the room better. There should be few windows, none receiving a lot of light, and ideally, the room should be protected by trees. The windows can be opened at night, to allow a flow of air if the humidity is too high and strong window screens can be used to prevent insects and animals from entering.
If the humidity drops too low the floor of the ripening room can be flooded with a few centimetres of water to provide the necessary moisture.

Small factories (up to 600 litres of milk a day) need a maturing room of about 5.5 by 4 m. There should be long narrow shelves of three-quarter inch galvanized metal water-tubes, which do not rust. The end supports (see Figure 21) can be made of wood, into which horizontal tubes can be easily fitted. Boards to hold the cheeses should be short, light and easily moved, so that they can be taken out, washed, sterilized and replaced by clean dry boards weekly. Almost any kind of wood can be used to make these planks the less porous, the better except plywood. Certain very green woods secrete substances that can stain the cheeses. In these cases, first soak the boards in water for several hours and then dry them well.

The brine tank (see Figure 21) can also be located in the maturing room. The size depends on the number of cheeses, but should be about 80 cm high and made of cement. To facilitate working with the tank, fill the first 20 cm with concrete, the next 30 cm with the brine solution, and allow the top 30 cm for the increase in volume when the cheeses are added. Incline the bottom slightly towards an outlet that is opened to drain the tank about every two months. Tile the inside and the outside of the tank with durable white tiles which are both inexpensive and easy to clean. Because the high moisture and salinity content of the air in the maturing room is detrimental to metal and wood alike nothing else should be located there.

Figure 21. Basic equipment for the cheese factory

Equipment storage room

The equipment storage room, next door to the maturing room, is used to keep shipping boxes, salt, and various other necessary items. The doorway of the storage room leads to the outside, close to the drying and packing room.

In larger cheese factories (1,000 to 1,500 litres of milk per day) there should be:

· a curing room with brine tank and the fresh cheeses up to one week old;
· a ripening room for Andino, Tilsit, Danbo;
· a ripening room for Gruyere;
· a drying and packing room.

Drying and packing room

Just before the cheese is ready to be sold, it is washed with cold water and scrubbed with a soft brush. It is kept in the drying room for one to two days. When it is dry, it is covered with a liquid plastic (Foodplast or Mowilith) which is applied with a sponge. Foodplast or Mowilith are often used, but other forms of polyvinyl acetate are available and waxing or other forms of packaging can be used. The top half is sponged first, left to dry for half a day, then turned over for the bottom half to be sponged. The label is immediately placed on top of the liquid plastic so that it will dry and adhere to the cheese. The cheeses are then weighed and packed, ready to be sold.

Equipment for a 600-litre-capacity cheese factory

Cheese processing

· Cheesemaking vat (stainless steel, double jacket, 600 litre capacity)
· Kerosene burner
· Cheesecutting harp or multi-bladed 'American knives'
· Wooden paddle
· Hanging scale
· 4 plastic buckets
· Brushes and brooms
· Water filter
· 5 40-litre cans (plastic or aluminium)
· 1 clock
· 1 plastic scoop
· 2 thermometers
· Plastic aprons
· Plastic containers for whey, total capacity of 600 litres
· Water hose for cleaning
· Fine cloth to strain the milk (to stretch over the vat)

For moulding the cheese

· Wooden table (see Figure 21). (Stainless steel is preferable, but costs about 15 times as much).
· Moulds:

Tilsit cheese = 25 cylinders of 20 cm diameter and 15 cm height
Andino cheese = 70 cylinders of 15 cm diameter and 25 cm height
Fresh (white) cheese = 85 cylinders of 10 cm diameter and 25 cm height (each mould = 2 cheeses)
Danbo cheese = 13 rectangular pieces of 25 x 25 x 15 cm height (made of wood)

Note: since these moulds are not found on the market we have made our moulds from pieces of drainage pipe made of strong plastic. We cut pieces from the drainage pipe to the measurements indicated, and drill holes of 3 mm in diameter at distances of 2 cm.

· 25 wooden discs of 20 cm diameter (to fit inside the moulds)

70 wooden discs of 15 cm diameter
13 wooden covers of 25 x 25 cm

(Note: fresh, white, South American cheese does not need discs)

· 25 weights of 6 to 8 kg measuring 20 cm in diameter 70 weights of 4 kg measuring 15 cm in diameter 13 weights of 10 kg each (24 x 24 cm) to fit inside the moulds

· 2 stainless steel trays with 42 holes each; these are placed over the 42 white cheese moulds, in order to fill them quickly.

· 3 m of thick nylon mesh (2 mm squares) to place under the moulds.

· 20 m of fine cheesecloth for cutting and rolling each cheese separately.

· 5 m of plastic to cover the cheese in the moulds.


· table (wooden or built-in)
· gas stove with two burners
· wooden incubator to prepare cultures
· three pots (aluminium) to prepare cultures (15 litres, 10 litres, 5 litres)
· six plastic containers of one or two litres each, with large neck and lid
· two big knives to cut cheese
· milk testing:
· Cheese wire-cutters.

Ripening room

Shelves: see Figure 21 100 planks of 80 x 25 cm strong table for curing the cheeses plastic containers for delivering the cheeses

Daily necessities

Rennet, freeze-dried cultures, calcium chloride, salt, detergent, kerosene, gas, plastic bags for fresh (white) cheeses, labels for ripened cheeses, paper for wrapping ripened cheeses, foodplast, brushes, reagents for testing.

Production costs

Unstable exchange rates and unpredictable currency fluctuations make it impossible to provide a set of figures which all readers of this book will find realistic. The following figures, therefore, which are based on production costs in Ecuador in August 1986, are intended to serve only as a guide to the approximate relative outlays required for equipment, materials, and labour.

Soft South American white cheese

Sucres Ecuatorianos (1

200 litres of milk (18.00 Sucres each)


5 g of rennet powder


20 g of calcium chloride


cultures (2 freeze-dried bags every month)


3 kg of salt


57 plastic bags


1 bag of detergent


9 litres of kerosene




labour costs


transportation of the cheese to market


expenses for the accompanying person




interest (12% per year)






sale of 57 cheeses at 95 Sucres each2




Andean Cheese

Sucres Ecuatorianos

200 litres of milk (18.00 Sucres)


5 g of rennet powder


10 g of calcium chloride


2 freeze-dried cultures every month


3 kg of salt


24 labels




9 litres of kerosene






transportation of the cheese to Quito


accompanying personne




interest (12% per year)






sale of 23.5 Andino cheeses (250 Sucres each) 1


Profit each day


1 8.5 litres of milk = 1 Andino cheese of one kg. The cheese is sold within 10 to 15 days and keeps for several weeks at a temperature of about 15 C.

Key points for successful rural cheesemaking

Milk Production

· Milk production from the same cows can be increased considerably if the quality and quantity of the feed is high. This can be done by a reasonable use of pasture, including field rotation and even distribution of natural soil fertilizer. It is important to keep individual cow yields and to breed from the best. Pedigree cows only should be bought when adequate handling and balanced feed is assured.

· Cheesemakers should visit milking stations to encourage care in cleanliness and to test for mastitis. They also need to inform the farmers of the dangers of selling milk that has come from cows which received antibiotics less than five days earlier.

· Mastitis is controlled basically with careful handling of the cows and hygienic milking. Only in cases of clinical mastitis are antibiotics recommended.

· The government must be encouraged to sponsor health programmes for cattle and co-operate with vaccination programmes to eradicate bovine brucellosis.


From milk to cheese

· Cheesemakers must analyse the milk upon reception in the cheese plant: smelling, checking colour and hygiene. Density tests must be made twice weekly and reductase tests once a week. The results should be noted regularly and discussed with farmers.

· The technical process should be recorded daily, so that it can be compared with the final quality of the cheese and eventual problems can be pinpointed.

· All the equipment as well as the factory itself must be cleaned at the end of each process.

· Each day the cheesemakers must have enough hot water available so that transporters bringing the milk can immediately wash their containers. All milk buckets have to be checked regularly by the cheesemakers.

· Cheesemakers must work carefully, so as not to break any utensils, waste milk or curds or use more rennet than is needed to coagulate the milk in 30 to 35 minutes.


· The administration must co-ordinate daily activities and responsibilities for each cheesemaker. Since experience only comes after at least three years of work, it is better not to change cheesemakers often.

· Bookkeeping must be done daily, as well as keeping records of daily production yields. An inventory of materials and an economic balance must be made every three months.

· Cheesemakers must be paid an appropriate wage, as well as a production incentive bonus.

· Farmers should be rewarded for excellent milk quality. The result of the processed products depends not only on the experience of the cheesemaking personnel but also on the quality of the milk.